Stevia could be the sweetest choice for diabetics
Stevia helps control blood sugar in diabetics in a way that differs from other sweeteners, suggests new research in mice published in Nature Communications.
A team of British and Belgian researchers found the sweetener stimulates a protein linked to taste perception and insulin release called TRPM5. Mice fed a high-fat diet will eventually develop Type 2 diabetes, but they found this was less likely for those given stevia-sweetened drinking water. Mice that lacked the protein were not protected, suggesting the effect was due to the interaction of stevia components with TRPM5.
A potential boon for the stevia industry, the discovery could pave the way for new treatments for Type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.
Zero-calorie sweeteners have long been recommended for diabetics as a way to enjoy sweet foods without raising blood sugar levels. However, stevia-derived sweeteners appear to go a step further, actually helping to control those levels.
This research is the first to suggest a good reason for that, showing that certain stevia components may boost taste perception and insulin release. The protein thought to be responsible for these effects is linked to the way we perceive sweet and bitter flavors, which could explain why stevia tastes so sweet — about 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar — as well as its bitter aftertaste.
The researchers said there was still a lot of work to do to test whether stevia sweeteners could treat or prevent Type 2 diabetes, and pointed out that further studies were needed to see if the results applied to humans. However, if additional research confirms their initial findings, it would certainly give stevia a significant edge over other sweeteners.
Some studies support the use of zero-calorie sweeteners in foods for diabetics because they are less likely to increase blood sugar levels. But others have suggested that some sweeteners could interfere with gut bacteria in a way that leads to weight gain, or even cause increased glucose and insulin levels.
Several studies have already shown that stevia may control blood glucose and insulin levels, but better understanding of the mechanism responsible is likely to bring further benefits for diabetics and the stevia industry alike.