Your gut can differentiate sugar from artificial sweetener: study

If you’ve turned to artificial sweeteners to curb your daily sugar cravings but haven’t had much success, your gut may be running away.

New research shows that cells in your gut can distinguish between sugar and artificial sweeteners — even if your taste buds are oblivious — and can communicate the difference to your brain in milliseconds, providing clues as to why sugar cravings can hardly kick in.

The peer-reviewed research, published Jan. 13 in Nature Neuroscience, focused on a cell in the gut called a “neural nerve,” which plays an important role in the relationship between what’s inside the gut and how it affects the brain.

The researchers say their latest findings suggest that neurons are sensory cells in the nervous system, acting like taste buds in the tongue or retinal cone cells in the eye that help us see colour.

“These cells function just like the retinal cone cells that are able to sense the wavelength of light,” said Diego Pohorquez, a researcher at Duke University School of Medicine, in a news release.

“They sense traces of sugar versus the sweetener and then release different neurotransmitters that go into different cells in the vagus nerve, and eventually the animal knows that ‘this is sugar’ or ‘this is a sweetener. “

Using lab organelles — miniature copies of an organ produced in a lab — from human and mouse cells to represent the small intestine and upper intestine, researchers have shown in a small experiment that real sugar stimulates individual neurons to release glutamate, a chemical that nerve cells use to send signals to other cells. as a neurotransmitter.

On the other hand, artificial sugar caused the release of a different neurotransmitter.

Using a technique called optogenetics, a biological technique of controlling the activity of neurons or other cell types with light, the researchers were then able to turn leg neurons on and off in the gut of a live mouse to show if the animal’s preference was real. The sugar was driven by signals from the gut.

With leg neurons turned off, the animal no longer showed a clear preference for real sugar.

“We trust our gut with the food we eat,” Bohorquez said. “Sugar has both taste and nutritional value, and the gut is able to identify both.”

Bohorquez argues that the gut speaks directly to the brain, which may alter our eating behavior.

The researchers hope that with further study, these findings may lead to new treatments that target the gut.

“Many people struggle with sugar cravings, and now we have a better understanding of how the gut senses sugar (and why artificial sweeteners don’t suppress those cravings),” he said in a press release.

“We hope to target this circuit to treat diseases we see every day in the clinic.”

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