Column: Healthy Routes

Digestion: Zero Calories, Your Microflora and Type 2 Diabetes

by Gladys Kublik, coowner Neighbors Vitamin Shop

An article in the Science and Technology section of the September 20th edition of The Economist illustrates again how important our digestive health is to our overall health. We have discussed various aspects of this through a series of articles on the theme “Health through Digestion” and so it was very interesting to read an article titled “Saccharin Solution?” only to find out that it also pointed to the digestive system as the key.
I would like to quote some of this article directly:

“Diet Coke is one of science’s great miracles. Ordinary Coca-Cola relies on lashings of sugar to achieve its trademark sickly sweetness – 15.9 grams per can or about a third of the total daily intake recommended for women by Britain’s National Health Service. A can of Diet Coke by contrast, contains no sugar at all. It owes its sweetness to aspartame and acesulfame-K, a pair of chemicals that are far sweeter than ordinary sugar, but which provide the body with no energy at all. That magic combination of sweetness without calories has made artificial sweeteners among the most widely used food additives in a world that is struggling to keep its waistline in check.”

The article goes on to discuss a paper recently published in Nature which studied the correlation of increased usage of artificial sweeteners and increased incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Even though artificial sweeteners are not considered poisonous to humans (we can’t even digest most of them), this paper shows that they may be deadly for “the zillions of microbes that live in people’s guts – and this in turn, may be bad for their human hosts. The microbiome, which includes all the microscopic species which inhabit our bodies and gut bacteria in particular have been found to affect all kinds of bodily functions. Their actions and secretions have been implicated in everything from depression and arthritis to the regulation of the immune system.”

Dr. Elinav and Dr. Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, lead authors of the Nature article, ran a comprehensive series of animal trials to determine if artificial sweeteners would affect intestinal bacteria. Three groups of lab mice were given water containing either aspartame, sucralose or saccharin. Three control groups of mice were given either plain water or water containing sucrose or glucose, which are sugars the body can draw energy from. After one week all groups were given a high dose of glucose and blood tests were done to see how well they processed it.

The inability to process glucose properly is a risk factor for obesity and is a characteristic of diabetes. The mice drinking the water sweetened with zero calorie, artificial sweeteners were hampered in their ability to process glucose resulting in higher levels in their blood. Other tests were then carried out which determined that the main factor inhibiting the proper breakdown of glucose was a change in the gut bacteria.

“Mice, of course are not people, and it is here that things get trickier. To check whether their results applied to humans, the doctors looked at data from an ongoing human nutritional study that they are both involved in. As with the mice they found a correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and various risk factors for diabetes, including higher weight, a greater waist-to-hip ratio and higher levels of glucose in the blood.”

Today, artificial sweeteners are found in everything from toothpaste to pain killers and I find that to be a very frightening fact. Not only is more than one third of the North American population considered to be obese, but almost ten percent of the population has diabetes, and nine out of ten diabetics suffer from Type 2 diabetes. The increased prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes occurring in children is especially alarming. Estimates given for childhood obesity average seventeen percent. Given these facts, the above study is certainly worth considering.
To me, it again shows how everything we put in our mouths has consequences for our whole being, and it also points to the fact that so called safe chemicals which are being routinely included in so many products may be more detrimental than anyone thought.

I think I’ll increase my daily probiotics to support my gut flora from the unknowns in my diet.

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