A study found that sugar may actually be healthy for some Greenlanders.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have found that up to three percent of Greenlanders may have a rare genetic mutation that allows their bodies to process sugar in a healthy way.
Since many people in Greenland come from gene pools that have consumed little at all for centuries, their bodies have been modified to consume sugar in a different way.
Those with the mutation are less likely to be obese, or suffer from a wide range of health problems generally associated with being overweight.
A Danish research team has found that up to 3% of Greenlanders have a rare genetic mutation that allows their bodies to process sugary foods in a way that makes them as healthy as foods like broccoli (file photo)
“Adult Greenlanders with genetic variation have lower body mass index (BMI), weight, fat percentage and lower cholesterol levels, and are generally healthier,” Anders Albrechtsen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.
They have less belly fat and may find it easier to get a six-pack. It’s amazing and surprising that genetic diversity can have such a beneficial effect.
The researchers, who published their findings earlier this month in the Journal of Gastroenterology, collected data from a group of 6,551 adults from the Arctic, which has a total population of about 56,000.
They found that up to three percent of respondents had a rare mutation called sorex-isomaltase deficiency.
While the majority of people absorb the sugar they consume into their bloodstream, these people’s bodies instead send it to the intestines, where it is broken down and used for energy.
“Here, gut bacteria convert sugar into a short-chain fatty acid called acetate, which has been shown in previous studies to reduce appetite, increase metabolism and boost the immune system,” Mitt Andersen, first author of the study and assistant professor at the school, said in a statement.
“That’s probably the mechanism that’s going on here.”
Researchers point to the diet of Greenlanders as the reason for this type of mutation.
“This is probably because Greenlanders don’t have a lot of sugar in their diet,” Albrechtsen said.
They mostly ate meat and fat from fish, whales, seals, and reindeer. A berry might have crept in here and there, but their diet had very little sugar in it.
The incidence of this type of mutation may not be as great as it seems, especially for young children.
Greenlanders with the mutation, called sorex isomaltase deficiency, process sugary foods in their gut, not their bloodstream, metabolizing the foods in a way that provides energy. Researchers believe the boom formed because people on the island have eaten healthy, low-sugar diets for centuries (file photo)
“Carriers of the younger type suffer from negative consequences due to their different type of sugar absorption,” Dr. Turbin Hansen, MD, professor at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement.
For them, eating sugar causes diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. Our guess is that as they get older, their gut bacteria gradually get used to sugar and learn how to convert it into energy.
The research team hopes that their work and discovery of this new mutation will lead to a breakthrough in the development of drugs to treat heart disease and obesity.
“We can see that genetic variation provides a better balance of lipids in the bloodstream, which leads to lower weight and therefore less cardiovascular disease,” Hansen said.
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.