Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Delusional Appetites

"I'm looking at this thinking I'm never drinking a diet soda again."
"What really struck me was that the effect on the microbiota was so extreme. It's a pretty impressive piece of work [new findings on artificial sweeteners]."
Emma Allen-Vercoe, microbiologist, University of Guelph
'Diet' drinks
Are artificial sweeteners in 'diet' drinks and foods having exactly the opposite effect of what one might hope? the scientists wondered. Photo by Adi Dovrat-Meseritz
"I don't believe it means anything in terms of public health."
Berna Magnuson, toxicologist/nutritionist

But there it is, a study that concludes that artificial sweeteners may be harming us in ways never before suspected. Artificial sweeteners are widely used in food products; from soft drinks to diet desserts; those artificial sweeteners represent a widely used food additive globally in the production of processed foods appealing to the public for presumed properties leading to weight loss. Artificial sweeteners are considered calorie-neutral, using them in lieu of naturally-derived sugars as an additive to food is a widely popular alternative to sugars, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, honey, lactose, and all such sugars considered to be responsible for weight gain through 'empty' calories.

Health Canada, made aware of the study results and which regulates the use of the mostly artificial compounds that are so widely marketed as a means of losing weight and controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes, has not yet conducted a review of the findings. It should, and in all probability it will get around to studying the results of the experiment that went into deriving the conclusion that leads the study co-author Eran Elinav to claim that "the relationships we have with our personal gut bacteria is significant to understanding how the food we eat affects us, and our tendency to develop conditions such as obesity and diabetes." 

 Weizmann Institute of Science
Electron microscope image of a healthy mouse small intestine showing bacteria (strings) surrounding the gut villi (protrusions). A human small intestine looks very similar. Photo by Weizmann Institute of Science

The study was led by the Weizmann Immunology Department's Eran Elinav whose scientific collaboration with Eran Segal of the Computer Sciences and Applied Mathematics Department looked at 381 people in a nutritional study to find many of them who consumed artificial sweeteners happened to also present with elevated glucose levels and changes in gut bacteria. Their curiosity was aroused by the fact that people who used artificial sweeteners to lose weight, ended up gaining weight instead. Sugar produces energy, but is of no nutritional value to the body; its appeal lies in its sweet taste, and it does add significant calories to the human diet.

What the researchers found was that though artificial sweeteners contain no glucose (the simplest form of sugar) they have an effect on how bodies process sugar. They realized that people who consumed artificial sweeteners were susceptible to developing glucose intolerance, considered a pre-diabetic state of hyperglycemia (hyperglycemia means high sugar levels circulating in the blood stream). They deduced that the state of glucose intolerance resulting from artificial sweetener use translates as the body losing its ability to handle sugar, that primary energy source.

Artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people by hampering the way their bodies handle sugar, according to results of a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature.
Jenny Kane / Associated Press   Artificial sweeteners may set the stage for diabetes in some people by hampering the way their bodies handle sugar, according to results of a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, the Israeli scientists' study results calls out for a reassessment of the use of artificial sweeteners which have swept the market in the production of processed food and drink products meant to assure people that they would not be consuming energy-dense and weight-gaining sugars with the use of these products. It seems, however, that for every short-cut to mediate the effects of over-consumption leading to obesity, another complication rears its ugly head, when the solution to gaining unwanted weight is to practise simple moderation.

Moderating food and drink intake does sound simple enough; don't eat more than you should to promote your own good health. But it's a difficult thing for people to restrain their appetites when their eyes and taste buds incite them to keep savouring the texture, flavour and taste of food and drink so pleasing to their taste buds. We are not naturally given to self-discipline. And eating and drinking are pleasures that we take seriously, not only because we must eat and drink to enable our bodies and brains to function but because eating and drinking are aesthetic pleasures we enjoy enormously.

Dissenting voice of Berna Magnuson, that toxicologist/nutritionist who teaches part-time at University of Toronto who stated that the study's "broad sweeping" conclusions are not substantiated by the experiments, mostly feeding high levels of saccharin to mice is interesting. Previous studies, pointed out Berna Magnuson, demonstrate artificial sweeteners can aid people to lose weight. This expert's testimony against the conclusions of the study, however, should be tempered hugely by the fact that she is a consultant for the soft drink industry.

Ms. Allen-Vercoe, on the other hand, specializes in the gut ecosystem and knows well how vital it is in helping to keep people healthy through well-functioning, healthy microbiata. The Israeli team's research did focus primarily initially on mice, feeding them saccharin to discover that shift in gut bacteria and elevated blood sugar levels. But they also, apart from the study of 381 people involved in a nutritional program, took seven people as volunteers who normally did not use artificial sweeteners and placed them on a diet including the maximum daily intake allowed by health authorities; equivalent to 40 cans of a cola-type drink daily.

That is, admittedly, excessive. And the results were swift; within a week, four of the volunteers had developed elevated blood-glucose levels and altered gut bacterial colonies reflective of what was seen in the saccharin-fed mice trials. So, as far as the expert specializing in the gut ecosystem is concerned, the study points to a "very slow dawning that we are missing a threat by not looking at what the microbiota is doing."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet