A study with diabetic rats found that the sweetener could protect the cells lining the blood vessels from oxidative stress, a key process in the development of heart disease, according to findings from researchers from Maastricht University and Tate & Lyle.
Against the backdrop of soaring obesity and diabetic statistics, consumer and political pressure is driving manufacturers to slice calories from their food formulations.
Erythritol, a bulk sweetener polyol that occurs at low levels in some fruits and fermented foods, contains a variety of benefits, including zero-calorie content, low GI index and a low laxative effect. The ingredient, manufactured by Jungbunzlauer and Cargill, is already marketed towards diabetics, since it does not affect glucose and insulin levels.
The benefits for diabetic could go beyond these effects, according to findings published in Nutrition: “Erythritol may help reduce the glycemic impact of a food or beverage, thereby reducing the effects of hyperglycemia-induced free radical formation,” wrote the researchers, led by Gertjan den Hartog from Maastricht University. “[This is] expected to reduce the onset and progression of painful and life-threatening diabetic complications,” they added.
Foods targeted at diabetics have a large and growing consumer base to aim for. An estimated 19 million people are affected by diabetes in the EU 25, equal to four per cent of the total population. This figure is projected to increase to 26 million by 2030.
In the US, there are almost 24 million people with diabetes, equal to 8 per cent of the population. The total costs are thought to be as much as $174 billion, with $116 billion being direct costs from medication, according to 2005-2007 American Diabetes Association figures.
The researchers performed both in vitro and in vivo studies. For the in vitro study, they tested the activity of erythritol (Zerose, Cargill) at various concentrations ranging from 0 to 8 millimoles to quench hydroxyl radicals. Results from these tests showed that the sweetener could scavenge the hydroxyl radicals in a dose-dependent manner. On reaction with the hydroxyl radicals the erythritol formed erythrose. It did not show any activity towards superoxide radicals, however.
The in vivo tests use diabetic mice fed 1,000 mg of erythritol per kilogram of body weight per day. In this instance, the researchers found that the sweetener “displayed an endothelium-protective effect”. Furthermore, in agreement with the in vitro study, erythrose was detected in the rats’ urine.
“The protective effects of erythritol need not be restricted to diabetes,” stated the researchers. “Its unique free radical scavenging properties could be beneficial in other chronic disorders in which oxygen radicals are responsible for tissue damage.”
The sweetener has been allowed for use in the US since 1997 and in Japan since the early 1990s. In Europe, erythritol achieved novel foods approval in 2006 and the European Commission directive 2008/100/EC led to erythritol being established as a zero calorie ingredient at the end of 2008.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2009.05.004
"Erythritol is a sweet antioxidant"
Authors: G.J.M. den Hartog, A.W. Boots, A. Adam-Perrot, F. Brouns, I.W.C.M. Verkooijen, A.R. Weseler, G.R.M.M. Haenen, A. Bast