Using sweetener causes changes in the gut, study shows

Using sweetener causes changes in the gut, study shows

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The sweeteners aspartame, saccharin, stevia and sucralose significantly impact our body’s microbiota, notably the gut microbiota, according to a study published this Friday (8/19) in the scientific journal Cell.

In the case of saccharin and sucralose, there is also a significant increase in glucose levels – precisely what the consumption of these items often seeks to avoid.

According to the team of scientists responsible for the study, the results show that so-called non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are not “inert” in the human body, as previously thought, and that caution should be exercised when using these products, especially by people with diseases. metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

These sweeteners contain no or almost no calories and nutrients, unlike added or naturally occurring sugars — in fruit, for example.

“We cannot make a recommendation for or against the use of these sweeteners, but we do believe that until further studies are carried out, caution is recommended,” wrote study leader, physician and researcher Eran, by email to BBC News Brasil. Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

“It is important to note that our results in no way mean that sugar consumption, which is harmful to human health as many studies have shown, is superior to non-nutritive sweeteners. We believe that sugar consumption should be avoided or minimized, especially by populations prone to or suffering from metabolic diseases.”

The research carried out was of the RCT type, an acronym for randomized controlled clinical study, considered the “gold standard” in research due to its rigor.

In studies like this, patients (clinical) participate in the tests, who are randomly divided (randomized) into groups — those who receive the test treatment and those allocated in the so-called control group, which receives another treatment for comparison or placebo (an innocuous drug). .

intestinal changes

In the case of the research published in the journal Cell, 120 volunteers who were not in the habit of consuming non-nutritive sweeteners were divided into six groups: two control groups, one group that ingested aspartame, another saccharin, another stevia and another sucralose.

The groups that consumed the sweeteners did so for two weeks, including in the food sachets in an amount below the maximum recommended daily level.

Microbiota are generally beneficial collections of bacteria, fungi and viruses that are in different parts of our body, the gut microbiota being the largest, with trillions of microbes living there.

Through metagenomic analysis, which involves the genetic material of these microbes, the scientists found that each sweetener significantly impacted the gut and oral microbiota, while the control groups had no marked changes.

Eran Elinav explains that sweeteners can impact microbiota by inhibiting or stimulating the growth of some species, in addition to causing changes in intermediate factors, such as sweet or bitter taste receptors in the gut or the immune system — which indirectly affect the microbiota.

Through routine tests, the researchers recorded that people who ingested saccharin and sucralose had a significant increase in blood glucose.

In a second stage of the research, to prove a causality between the change in the microbiota due to the sweeteners and changes in glucose levels, the team used guinea pigs.

These received stool transplants from 42 volunteers, that is, they received part of the microbiota of the study participants.

The researchers observed similar changes in the microbiota and glucose levels in humans and guinea pigs. Soon, they demonstrated that sweeteners impact the microbiota, and that this in turn is also related to glucose levels.

“The microbiota affects metabolic health, including glycemic responses, in several ways. For example, the microbiota can modulate the secretion of gut hormones that affect insulin secretion and sensitivity,” explains Elinav.

BBC News Brazil asked why specifically saccharin and sucralose led to an increase in glucose, but received no response to that specific question.

In 2014, a study by the Weizmann Institute of Science with guinea pigs had already shown that non-nutritive sweeteners could lead to changes in glucose metabolism. Now, a next step, according to doctor and researcher Eran Elinav, is to have long-term studies tracking the impact of sweeteners on glucose levels in people at risk or diagnosed with diabetes.

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