This is what the WHO says about sweeteners

This is what the WHO says about sweeteners

Which sweeteners would come under the WHO's scrutiny, and how would our gut microbiota be affected?

Kevin Meza Achahue, Scientist - R&D Specialist at Bifidice

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement on May 15th of this year discouraging the consumption of non-sugar sweeteners for weight management and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

A systematic review of available evidence suggests that non-sugar sweeteners do not have long-term benefits for reducing body fat in adults or children. Previous research has yielded inconsistent and contradictory results, and several studies have linked the consumption of non-sugar sweeteners to the development of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in adults.

Some common non-sugar sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia and its derivatives. The WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars and opting for foods with natural sugars, such as fruits, or non-sugar foods and beverages. 

How does the consumption of sweeteners affect the gut microbiota?

Although there is limited research on this topic, evidence from animal models and human studies suggests that non-sugar sweeteners can cause changes in the gut microbiota, with effects involving glucose metabolism.

For example, studies have shown that mice exposed to non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) like saccharin exhibited glucose intolerance and changes in their microbial composition, including an increase in bacterial genera associated with type II diabetes in humans. Additionally, transferring the microbiota from saccharin-exposed mice to "germ-free" mice reproduced the glucose intolerance, suggesting a causal role of the microbiota.

In another study involving 120 healthy adults, it was found that daily consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) below the recommended levels caused changes in both the gut and oral microbiota, as well as alterations in blood glucose levels. These effects were more pronounced in individuals who consumed saccharin and sucralose. Moreover, a more disturbed glycemic response was associated with greater modifications in the microbiota. Once again, this effect was confirmed by transferring the microbiota to gnotobiotic mice, resulting in similar glycemic responses as those observed in the human donors.

Despite the above, we still do not know to what extent, and under what molecular mechanisms, sweeteners may affect the intestinal microbiota, and further study is needed. "We have a symbiotic relationship with our microbiota. In other words, we need each other to live. There is already evidence of how non-caloric sweeteners affect the microbiota, but the mechanism remains to be better understood." Romina Hidalgo, Bifidice’ Head of Science. 

Probiotics and their relevance in diabetes

Considering the long-term effects of sweetener consumption, there are alternative approaches to addressing metabolic diseases such as type II diabetes. Among the potential solutions, there is increasing evidence supporting the consumption of probiotics, particularly due to their association with the microbiota. These beneficial organisms, such as those provided by the Bifidice products, can have a positive impact on various aspects of health, including reducing blood glucose levels, improving body weight and cholesterol levels, as well as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

At the end of the day, the objective we should pursue with our diet is to establish good eating habits to prevent diseases, an action that also benefits a healthy microbiota.

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