Tequila Plant Sweetener Claims to Reduce Blood Sugar and Weight In Diabetics, but We Are Skeptical

Another day, another overly-catchy "natural" health headline. This time, we are being told that the "tequila plant" can be made into a better sweetener than existing alternatives. "Tequila plant sweetener could help reduce blood sugar, weight among diabetics," says The Times of India, and "New sweetener from the tequila plant may aid diabetes, weight loss," says Forbes. Very cool, if true — but, given the track record of breakthroughs such as this (aspartame, splenda, stevia, and other alternative sweeteners), I'm prepared to be skeptical. What is the claim? And what is the evidence?

As you'll see if you Google "tequila plant," these headlines just refer to the agave plant, from which a variety of products — including but not limited to tequila — are made. But attention-grubbing headlines aside, here's the real news, about an agave-derived compound called "agavins" (not to be confused with ordinary agave syrup, health breakthrough of a few years ago):

Scientists fed a group of mice a standard diet and added agavins to their daily water. They weighed the mice daily and checked their glucose blood levels weekly.
Most mice that drank agavins ate less, lost weight and their blood glucose levels decreased when compared to other sweeteners such glucose, fructose, sucrose, agave syrup and aspartame.

That's right: mice who drink agavins-containing water experience some benefits as compared to mice drinking otherwise-sweetened water. How about a plain water control group? Apparently, no such luck.

Researchers' theoretical explanation for the effect is convenient:

“We believe that agavins have a great potential as light sweeteners since they are sugars, highly soluble, have a low glycemic index, and a neutral taste, but most important, they are not metabolized by humans,” read the study abstract. “This puts agavins in a tremendous position for their consumption by obese and diabetic people.”

Sounds like the stuff scientific careers are made of! But, admittedly, the researchers still don't know whether agavins are effective — let alone safe — in humans. So, a word to the wise diabetic: for now, please continue following your doctor's advice regarding all sweeteners (and your diet in general), and don't hang your hat too much on the future of a possibly awesome (but also possibly dangerous and/or useless) novelty substance.