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Artificial sweeteners during pregnancy can affect baby’s microbiome and obesity risk

Doubts abound about the safety of artificial sweeteners in pregnancy.

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

Can artificial sweeteners increase your unborn child’s obesity risk and even change the bacterial populations in their gut?

A new study looks into the link between sweetener consumption during pregnancy and the risk of obesity in children.

Pregnant rats fed stevia or aspartame had pups who were more likely to be obese and had specific abnormalities in their gut microbiome.

The results emphasize the significance of mother nutrition throughout pregnancy.

Could artificial sweeteners raise your unborn child’s obesity risk and possibly alter the bacterial populations in their gut?

This is the subject of a new study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, which indicates that rat mothers who drank sweets during pregnancy had children with a greater body fat percentage.

Changes in gut microbial communities were also observed in the rat pups, with an increase in propionate- and butyrate-producing microorganisms and a decrease in lactose-fermenting species, which could explain the weight gain.

The findings imply that a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy has a considerable impact on her child’s obesity risk.

The effects of sweeteners on newborn

Low-calorie sweeteners are commonly used as a healthier alternative to sugar, but they may have certain unintended consequences during pregnancy. While they are generally safe for adults, past study suggests that prenatal use by moms may have an impact on obesity risk and baby microbiota. No one had looked into it in depth before to understand the exact changes in microbial populations and their possible link to obesity.

“We know that a mother’s diet during pregnancy plays an extremely important role in determining whether their offspring will develop certain diseases later in life,” says Prof Raylene Reimer, senior author on the study.

“In this study, we were interested in determining how consuming low calorie sweeteners during pregnancy, specifically the artificial sweetener aspartame or the natural alternative stevia, affected the gut bacteria and obesity risk of offspring.”

To find out, the researchers fed pregnant rats aspartame, stevia, or plain water. The researchers weighed the rat pups after they were born and examined their gut microbiomes to see how the sweeteners had altered them.

Mothers had a Minimal effect

Surprisingly, the sweeteners had just a minor impact on the mothers of the rats, but had a considerable impact on their offspring. Puppies born to mothers who were given sweeteners grew more weight, had a higher body fat percentage, and had significant changes in their gut microbiomes, including an increase in propionate- and butyrate-producing microorganisms and a decrease in lactose-fermenting species. The pups’ weight gain could have been triggered by alterations in microbial fermentation in the stomach.

“Even though the offspring never consumed the low-calorie sweeteners themselves, their gut bacteria and obesity risk were influenced by the sweeteners that their mothers consumed during pregnancy,” adds Reimer.

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

So, what are the implications of the findings for expectant mothers? Although the study was conducted on rats and thus isn’t directly applicable to people, earlier human studies have found a similar association between sugar use during pregnancy and a higher newborn BMI. While more studies will provide clearer advise for mothers, it may be recommended skipping the sweeteners while pregnant for the time being.

“A mother’s diet during pregnancy is very important for the short- and long-term health of their infants,” adds Reimer. “Following dietary guidelines and staying within the recommended weight gain guidelines for pregnancy are key steps to take.”

Source: 10.3389/fnut.2021.795848

Image Credit: Getty

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