Sugar Substitutes Linked to Obesity
Artificial sweeteners seem to change the microbiomes of our guts
The artificial sweeteners that are widely seen as a way to combat obesity and diabetes could, in part, be contributing to the global epidemic of these conditions.
Sugar substitutes such as saccharin might aggravate these metabolic disorders by acting on bacteria in the human gut, according to a study published by Nature this week (J. Suez et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13793; 2014). Smaller studies have previously purported to show an association between the use of artificial sweeteners and the occurrence of metabolic disorders. This is the first work to suggest that sweeteners might be exacerbating metabolic disease, and that this might happen through the gut microbiome, the diverse community of bacteria in the human intestines. “It’s counter-intuitive — no one expected it because it never occurred to them to look,” says Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University.
The findings could cause a headache for the food industry. According to BCC Research, a market-research company in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the market for artificial sweeteners is booming. And regulatory agencies, which track the safety of food additives, including artificial sweeteners, have not flagged such a link to metabolic disorders. In response to the latest findings, Stephen Pagani, a spokesman for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, says that, as with all new data, the agency “will decide in due course whether they should be brought to the attention of panel experts for review”.