Low-cal sweetener study
High sugar consumption can lead to obesity and fatty liver disease. While synthetic and natural alternatives to sugar are available, little is known about their effects on the liver. A new study has found that stevia extract can reduce markers of fatty liver disease. The results of the pre-clinical research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, led to a clinical trial, now in progress.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that obesity affects nearly 19% of children. An associated condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects one out of every 10 children. Fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Consumption of too much sugar can lead to both obesity and fatty liver disease.
“Sugary foods and drinks can cause scarring in the liver, but we don’t know how non-caloric sweeteners may affect liver disease,” said Dr Rohit Kohli, MBBS, MS, from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Dr Kohli’s study addressed and answered the question, can non-caloric sweeteners improve signs of fatty liver disease? Using a pre-clinical model, Dr Kohli tested two widely available, non-caloric sweeteners — sucralose and stevia extract.
“We were interested in those two compounds because they are the newest and least studied in the context of liver disease and obesity,” Dr Kohli said.
The study compared the two sweeteners head to head with sugar and found that stevia extract lowered glucose levels and improved markers of fatty liver disease. These markers include fibrosis and fat levels in the liver. The study also uncovered some potential mechanisms that could be responsible for reversing these markers of fatty liver disease.
“We saw a decrease in signs of cellular stress and some changes in the gut microbiome, but there is more work to do in order for us to understand the clinical relevance,” Dr Kohli said.
The pre-clinical study was funded by the Stanley W. Ekstrom Foundation; findings from the study have led Dr Kohli’s team to a clinical trial, to test the effects of stevia in paediatric patients.
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