Pass the sugar? Using low-calorie sweeteners while pregnant may be harmful to babies

CALGARY, Alberta — Low-calorie sweeteners are supposed to be a healthy choice, but for pregnant women, consuming such products may be detrimental to their unborn child. Babies born to mothers who used low-calorie sweeteners over the course of their pregnancy exhibited increased body fat and disrupted gut microbiota, according to a new study.

While some extra fat is certainly reason enough for prospective moms to avoid these products, an infant’s gut bacteria is incredibly important. If the trillions of bacteria and micro-organisms present in a baby’s stomach are out of whack, it could lead to serious health risks and a variety of diseases.

In summation, the research team at the University of Calgary say that consuming low-calorie sweeteners while pregnant can have serious negative consequences for a child’s critical first few years of life.

“Low-calorie sweeteners are considered safe to consume during pregnancy and lactation, however evidence is emerging from human studies to suggest they may increase body weight and other cardiovascular risk factors,” comments Dr. Raylene Reimer, PhD, a University of Calgary professor, in a university release. “Even stevia, which is hailed as a natural alternative to aspartame and other low calorie artificial sweeteners, showed a similar impact on increasing offspring obesity risk in early life.”

It’s no secret that obesity is on the rise in the United States, so it makes sense that these seemingly healthier sweeteners continue to rise in popularity and use. Additionally, women and children tend to use these products more often than men.

Unfortunately, daily consumption of these products in young girls has been linked to early menstruation (younger than 10 years old), which in and of itself is thought of as an indicator of chronic disease. Moreover, some breastmilk samples have shown traces of low-calorie sweeteners, meaning it may be possible for nursing mothers to unknowingly pass these substances to their infants.

The study’s authors caution that modern science is still somewhat in the dark regarding how these sweeteners influence weight gain, but they are fairly confident it is linked to disturbances in gut microbiota. An animal study involving feces indicated as much.

When fecal matter from babies born to mothers who regularly used low-calorie sweeteners was transplanted into sterile, germ free mice, the mice immediately put on extra weight and displayed poorer blood glucose control. This means, the study’s authors say, that despite the fact that the babies never actually consumed the sweeteners themselves, these substances’ effect on the mothers’ metabolisms and microbiota was enough to change their offspring’s microbiota and induce weight gain in the babies.

“A healthy pregnancy, including good nutrition, is important for a healthy baby,” Reimer concludes. “Our research will continue to examine what makes an optimal diet and more importantly seek to find ways to correct disruptions to gut microbiota should they occur.”

The study is published in the journal Gut.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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