Low-calorie sugar alternatives could negatively affect gut health, study finds

Low-calorie sugar alternatives, once thought to be relatively harmless, may have a negative effect on human gut health, according to a new study.

All four substances tested in the study (saccharin, sucralose, aspartame and stevia) were found to change the gut microbiome, the collection of microbes in the gut that help protect humans from diseases and allow us to digest food.

“It’s about more than just the number of calories in these ingredients,” ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton told “Good Morning America” ​​Monday, describing the study’s findings.

The study, published this month in the medical journal Cell, involved 120 healthy adults, who were given the various low-calorie sugar alternatives at levels below the acceptable daily intake. Participants who took part in the study did not eat low-calorie sugar alternatives as part of their diet before the study.

Study participants logged all their food and physical activity using a smartphone app, and researchers took microbiome samples from their gut and mouth.

“Basically what they did is they looked at all these sugar substitutes, things like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia,” said Ashton, who was not involved in the study. “Then they did some blood tests, they looked at indicators of the gut microbiome, and what they found was that saccharin and sucralose, in particular, increased blood glucose, or ‘blood sugar’ ‘. [and] stevia raised our insulin level.”

She continued: “So, ultimately, these are not harmless substances or so-called ‘inert substances.’ And again, it’s about more than whether or not they have calories like regular sugar.”

The researchers noted that previous research has shown that sugar consumption is strongly associated with weight gain, and replacing sugar in the diet with low-calorie sugar alternatives is one of the most common strategies people use to fight obesity and hyperglycemia, citing a study that showed 25.1% of children and 41.4% of adults in the United States consumed low-calorie sugar alternatives from 2009 to 2021.

The previous study noted that more women than men also consumed them.

Various brands of sugar substitute packets.

STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The prevalence of obesity in adults in the United States was 41.9% in 2017-2020 and has increased by 11.4% between 1999 and 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In children and adolescents, the prevalence of obesity is 19.7% in 2017-2020.

The prevalence of obesity may be higher depending on location, with the Midwest and South having the highest rates of obesity, according to CDC data.

People who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, mental illness, and other health problems.

For people whose diets are currently high in sugar substitutes, Ashton said she recommends minimizing their use, though she acknowledges it may take time to do so.

“At the moment we need more research to know conclusively what impact it has on our health, but the results of this study suggest that there is an impact on our metabolic health, our general health and our gut, everything is important,” she said. “So I think my recommendation would be to minimize their use, not rely on them as a harmless, completely free-for-all in terms of what we’re putting in our food, and take some time to retrain your taste buds. · the tastes.”

She continued, “It takes time, but it’s possible, and you can walk away from those sweets.”

Dr. Alexandria C. Wellman, a resident in the Combined Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, is part of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.