Scientists find new biomarker to measure sugar consumption

June 18, 2013, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Scientists find new biomarker to measure sugar consumption
Diane O'Brien, associate professor of biology and wildlife, and leader of research project that identified a new tool that can dramatically improve the notoriously inaccurate surveys of what and how much an individuals eats and drinks. O'Brien is a scientist at the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Credit: Diane O'Brien.

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks identified a new tool that can dramatically improve the notoriously inaccurate surveys of what and how much an individual eats and drinks. Their research is published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Conventional wisdom says that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and fruit juice is a significant contributor to obesity and chronic disease risk, but the science surrounding this issue is inconclusive. Part of the problem is that in a typical diet survey few people accurately and consistently recall what they consumed. The problem becomes exaggerated when people underreport foods they know are less healthy for them, like sugars.

"We were looking for an objective biomarker that could accurately measure long-term sugar intake from a single blood or hair sample" said Diane O'Brien, project leader and biologist with the UAF Center for Alaska Native Health Research at the Institute of .

The biomarker O'Brien and her CANHR research group pilot-tested was the ratio of two different (heavy carbon 13 and light carbon 12) which are incorporated into plants during photosynthesis. The ratio, called an , is distinct in corn and sugar cane, which are the sources of nearly all of the sugars found in sugar-sweetened beverages.

"We used the isotopic signature of alanine an amino acid and building block of protein that essentially traps the carbon from so that it can be measured in the of hair or blood," O'Brien said.

Even after foods and beverages are consumed, metabolized, transported in blood and stored in body tissues, these isotopic signatures remain largely intact. The more sugar-sweetened beverages an individual consumes, the greater alanine's carbon isotope ratio will be. Importantly, O'Brien's group found that alanine was uncorrelated with other foods that can contribute to elevated carbon ratios.

Although the use of isotope signatures to study food webs and diet is not new, previous efforts to accurately measure sweetener intake have not been particularly successful. The use of alanine and the technique employed by O'Brien's group makes their findings particularly exciting.

"Even for validated and well-accepted biomarkers of diet, associations with self-reported intake are generally very weak. Our was able to explain almost half of the variation in self-reported sugar-sweetened beverage intake, which in this field is a very high level of explanatory power," said O'Brien.

The scientists' findings are also being used in other health and diet-related research.

"Diane's research program has provided CANHR with incredibly valuable objectively measured biomarkers of food intake," said CANHR Director Bert Boyer. "These biomarkers are currently being used to help us understand the role polyunsaturated fatty acids play in disease prevention, including the modification of genetic risk."

The tool is not without its drawbacks, caution the authors.

"The gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry process we used isn't inexpensive and or widely available," O'Brien said. "We expect that our findings will be most useful as a calibration tool, either for self-reported dietary data or more high-throughput biomarkers of sweetener intake."

Explore further: Black students drink more soda when available at school

More information: A Novel Carbon Isotope Biomarker for Dietary Sugar. J. Nutr. 2013 143: 763-765.

Related Stories

Black students drink more soda when available at school

May 15, 2013
The availability of sugar-sweetened or diet soda in schools does not appear to be related to students' overall consumption, except for African-American students, who drink more soda when it's available at school, finds a ...

180,000 deaths worldwide may be associated with sugary soft drinks

March 19, 2013
Sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks may be associated with about 180,000 deaths around the world each year, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, ...

Kid's consumption of sugared beverages linked to higher caloric intake of food

March 12, 2013
A new study from the Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reports that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are primarily responsible for higher caloric intakes of children that consume SSBs as ...

Effect of policies by school districts, states on items sold outside the school meal program

June 10, 2013
District policies and state laws help reduce the availability of sugar- and fat-laden foods and beverages in elementary schools, according to a study published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

Sugar-sweetened beverages associated with increased kidney stone risk

May 15, 2013
Twenty percent of American males and 10 percent of American females will experience a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime. Often, these patients will be advised to drink more fluids as a way to prevent future stone ...

Banning sugar-sweetened beverages in schools does not reduce consumption: study

November 7, 2011
State policies banning all sugar-sweetened beverages in schools are associated with reduced in-school access and purchase of these beverages, however these policies are not associated with a reduction in overall consumption ...

Recommended for you

Group suggests pushing age of adolescence to 24

January 22, 2018
A small group of researchers with the Royal Children's Hospital in Australia is suggesting that it might be time to change the span of years that define adolescence—from the current 10 to 19 to a proposed 10 to 24 years ...

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.