Diabetes: Food item commonly consumed among diabetics shown to alter glycemic response

Type 2 diabetes can be a 'devastating diagnosis' says expert

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Sweeteners are widely recommended to diabetics on the basis they leave blood sugar levels undisturbed. They come in several forms, some of which are two hundred times sweeter than sugar. Contrary to popular belief, new findings suggest that one type of sweetener may cause changes in the gut that may subsequently alter blood sugar.

The new findings have raised the possibility that non-nutritive sweeteners may not be inert to the human body.

The research, published in the journal Cell, challenged the notion that non-nutritive sweeteners have no effect on the body after finding it altered human consumers’ micro-biome.

These alterations led to subsequent changes believed to impact glycemic responses in humans.

The Diabetes UK organisation explains that non-nutritive sweeteners “can be one way of reducing your overall carbohydrate and calorie intake if you substitute it for nutritive sweetener like sugar”.

Also known as artificial sweeteners, they are often used in ‘sugar-free’ and ‘diet’ foods and drinks, as well as:

  • Fizzy drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Jellies
  • Yoghurts
  • Chewing gums.

Eran Elinav, immunologist and microbiome researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the German National Cancer Centre, made the discovery with his team.

He said: “In subjects consuming the non-nutritive sweeteners, we could identify very distinct changes in the composition and function of gut microbes, and the molecules they secrete into the peripheral blood.

“This seemed to suggest that gut microbes in the human body are rather responsive to each of these sweeteners.”

The study was conducted on a sample of 120 individuals who rigorously avoided non-nutritive sweeteners in their daily lives.

“When we have looked at consumers of non-nutritive sweeteners as groups, we found that two of the non-nutritive sweetener, saccharin and sucralose, significantly impacted glucose tolerance in healthy adults,” added the scientist.

“Interestingly, changes in the microbes were highly correlated with the alterations noted in people’s glycemic responses.”

These effects were observed after microbial samples were transferred from the study subjects to germ-free mice who had been raised in completely sterile conditions.

“The results were quite striking […] in all of the non-nutritive sweetener groups,” noted Mr Elinav.

“[…] But in non of the controls when we transferred into these sterile mice the microbiome of the top responder individuals collected at a time point in which they were consuming the respective non-nutritive sweeteners, the recipient mice developed glycemic alterations that very significantly mirrored those of the donor individuals.

“In contrast, the bottom responders’ microbiomes were mostly unable to elicit such glycemic responses.”

Dietician Emma Carder states on the NHS website that the research into sweeteners shows they are safe to consume as part of a healthy diet.

She also added that they’re a “useful alternative” for people with diabetes who need to watch their blood sugar levels while still enjoying their favourite foods.

However, the new findings suggest that the “microbiome changes in response to human consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners, may at times induce glycemic changes in consumers in a highly personalised manner”, according to Mr Elinav.

“In the meantime, we need to continue searching for solutions to our sweet tooth craving while avoiding sugar, which is clearly most harmful to our metabolic health.

“In my personal view, drinking water only seems to be the best solution.”

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