New Sweetener From The Tequila Plant May Aid Diabetes, Weight Loss
Melanie Heiken | March 17, 2014.
Could a new sugar substitute actually lower blood sugar and help you lose weight? That’s the tantalizing – but distant – promise of new research presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week.
Agavins, derived from the agave plant that’s used to make tequila, were found in mouse studies to trigger insulin production and lower blood sugar, as well as help obese mice lose weight.
Unlike sucrose, glucose, and fructose, agavins aren’t absorbed by the body, so they can’t elevate blood glucose, according to research by Mercedes G. López, a researcher at the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Biotechnology and Biochemistry Irapuato, in Guanajuato, Mexico.
And by boosting the level of a peptide called GLP-1 (short for glucagon-like peptide-1), which triggers the body’s production of insulin, agavins aid the body’s natural blood sugar control. Also, because agavins are type of fiber, they can make people feel fuller and reduce appetite, López’s research shows.
“We believe that agavins have a great potential as light sweeteners since they are sugars, highly soluble, have a low glycemic index, and a neutral taste, but most important, they are not metabolized by humans,” read the study abstract. “This puts agavins in a tremendous position for their consumption by obese and diabetic people.”
The caveat: The research was conducted in mice, and more study is necessary before we’ll know whether agavins are effective and safe in humans. In other words, we’re a long way from agavins appearing on grocery store shelves.
That said, with almost 26 millions of Americans living with diabetes and another 2 million diagnosed each year, a sweetener that lowered blood sugar levels rather than raised them would be quite a useful discovery. Not to mention the potential for a sugar substitute with the potential to help people lose weight.
In the study, titled “Agavins as Potential Novel Sweeteners for Obese and Diabetic People”, López added agavins to the water of mice who were fed a standard diet, weighing them and monitoring blood sugar levels every week. The majority of the mice given the agavin-supplemented water had lower blood glucose levels, ate less, and lost weight compared with other mice whose water was supplemented with glucose, sucrose, fructose, agave syrup, and aspartame.
How Are Agavins Different from Other Sugars?
Unlike other types of fructose, Agavins are fructans, which are long-chain fructoses that the body can’t use, so they are not absorbed into the bloodstream to raise blood sugar. And despite the similarity in the name, agavins are not to be confused with agave nectar or agave syrup, natural sweeteners that are increasingly popular sugar substitutes. In these products the fructans are broken down into fructose, which does raise blood sugar – and add calories.
López has been studying fructans for some time, and has published previous studies showing that they have protective prebiotic effects in the digestive tract and contribute to weight loss in obese mice.
A 2012 study by another team of researchers published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that fructans boosted levels of the beneficial probiotics lactobacillus and bifidus. And like many types of fiber, agavins also lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.
But the news isn’t all good; a 2011 literature review of human studies of the relationship between fructans (not agavins specifically) and blood sugar found that of 13 randomized studies of fructans, only three documented positive results. It remains to be seen whether – as López argues – agavins are distinct from other fructans in their action.
The downside: Agavins are don’t taste as sweet as other forms of sugar such as sucrose, fructose and glucose. And not everyone can tolerate them; like other types of fiber they have the potential to cause digestive problems.