Research shows that Artificial Sweeteners increase blood sugar, May lead to Diabetes

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The journal Nature has recently published an article that shows that artificial sweeteners increase blood sugar, and may lead to type 2 diabetes as directly as eating sugar does. The use of artificial sweeteners has been a contentious topic for decades. The new research, from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, finds that differences in gut microbes may explain why some people can handle artificial sweeteners just fine while for others the sweeteners lead to blood sugar problems.

The human digestive system is home to millions of microbes, largely bacteria, that help digest food and play a major role in one’s health.

Eran Elinav, who studies the link between an individual’s immune system, gut microbes and health at the Weizmann Institute admitted that his research has soured him on sweetening the coffee he needs to get through his day.  “I’ve consumed very large amounts of coffee and extensively used sweeteners, thinking that they were at least not harmful and perhaps even beneficial,” Elinav said at a telephone news conference Tuesday. “Given the surprising result we got in our study, I made a decision to stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Artificial sweeteners are not digested, so it was assumed that there would be no way for them to lead to diabetes. Microbes commonly found in the human gut, however, seem to be affected by these indigestible sugars.  In a series of experiments in mice and people, the researchers examined the interaction between gut microbes and consumption of the sweeteners aspartame (found in NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (found in Splenda) and saccharine (found in Sweet’n Low). Depending on the types of microbes they had in their intestines, some people and mice saw a two to fourfold increase in blood sugars after consuming the artificial sweeteners for just a short time. These increased levels of blood sugar can easily lead to diabetes over time.

Researchers began by testing the three widely used sweeteners in mice. Some mice got one of the artificial sweeteners in their water, and others got sugar water or just water. After 11 weeks, researchers gave all the mice a dose of sugar and monitored the response in their blood sugar levels.

“The magnitude of the differences were not just a few percentages. These were very dramatic differences,” said Eran Segal, a study co-author who is a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute.

A diet study of 400 people found that those who consumed the most artificial sweeteners were more likely to have problems controlling blood sugar.

In another part of the study, researchers gave seven individuals a high dose of saccharin, 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, the Food and Drug Administration’s maximum daily intake, for 6 consecutive days.  Four of these individuals also began showing signs of glucose intolerance.  The researchers report suggested that artificial sweeteners “may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact [diabetes] epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight.”

So next time you want a diet drink reach for a water and add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

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sources: Karen Weintraub,  USA TODAY 9/18/14  Nature.com