Study links artificial sweetener consumption in pregnancy to infants with higher levels of body fat

New research has linked artificial sweeteners in pregnancy to bigger babies [Photo: Getty]

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about what women should and shouldn’t consume while pregnant and sometimes it is difficult for mums-to-be to know what you can and can’t eat.

Just last week Millie Mackintosh unwittingly sparked a debate about whether it was safe to eat seafood while pregnant.

And now new research has suggested consuming low calorie artificial sweeteners while expecting could lead to higher body fat levels in infants.

The animal study, published in the journal Gut, aimed to examine the impact of the maternal consumption of sweeteners on the body weight, glucose tolerance and gut microbiota of offspring.

Researchers analysed 150 female Sprague-Dawley rats during pregnancy and lactation and their offspring up to 18 weeks after birth.

READ MORE: Artificial Sweeteners Are Linked to Weight Gain - Not Weight Loss

The rats were split into groups with different diets, though all had a high fat sucrose diet (HFS), one group also consumed sucrose and water, another consumed aspartame (found in artificial sweeteners) and a third - stevia, a natural low-calorie sweetener.

Findings suggested that regular consumption of both artificial and natural sweeteners while pregnant increased body fat in offspring at weaning and body weight long-term.

The researchers also believe that these sweeteners could also be responsible for disrupting the gut microbiome of offspring.

“The results of our study assessing maternal consumption of aspartame and stevia are consistent with emerging human evidence from observational studies that LCS (low calorie sweetners) intake is associated with increased body mass index (BMI) and cardiometabolic risk,” the study reads.

While further research needs to be done to fully understand how sweeteners affect weight gain, there is there is some evidence to suggest it could be connected to how sweeteners alter the gut microbiota.

“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,” study author Dr Raylene Reimer, a University of Calgary professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, and Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine told Medical Xpress.

“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.”

READ MORE: Artificial sweeteners in Diet Coke ‘can be toxic to your gut bacteria’

Artificial sweetener consumption in pregnancy could be linked to bigger babies [Photo: Getty]

Researchers now hope the findings of the animal study could help to better inform pregnant women about the potential impact the consumption of sweeteners may have.

“Understanding the impact of dietary ingredients on maternal metabolism and gut microbiota may help to define the optimal maternal diet, one which promotes a healthier future for both mother and child,” Dr Reimer continues.

“A healthy pregnancy, including good nutrition, is important for a healthy baby.

“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.”

Aspartame has been hitting headlines since its US approval in 1981.

The European Food Safety Authority ruled it safe for human consumption in 2013, however, animal studies have linked it to everything from depression and seizures to Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Supporters argue it gives the same sweet taste at much lower quantities than sugar, discouraging overeating and subsequent weight gain.

Consumption of artificial sweeteners has risen by 200% among children and 54% in adults over the past 20 years, the UniSA scientists claim.

The study results come as it was revealed in December that those who eat artificial sweeteners actually weigh more than sugar consumers.

While people watching their waistlines may often opt for low-calorie sugar alternatives like Splenda and Sweet ‘n’ Low in the hope it will help them stay slim, a study of more than 5,000 people by the University of South Australia (UniSA) suggests, found artificial sweeteners could actually have the opposite effect.