Share it! Science : Trust your Gut

Trust your Gut

     A recent study shows that consuming artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame and sucralose) may cause us some serious health problems by interfering with the beneficial microbes in our guts.

Our bodies are covered inside and out with micro flora- from our skin, to our eyelids, to our intestines. Although thinking about this may make some squirmy we are better off with them, than without. Scientists in the artificial sweetener study found that after an 11 week diet of artificial sweeteners, mice had very high levels of glucose circulating in their bodies after meals. Mice who consumed glucose sugar water did not exhibit this problem. This indicated that the artificial sugar was interfering with the way the body processes glucose. Humans with issues processing glucose can develop diabetes or obesity. They found that the reason this was happening was because the artificial sugar was altering the microbiota, bacteria and microbes, in the guts of the mice in a way that prevented the digestive system to work properly. When a similar test was run on human subjects they began to see the same results in only a week. This is a big deal because the reason many people consume artificial sweeteners is to lose weight or to lower their sugar intake. Consuming the artificial sweeteners could have the reverse affect, and possible contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes.
     Caring for our micro flora probably is not something that many of us think about on a daily basis. However, the more diverse the good bacteria and microbes are in our guts, the better our health is. Many foods are suggested to benefit your microscopic gut friends. suggests 7 foods to improve the diversity and productivity of your gut micro flora. A quick google search will give you many hits with similar lists. The recommendations are mostly fermented foods, such as kefir, kimchi, real sauerkraut and yogurt or items you may find in a probiotic diet. 
Sauerkraut- Great for your gut?!
Humans were able to keep themselves alive using natural foods and fermentation long before we were cooking up artificial sweeteners in labs. If you are interested in learning more about fermented foods I would suggest, as I have in another post,  to read Michael Pollan's latest book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation  which devotes an entire section to the subject of fermented foods, micro flora and the cultural history of these food items. It is more interesting than reading about fermentation sounds- trust me!
     I am not attempting to advocate a particular diet, I just believe that this study illustrates once again how when we mess around too much with the food we consume it begins to mess with us! Although there are currently many health issues that can be scary for kids and adults (Ebola, Enterovirus) we need to understand and educate our children about good bacteria and microbes along with the bad.
Precautions to prevent spreading germs are important, as are precautions to preserve good microbes. There are many educational materials illustrating the importance of our gut micro flora for children. Unfortunately, one theme in most of what I found were smiling faces on the kids, microbes don't have faces...but once you get beyond that there is a lot to be learned! Here is an example of a video lesson put together by TED EDlessons, and several more can be found in the resources section below.

Read more:

Resources on Good Bacteria and Microbes:

Tyler DeWitt- TED talk "Hey Science Teachers--Make it fun" a lesson on bacteria and viruses

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