Originally Published: October 31st, 2014
Which is better, sugar or artificial sweetener? Or put another way… “regular” or “diet”? The use of the word “diet” to describe a product containing non-nutritive (non-caloric) sweetener carries a weighty assumption that has been called into question by both epidemiological human studies and controlled trials in mice.
As described in a recent white paper by Nerac senior analyst Stephen Buxser, Ph.D, the groundbreaking research by Suez et al. in the September 2014 online preprint of Nature provides detailed analysis of bacterial gut flora from mice consuming dosages of non-nutritive artificial sweeteners (NAS) that correspond to FDA’s acceptable daily intake for humans. This study found statistically significant glucose intolerance in mice after only 11 weeks, and experiments with fecal transplantation established a link between specific gut microbiota with saccharin consumption and subsequent development of glucose intolerance. Further assessment of metabolic pathways indicates a role for increased energy harvest from short chain fatty acids. In addition, analysis of human data from an ongoing clinical nutrition study also associates consumption of NAS with an impaired glycemic response.
Previous articles,  have explored the puzzling connection between artificial sweeteners and weight gain or undesirable metabolic health effects–potential explanations include dissociation of sweet taste from calories and compensatory consumption, alteration of gut bacteria, and interaction with sweet-taste receptors in the gut affecting glucose absorption and homeostasis. This recent study by Suez et al. points to the need for increased focus on how NAS affect the gut bacterial population, in particular as such changes may also impact metabolic programming during the perigestational period.
Earlier this year FDA proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label such that “added sugars” may be a required line item in the future, which mirrors the government’s increased focus on the risks associated with a diet high in sugar. Nutrition policy changes that limit sugars are likely to lead to product reformulations that include, among other things, more frequent use of non-nutritive sweeteners. However, this may not provide the intended and desired benefit of such products. As we learn more about the powerful impact of our gut, maintaining a healthful weight is clearly not just a simple calorie equation as once thought.
Interested in learning more about Using Federal Nutrition Policy to Guide Food Product Development? Register for Nerac’s FREE upcoming webinar on November 19, 1pm!
 Nerac. Buxser, Stephen, Ph.D. Artificial Sweeteners: Gut Microflora, Metabolism, and Diabetes: Potential for significant and unexpected health effects.
 Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, Elinav E. “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.” Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. Epub 2014 Sep 17.
 Pepino, M Y, Bourne, C, “Non-nutritive sweeteners, energy balance, and glucose homeostasis” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2011. Vol: 14 Pages: 391-395.
 Swithers, S E, Martin, A A, Davidson, T L, “High-intensity sweeteners and energy balance” Physiology and Behavior. 2010. Vol: 100 Pages: 55-62.
 Araújo, J R, Martel, F, Keating, E, “Exposure to non-nutritive sweeteners during pregnancy and lactation: impact in programming of metabolic diseases in the progeny later in life” Reproductive Toxicology. 2014. Vol: 49 Pages: 196-201.
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