Expectant mothers who consume artificial sweeteners are more likely to have overweight children, study warns

Expectant mothers who consume artificial sweeteners are more likely to have overweight children, study warns

  • Researchers tested two sweeteners on pregnant rats to see the impact on their pups
  • Rats fed stevia or aspartame gave birth to fatter babies with altered gut microbiome
  • Stevia or aspartame are both common diet soda alternatives in the UK
  • Although the study was on rats, the scientist says it could also apply to human mothers



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Expectant mothers who consume a lot of artificial sweeteners are more likely to have children who become obese, a study suggests.

Canadian researchers found that pregnant rats fed either stevia or aspartame — two of the most common sweeteners — had fatter pups.

But experts believe the findings could also apply to expectant mothers, as a range of other studies are similar in humans.

Professor Raylene Reimer, from the University of Calgary, said: ‘A mother’s diet during pregnancy is very important for the short and long term health of their babies.

“Following dietary guidelines and staying within recommended weight gain guidelines for pregnancy are important steps to take.”

Although the researchers did not test individual soft drinks, Diet Coke contains aspartame, one of the artificial sweeteners tested in the study.

Although the researchers did not test individual soft drinks, Diet Coke contains aspartame, one of the artificial sweeteners tested in the study.

What does the NHS say about artificial sweeteners?

Sucralose is one of several artificial sweeteners approved for use in the UK.

Dietitian Emma Carder states: ‘Research into sweeteners shows that they are completely safe to eat or drink every day in the context of a healthy diet.

She also says they are a really helpful alternative for people with diabetes who need to monitor their blood sugar levels while still enjoying their favorite foods.

‘Sweeteners, like sugar, have a sweet taste, but what sets them apart is that they don’t raise blood sugar levels after consumption,’ she says.

It has been suggested that the use of artificial sweeteners may have a stimulating effect on appetite and therefore may play a role in weight gain and obesity.

But research on sweeteners and appetite stimulation is inconsistent. There is also little evidence from longer-term studies to show that sweeteners cause weight gain.

Source: NHS

Artificial sweeteners are used by millions of people to reduce their calorie intake and lower sugar consumption. They can be added to drinks or sprinkled over food.

The thinking is that these sweeteners, which have little or no calories, are better for the waistline and don’t raise blood sugar.

But a number of studies have suggested that they may not be as helpful for weight loss as commonly thought, and may even trick the brain into getting hungry.

Professor Reimer and colleagues divided the pregnant rats into three groups. Some were given aspartame, which is used in Diet Coke, others were given stevia, which is used in 7UP Free.

A third group of pregnant rats was given water, which allowed the researchers to detect any differences between the groups.

Their puppies were weighed as soon as they gave birth with tests conducted to see how their mother’s diet affected their gut bacteria.

Like humans, rats have a community of microscopic life in their digestive system that helps break down food.

There were hardly any effects on the rats that gave birth, the researchers wrote in the journal Limits in nutrition.

But they found that puppies born to mothers fed sweetener were heavier with a higher percentage of body fat.

They also showed higher levels of some microbes and fewer of others.

Researchers believe these changes in their microbiome may explain why they gained more weight.

“Although the offspring never consumed the low-calorie sweeteners themselves, their gut bacteria and risk of obesity were influenced by the sweeteners their mothers consumed during pregnancy,” said Professor Reimer.

“We found that specific bacteria and their enzymes were related to the weight the offspring gained and how much body fat they had accumulated.”

A number of other studies have also examined the negative effects of sweeteners used in diet sodas on obesity.

Last year, researchers at the University of Southern California tested the impact of sucralose on 74 volunteers and found that it actually increased food cravings.

But official NHS advice says research on sweeteners and appetite stimulation is inconsistent and diet soft drinks could offer a healthier alternative for people with diabetes who need to watch their blood sugar levels.

Childhood obesity is a huge problem in both the UK and the US, with up to a third of young people in each country considered overweight.

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