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MCAT

Unit 2: Lesson 3

Foundation 3: Organ Systems

Do artificial sweeteners increase diabetes risk?

Problem

The effect of non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) on human metabolism is controversial. Some suggest that NAS may short circuit metabolic pathways resulting in catastrophic consequences that range from increased obesity rates to higher cancer incidence. Recently, scientists performed three experiments to verify the effects of NAS on blood glucose levels and glycemic index - a number that indicates the total rise in a person's blood after ingesting food - and how the host’s intestinal microbes may modulate this effect.
Experiment 1
Scientists supplemented the drinking water of mice with high doses of commercial formulations of saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame. At the same time, control groups of mice were given water only, or water supplemented with glucose or sucrose solutions. After 11 weeks of exposure, glucose tolerance testing was performed on all groups of mice.
Experiment 2
Scientists repeated the same experiment after treating the mice with 2 broad-spectrum antibiotic regimens (designated antibiotics A and B).
Results of experiments 1 and 2 are shown on Figure 1.
Figure 1 Blood glucose levels per 15 minute interval following ingestion of oral glucose solution at t = 0
Experiment 3
The scientists performed an additional experiment on two groups of mice who had never been exposed to NAS. One group of mice received an intestinal microbiota transplantation from donor mice that drank saccharin solution. A second group received an intestinal microbiota transplantation from donor mice that drank water only. The results of glucose tolerance testing for each group are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Blood glucose tolerance testing following microbiota transplant from donor mice; * and ** indicates significantly different results at p < .05 and p < .01, respectively
Assuming that their results reflect what would be observed in humans, what is the effect of saccharin exposure on blood glucose levels and complications associated with diabetes mellitus risk?
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