Copenhagen, Denmark – Could Sweet Candy Really Be a Healthy Part of Your Diet? Believe it or not, it turns out that some people living in Greenland are carriers of a very special genetic variant. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen claim that up to three percent of Greenlanders are able to process sugar differently, which makes a bowl of ice cream as healthy as a plate of broccoli!
The team finds that the unique diet of people who have lived in Greenland for millennia, which contains virtually no sugar, has resulted in two copies of a genetic mutation that helps them absorb sugar differently from all other humans. This makes them less likely to be overweight, have cholesterol issues, or suffer from obesity-related illnesses.
“Adult Greenlanders with the genetic variation have a lower BMI, body weight, fat percentage and cholesterol level and are generally healthier. They have less belly fat and might find it easier to get a six pack. It is astonishing and surprising that genetic variation has such a profoundly beneficial effect, ”says biology professor Anders Albrechtsen in an academic publication.
What is this gene variant used for?
In a study of 6,551 adult Greenlanders, the team found that two to three percent of the group have what scientists call a sucrase-isomaltase deficiency. This means that they don’t absorb regular sugar from the blood like most people do. Instead, the sugary treats go straight to the gut where the body metabolizes them there.
“Here, the gut bacteria convert the sugar into a short-chain fatty acid called acetate, which in previous studies has been shown to reduce appetite, increase metabolism and boost the immune system. This is most likely the mechanism that occurs here, ”says Mette Andersen, assistant professor at the Metabolism Research Center in Copenhagen.
What is so special about the Greenland diet?
The study’s authors say the most likely reason for the development of this “soft” mutation is the traditional Greenlandic diet that dates back thousands of years.
“This is probably due to the fact that the Greenlanders did not get a lot of sugar in their diet. For the most part, they ate the meat and fat of fish, whales, seals and reindeer. only crowberry may have crept in here and there, but their diet had minimal sugar content, ”says Albrechtsen.
The researcher adds that this lifestyle also makes the genetic variant more common, as there has never been a biological need to rapidly absorb sugar into the human bloodstream. While this is great for adults, unfortunately it is a problem when they are kids.
“Young people who are carriers of the variation experience negative consequences because of their different type of sugar absorption. For them, consuming sugar causes diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. Our hypothesis is that as they age, their gut bacteria gradually get used to sugar and learn to convert it into energy, ”notes Torben Hansen, physician and professor at the Foundation’s Center for Basic Metabolic Research in Copenhagen.
The hope now is to turn this discovery into a treatment for people living with cardiovascular disease or those who are obese.
“We can see that the genetic variation provides a better balance of fat in the bloodstream, which results in lower body weight and therefore less cardiovascular disease. If you can develop a drug that inhibits the sucrase-isomaltase gene, then in principle we might all be able to have equally strong health profiles, ”concludes Hansen.
The results appear in the newspaper Gastroenterology.