Artificial sweeteners have become commonly accepted substitutes for sugar and they’ve made their way into more products than we realize.
People who are watching their weight prefer them and so do those struggling with type 2 diabetes, but are they really better for us?
Are Artificial Sweeteners Really Safe?
In all, there are six sweeteners that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While these sweeteners provide no nutritional value, the FDA has determined that they can be safely consumed.
FDA approved sweeteners:
- Acesulfame potassium
From this list, only the first four sweeteners can be purchased by consumers.
Advantame and neotame are primarily used as food additives in processing plants.
Research Finds That Artificial Sweeteners May Actually Affect Blood Glucose
As it turns out, artificial sweeteners may do some harm to diabetics after all.
New research has found that by altering the make-up of the gut microbiome, artificial sweeteners can negatively impact blood glucose levels.
When sweeteners are consumed and exposed to the bacteria in the large intestine, it has a tendency to change the way the body metabolizes the chemicals in the sweetener. This may increase your intolerance to glucose.
Research conducted at Weizmann Institute suggests that the artificial sweeteners we assume are safe may actually be just as harmful as real sugar.
This is because more people consume them, thinking artificial sweeteners won’t contribute to obesity or diabetes. The research was prompted by the observation that people who regular consume artificial sweeteners are not losing weight.
Since these sweeteners are calorie-free, it stands to reason people who consume them should be losing weight fairly steadily.
In an earlier study, which was led by Jotham Suez, it was discovered that artificial sweeteners may actually cause weight gain by promoting glucose intolerance.
What is Glucose Intolerance?
This is a condition where the cells in the body become resistant to glucose signals for them to absorb energy from blood sugar. Over a prolonged period, insulin is forced to store the glucose generated by sweeteners as fat, creating a condition that will eventually result in type 2 diabetes.
The latest study, which was led by Dr. Eran Elinav and Professor Eran Segal, sought to identify how artificial sweeteners would affect glucose intolerance.
Dividing mice into three groups, one group was fed regular water, one group was fed a water and sugar mixture, and the test group was given water mixed with artificial sweeteners.
The mice being fed the artificial sweeteners continuously developed glucose intolerance faster than the other mice. Even when different breeds of mice were used and the amount of sweetener was adjusted, the results were similar.
What Does This Have to Do With the Gut Microbiome?
The bacteria in this portion of the intestine help drive various biological functions, including digestion. However, they can’t recognize the chemicals in the artificial sweeteners as food, which means they can’t process these substances correctly.
Taking the experiment further, the researchers replaced the bacteria that makes up the unique configuration of the gut microbiome. As a result, glucose intolerance was reversed in the test mice.
In another part of the study, the researchers transferred the bacteria from test mice who were fed the artificial sweeteners to mice who had had their own gut bacteria removed. When tested, the second group of mice were found to become glucose intolerant, suggesting the condition was the result of an interaction between the gut microbiome and artificial sweeteners.
It was also found that incubating a mixture of the bacteria and artificial sweeteners externally still resulted in glucose intolerance, once the bacteria was transferred to the mice.
When the bacteria was examined, the researchers found that the microbial properties had been altered. The changes raised a risk for the development of several conditions, including obesity and diabetes.
What About Humans?
The next step was to find out if these changes would be similar in human subjects. The research team conducted two tests. The first one was observational only, reviewing surveys and medical evaluations for a group of subjects. They compared the consumption of artificial sweeteners to instances of glucose intolerance and found a definite correlation.
The second study involved seeking out volunteers who were not glucose intolerant and who did not ordinarily consume artificial sweeteners. These subjects were asked to consume artificial sweeteners regularly through a two-week period. At the end of the 14-day trial, the subjects’ glucose levels were tested and the majority of them were close to developing glucose intolerance.
Additional research is needed, because the study’s authors believe those who were not affected by the artificial sweeteners may have had different bacteria in their gut microbiomes. If this is the case, there may be specific strands of bacteria responsible for instigating the reaction that leads to glucose intolerance. If the specific bacteria can be identified, it may ultimately lead to a more effective treatment for diabetes.
While research is still ongoing, these early findings suggest artificial sweeteners may not be as safe as many people trying to lose weight think. This may explain why so many diabetics have difficulty keeping their glucose levels under control even when they follow stricter diets.
For those who need to maintain a tighter control on blood sugar levels, staying away from sweeteners altogether may be the best choice.