Hormone That Differentiates Between Sugar, Artificial Sweeteners May Exist In Humans

First Posted: Jun 12, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

Sometimes eating foods with artificial sweeteners seem like a bit of a wasted effort. As many have oftentimes found themselves eating more as a result of the missed calories, scientists had pegged this to evolution and the brain. In other words, as our brains are trained to receive caloric intake when receiving sweet-tasting foods, consumption of artificial sweeteners may result in a greater consumption of food, overall.

New findings published in the journal Neuron specifically studied how the brain of a fruit fly differentiates between the two. As fruit flies and humans share about 75 percent of the same disease-causing genes, researchers believe that the distinct molecular machinery that presents in both the guts and brains of humans allows them to differentiate in a similar way to fruit flies.

"We can ask, 'Do these genes work the same in humans, to tell real sugar from artificial sweetener?'" Monica Dus, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, said in a news release. "The bits and pieces are there, so it is really possible that these genes work in a similar way. Plus, we knew that the human brain could tell the difference between real and fake sugar, we just did not know how."

For the study, researchers deprived the fruit flies of food for several hours and then gave them a choice between diet, non-nutritive sweeteners and real sugar. After the flies licked the real sugar, it activated a group of six neurons that released a hormone with receptors in both the gut and brain.

A hormone was released during this process, letting the fly know that it was receiving nuritionment. On the other hand, when it licked the diet sweetener, the same hormone/digestive reaction did not occur. Furthermore, throughout the study, the flies always abandoned the sweetener for the real thing.

If our brains work in a similar way, this may explain why many diet foods seem less satisfying to some people, potentially resulting in weight gain.

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