Sugar Substitute Erythritol May Increase Obesity Risk

While no adverse health effects have been tied to erythritol thus far and this food sweetener is widely recognized as safe, fresh evidence has come to light revealing that it could be disadvantageous for human health in the long run.

Erythritol is a sugar sweetener that occurs naturally in certain fruit and is widely used as substitute for sugar. It tastes and looks like sugar, and yet is too low in calorie. This sugar substitute is widely used to sweeten low-calorie foods.

The current research carried out by investigators at Cornell University, Braunschweig University of Technology, Germany, and the University of Luxembourg debunks the myth that the sugar alcohol erythritol is well-tolerated and non-toxic, even when consumed regularly and in high amounts.

Researchers of the new study identify the food sweetener erythritol as a biomarker for obesity. Conventional wisdom says that this sugar substitute is not metabolized by the human body. Contrary to this assumption, researchers of the current study say that erythritol can be metabolized by the human body.

They identify this sweetener as a biomarker for weight gain and increasing fat mass, and show that it is even produced in human bodies. In their research, the investigators found that that this sugar substitute may be associated with increased obesity risk and increase in fat mass in young adults who consume large amounts of low-calorie foods, which largely contain this sugar alcohol.

To determine the impact of erythritol on metabolism, the researchers conducted a discovery-based analysis where they examined 264 young adults during the transition to college life.

They found that students who gained weight and abdominal fat over the course of the year had 15-fold higher levels of erythritol in their blood at the start of the year versus those whose weight was stable or who lost weight and fat mass over the academic year.

“About 75 percent of this population experiences weight gain during the transition,” said Patricia Cassano, professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. “With this in mind, it is important to identify biomarkers of risk that could guide its understanding and prevention.”

“With the finding of a previously unrecognized metabolism of glucose to erythritol and given the erythritol-weight gain association, further research is needed to understand whether and how this pathway contributes to weight-gain risk,” Cassano concluded.

The findings from this new study were published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in an article entitled “Erythritol Is a Pentose-Phosphate Pathway Metabolite and Associated with Adiposity Gain in Young Adults.”

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