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Benefits ‘way beyond diabetes’? A look at the glucose stabilisation market

Article-Benefits ‘way beyond diabetes’? A look at the glucose stabilisation market

© iStock/rudi_suardi Benefits ‘way beyond diabetes’? A look at the glucose stabilisation market
Driven by nutrition influencers and health-conscious consumers, the glucose stabilisation market is growing, with products ranging from “anti-spike” supplements to fortified waters. But is it delivering health benefits to non-diabetics?

In 2022, Mintel picked the essential trace mineral chromium, which has two EU approved health claims for maintaining normal blood glucose levels and macronutrient metabolism, as its “nutrient to watch” thanks to growing consumer interest in controlling blood sugar.

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) were primarily developed for diabetics but increasing numbers of healthy people are using them to track their blood sugar levels and personalising their food choices accordingly.  

According to another market research company, New Nutrition Business, the blood glucose trend is being “strongly driven by social media influencers and health-forward consumers.

“It has a broad benefit platform that extends way beyond diabetes; people are motivated by weight wellness, better mood, hormone health, steady energy, and better sleep,” it said.

Metabolic health: Fortified water and ‘anti-spike’ supplements

Brands are responding to this consumer interest with product launches that claim to reduce glucose spikes.

French biochemist and nutrition influencer Jessie Inchauspé is the name behind The Glucose Goddess, an Instagram account where she gives dietary advice on how healthy people can reduce glucose spikes and, in doing so, improve their physical and mental health.

Her “food hacks” include having a savoury breakfast, eating vegetarian starters, and drinking diluted vinegar before a meal or snack. (Vinegar is said to slow down the breakdown of starches into glucose and encourage glucose uptake by the muscles, meaning less glucose in the blood stream, according to her site.)

Inchauspé recently launched a supplement called Anti-Spike Formula that claims to “work within minutes” to reduce glucose spikes and insulin spikes by around 40%, while also cutting cravings, reducing hunger, and sustaining energy.

The supplement contains 250 mg of white mulberry leaf extract, 250 mg lemon extract, 85 mg cinnamon bark extract, and 100 mg of polyphenols from purple carrot, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, courgette, cucumber, and artichoke. The final product has not been tested in a clinical trial, although the Glucose Goddess website shares details of published clinical trials on the individual ingredients.

Another glucose control product is made by Swedish brand Good Idea. It manufactures a naturally flavoured sparkling water that contains five amino acids – l-leucine, l-isoleucine, l-valine, l-threonine, and l-lysine monohydrate – and the mineral chromium picolinate, as well as zinc and potassium.

“The combination of chromium picolinate and the five amino acids included in Good Idea have a synergistic effect that not only reduces total blood sugar (20-30% reduction in post-prandial blood glucose), but also helps to improve energy levels, reduce cravings, and improve metabolic health,” it said.

(Scientists at the European Food Safety Authority [EFSA] disagreed and in 2014 rejected a health claim filed by DoubleGood AB, the company behind Good Idea, for this specific ingredient combination and the claimed benefit.)

Are there any downsides to limiting glucose spikes?

While drinking a can of fortified flavoured water will not cause any harm to health (even if it does not deliver on the claimed benefits), Dr Nicola Guess, clinical and academic dietitian and research fellow at King’s College London, argues that taking a “glucocentric approach” to nutrition can be problematic as people may resort to eating patterns that, while reducing glucose spikes, have other unintended consequences.

Following a very low-carb/high-fat/high-protein diet, for instance, reduces glucose levels but can also raise circulating non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) and post-prandial triglycerides, she wrote on her Dr Guess Blog.

If people use CGMs to track the impact of each snack and meal on their metabolism, this may cause feelings of stress or even create orthorexic tendencies.

A supplement that claims to reduce the glucose spike of each carb-heavy meal could also have the unintended consequence of encouraging unhealthy eating by acting as a kind of “get-out-of-jail-free card” for processed, refined carbohydrates. The Glucose Goddess website, for instance, says the Anti-Spike Formula works on “all your favourite carbs” and then lists pictures of doughnuts, chocolate, candy, ice cream, cake, pastries, and French fries to illustrate these foods.

Finally, Guess argues, elevated glucose is a symptom of an underlying pathophysiology and, therefore, targeting the symptom rather than the underlying pathophysiology does not make sense.

To prevent a sustained, year-on-year rise in glucose and, in doing so, prevent type 2 diabetes from developing, the underlying pathophysiolgy must be addressed. According to Guess, there is “no evidence that lowering glucose itself does anything to prevent type 2 diabetes from developing”.

Functional fibres still have ‘real potential’

As global rates of obesity, overweight, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic health problems rise, interest in glucose stabilisation is likely to rise, too – and the health and wellness industry will seek to capitalise on this.

Speaking at the 2023 Fi Europe Conference, Sophie Medlin, consultant dietitian and chair of the British Dietetic Association for London, voiced her reservations about CGMs – “CGM equipment will tell you that eating a stick of butter is better than eating an apple […]. Hopefully all of us know that's not the right message for people to be receiving” – but she added that some ingredients are known to benefit blood glucose response and manufacturers could use them to make products healthier.

“Functional fibre products can be really useful here,” she said. “Things like guar gum, psyllium husk – those kinds of ingredients have been on the market for ages [and] we know them to be really safe. They are non-fermentable carbohydrates and they can have a significant reduction in the glucose response that people have when they are consuming a food.”

Brands are increasingly adding functional fibres to their products to replace the sweetness and bulk of sugar. Low-calorie ice cream brand Halo Top is one example, Medlin said.

She added: “I think there is some real potential here – it's certainly something that people are talking about and thinking about in the market.