These results suggest that maternal diet during pregnancy can significantly affect obesity risk in children.
A new study suggests that the use of artificial sweeteners during pregnancy may increase the obesity risk of the unborn child and can change bacterial populations in their gut, according to a study published in Frontiers in Nutrition.1
The study authors evaluated rat mothers who consumed sweeteners during pregnancy, which showed that the offspring had higher body fat percentage and changes in gut microbial communities, with increases in propionate- and butyrate-producing microbes and reductions in lactose-fermenting species. These results suggest that maternal diet during pregnancy can significantly affect obesity risk in children, according to the study authors.
“We know that a mother’s diet during pregnancy plays an extremely important role in determining whether their offspring will develop certain diseases later in life,” said senior author Raylene Reimer of the University of Calgary in the press release. “In this study, we were interested in determining how consuming low calorie sweeteners during pregnancy, specifically the artificial sweetener aspartame or the natural alternative stevia, affected the gut bacteria and obesity risk of offspring.”
The research team fed aspartame, stevia, or plain water to pregnant rats, followed by weighing the rat pups once they were born to examine their gut microbiomes and assess how the sweeteners had affected them.
Although the sweeteners had minimal effects on the rat mothers, it had significant effects in their offspring, according to the study. The pups who were born of sweetener-fed mothers gained more weight, had a higher body fat percentage, and showed key changes in their gut microbiomes. The team noted that these changes in microbial fermentation in the gut may have caused weight gain in the pups.
“Even though the offspring never consumed the low-calorie sweeteners themselves, their gut bacteria and obesity risk were influenced by the sweeteners that their mothers consumed during pregnancy,” Reimer said in the press release. “We found that specific bacteria and their enzymes were linked to how much weight the offspring gained and how much body fat they accumulated.”
Additional research is needed to provide clearer guidance for mothers and to analyze how it directly applies to human subjects, the study authors concluded.