Sweetener Derived From Agave Plant May Help Lower Blood Sugar

A common ingredient in the tequila plant could benefit metabolic health.

A sweetener created from the agave plant, most commonly know for making tequila, has been shown to reduce blood sugar and weight gain in mice, according to a recent research study.

Agavins, a non-digestible dietary fiber, reduces blood sugar and increases GLP-1 production, or glucagon-like peptide-1, a gastrointestinal hormone that helps stimulate insulin production. GLP-1 helps the body by slowing the emptying of the stomach, according to Mercedes G. López, PhD, lead researcher of the study at the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Biotechnology and Biochemistry Irapuato in Guanajuato, Mexico. According to Dr. López, GLP-1 facilitates the production of insulin and helps people feel fuller after their meals.

Agavins are also made of fructans, long strains of fructose that the body can’t digest like shorter fructose sugars. This means that agavins don’t affect blood sugar levels like high fructose corn syrup, and actually help facilitate the growth of healthy mouth and intestinal microbes, reported Dr. López at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), held in Dallas, Texas.

Studied First in Animals

Dr. López and colleagues discovered evidence that suggests agavins reduce blood glucose levels while studying mice. The study was conducted by feeding the mice a standard diet plus agavins added to their water. After frequent evaluations, including weighing the animals, the scientists discovered that the mice that had agavins added to their diet, lost weight and reduced their blood sugar levels.

More studies have yet to be conducted to see if humans have a similar positive metabolic response to diet containing agavin sugars.

Agavins and Fructose

As noted, agavins contain fructoses, but as Dr. López pointed out, high-fructose corn syrup is loaded with fructose sugars and, therefore, can raise blood sugar levels. But agavins are fructans, which are fructoses linked together in long, branched chains. The human body can’t use them in that configuration, so they don’t affect blood sugar, she explained.

Agavins also sometimes get confused with agave nectar or agave syrup. Agave nectars and syrups, commonly marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar and honey, don’t contain the same beneficial agavin fructans. Unfortunately, the fructans in these products are broken down into smaller fructose chains, which means that they still affect blood sugar levels like high fructose corn syrup, noted the investigators.

While agavins may not be as sweet as other alternative sugars, they have no known side effects—unlike artificial sweeteners, which can cause headaches. Some people may be unable to digest agavins, however.

Sorry, Agavins Not in Tequila

Agave plants are famous for being an essential ingredient to the production of tequila. The alcoholic drink doesn’t contain any agavins, however, because the fermentation process converts the sugars into the alcohol ethanol.

The study was supported by Mondelez International and Agavaceae Produce.