Many favor artificial sweeteners because they want to decrease their sugar intake and reduce the risk of weight gain and diabetes. However, a new study has reported that artificial sweeteners can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar; thus, leading to a risk for diabetes. The findings were published on September 17 in the journal Nature by researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
The study authors conducted a number of studies, primarily in mice, and found that the consumption of artificial sweeteners changed the bacteria in the intestinal tract, resulting in glucose intolerance. They were of the opinion that the change in bacterial content altered glucose metabolism; thus, causing glucose levels to increase to a higher level after eating and then declining more slowly than they otherwise would.
In the first set of experiments, the investigators added saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal) to the drinking water of 10-week-old mice. Other mice drank plain water, water supplemented with glucose, or water supplemented with table sugar. After a week, they found almost no change in the mice that drank water or sugar water; however, those that consumed the artificial sweeteners developed a significant intolerance to glucose. Glucose intolerance is aa condition in which the body is less able to cope with large amounts of sugar; it can lead to more serious conditions such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
When the investigators gave the mice with glucose intolerance antibiotics, which killed most of the bacteria in the digestive system, the glucose intolerance went away. The researchers have no explanation regarding how the sweeteners affect the bacteria or why the three different molecules of saccharin, aspartame and sucralose produced similar changes in glucose metabolism.
The next phase of the research involved saccharin only. The investigators extracted intestinal bacteria from mice who had consumed saccharin and injected them into mice that had never been exposed to saccharin. Those mice developed the same glucose intolerance. In addition, DNA sequencing revealed that saccharin had significantly changed the types of bacteria in the intestinal tracts of the mice that consumed it.
The researchers next conducted a human study. The study group comprise 381 nondiabetic individuals. They were asked to report on their use of any type of artificial sweeteners. The investigators found a correlation between the subjects’ reported use of any kind of artificial sweeteners and signs of glucose intolerance. In addition, they found that the intestinal bacteria of those who consumed artificial sweeteners were different from those who did not.
Another human study involved seven volunteers who normally did not use artificial sweeteners. Over a period of six days, they consumed the maximum amount of saccharin recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In four of the seven subjects, blood-sugar levels were disrupted in a similar manner as that of the mice. The researchers then injected the human participants’ bacteria into the intestines of mice. The rodents developed glucose intolerance; thus, suggesting that effect was the same in both mice and humans. A future study is planned that will examine aspartame and sucralose in detail as well as other alternative sweeteners such as stevia.