Do you put sweetener in your coffee? Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science released a study stating that artificial sweeteners might trigger high blood-sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners are promoted as aiding weight loss and preventing diabetes – but they actually may have the opposite effect.
The study led by Weizmann researchers Dr. Eran Elinav of the Immunology Department and Prof. Eran Segal of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department discovered that the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in food and drink may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemics.
The research teams at the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered that artificial sweeteners, even though they do not contain sugar, have a direct effect on the body’s ability to utilize glucose. Glucose intolerance – generally thought to occur when the body cannot cope with large amounts of sugar in the diet – leads to metabolic diseases and adult-onset diabetes.
Scientists gave mice water containing the three most commonly used artificial sweeteners – in the equivalent amounts to those permitted by the FDA. These mice developed glucose intolerance, as compared to mice that drank water, or even sugar water. Repeating the experiment with different types of mice and different doses of the sweeteners produced the same results – these substances were somehow inducing glucose intolerance.
The researchers then investigated a hypothesis that the gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. They thought the bacteria might do this by reacting to new substances like artificial sweeteners, which the body itself may not recognize as “food.” Indeed, artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, but in passing through they encounter trillions of the bacteria in the gut microbiota.
DOES THE HUMAN MICROBIOME FUNCTION IN THE SAME WAY?
Dr. Elinav and Prof. Segal had a means to test this as well. As a first step, they looked at data collected from their Personalized Nutrition Project (www.personalnutrition.org), the largest human trial to date to look at the connection between nutrition and microbiota. Here, they uncovered a significant association between self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, personal configurations of gut bacteria and the propensity for glucose intolerance.
STUDYING EFFECTS OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS ON HUMANS
They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of volunteers who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week and then undergo tests of their glucose levels, as well as their gut microbiota compositions. The findings showed that many – but not all – of the volunteers had begun to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of artificial sweetener consumption. The composition of their gut microbiota explained the difference: The researchers discovered two different populations of human gut bacteria – one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, the second that had no effect in either situation. Dr. Elinav believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body’s ability to utilize sugar.
Prof. Segal explained “The results of our experiments highlight the importance of personalized medicine and nutrition to our overall health. We believe that an integrated analysis of individualized ‘big data’ from our genome, microbiome and dietary habits could transform our ability to understand how foods and nutritional supplements affect an individual person’s health and risk of disease.”
Dr. Elinav stated that “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between the use of artificial sweeteners – through the bacteria in our guts – to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for a reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”
Weizmann Canada is proud to announce that amongst the many supporters of Dr. Elinav and Dr. Segal’s research, are Canadians Cynthia and Andrew Adelson, Heather Adelson, Gail and Alan Marcovitz and Leesa Steinberg. We thank them for their vision and continued support.
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Also participating in this research were Christoph A. Thaiss, Ori Maza, and Dr. Hagit Shapiro of Elinav’s group; Dr. Adina Weinberger of Segal’s group; Dr. Ilana Kolodkin-Gal of the Molecular Genetics Department; Prof. Alon Harmelin and Dr. Yael Kuperman of the Veterinary Resources Department; Dr. Shlomit Gilad of the Nancy and Stephen Grand Israel National Center for Personalized Medicine; Prof. Zamir Halperin and Dr. Niv Zmora of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Tel Aviv University; and Dr. David Israeli of Kfar Shaul Hospital Jerusalem Center for Mental Health.
Dr. Eran Elinav’s research is supported by the Abisch Frenkel Foundation for the Promotion of Life Sciences; the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science; the Gurwin Family Fund for Scientific Research; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Adelis Foundation; Yael and Rami Ungar, Israel; the Crown Endowment Fund for Immunological Research; John L. and Vera Schwartz, Pacific Palisades, CA; the Rising Tide Foundation; Gail and Alan Marcovitz, Canada; Cynthia and Andrew Adelson, Canada; Heather Adelson, Canada, Leesa Steinberg, Canada; the estate of Lydia Hershkovich; the European Research Council; the CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; the estate of Samuel and Alwyn J. Weber; and Mr. and Mrs. Donald L. Schwarz, Sherman Oaks, CA. Dr. Elinav is the Incumbent of the Rina Gudinski Career Development Chair. Prof. Eran Segal’s research is supported by the Kahn Family Research Center for Systems Biology of the Human Cell; the Carolito Stiftung; the Cecil and Hilda Lewis Charitable Trust; the European Research Council; and Mr. and Mrs. Donald L. Schwarz, Sherman Oaks, CA.