Study: Artificial Sweeteners May Raise Blood Sugar, Promote Obesity

Artificial-Sweeteners-May-Raise-Your-Blood-SugarA new study involving artificial sweeteners has found that the additives may be making Americans fatter.

The study revealed that artificial sweeteners may trigger “dramatic” blood sugar disturbances in people and mice. This appears to happen because of the way in which the sweetening additives alter the gut’s bacterial populations, or microbiota, according to the National Post. The microbiota are an intricate ecosystem of bacteria and microorganisms that live in the gut.

The study, conducted by scientists in Israel, was released Wednesday by the journal, Nature. The research calls for a reassessment of the use of artificial sweeteners, which are one of the most widely used food additives globally, wrote the National Post.

“I’m looking at this thinking I’m never drinking a diet soda again,” microbiologist Emma Allen-Vercoe, at the University of Guelph, told Postmedia News after she reviewed the study’s findings. “What really struck me was that the effect on the microbiota was so extreme,” Allen-Vercoe, who specializes in the gut ecosystem and its role in keeping physical health, said. “It’s a pretty impressive piece of work.”

The researchers say that their results are “preliminary,” but that the findings raise enough concern to “prompt additional debate and study and examination of what is currently a massive use of the artificial sweeteners,” co-author Eran Segal, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, said in a media briefing, wrote the National Post.

The study team fed saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame—all popular artificial sweeteners—to mice. The sweeteners altered the animals’ metabolism and raised blood sugar levels. They then fed mice saccharin and found a change in gut bacteria that was involved in elevating blood sugars. According to the National Post, one experiment involved transplanting feces from the mice who were fed saccharin to germ-free mice. The germ-free mice had no gut bacteria of their own; the transfer raised blood-sugar levels in the transplanted mice.

For the study’s human component, the researchers looked at 381 people who were involved in an ongoing nutritional study. They found that many of the participants who consumed artificial sweeteners also tested with elevated glucose levels and changes in gut bacteria. Seven human volunteers who did not typically consume sweeteners were also placed on a diet that included the maximum daily intake of saccharin allowed by health authorities, which is similar to approximately 40 cans of an artificially sweetened cola-type drink per day. Within one week, four participants developed elevated blood-glucose levels and altered gut bacterial communities that were similar to what was seen in the saccharin-fed mice, the National Post wrote.

Allen-Vercoe says the work points to the “very slow dawning that we are missing a threat by not looking at what the microbiota is doing.” She added that a need exists to reassess artificial sweeteners and many commonly used chemicals and medicines to determine their impact on microbes living on and in our bodies. The National Post wrote that lead author, Eran Elinav at the Weizmann institute, said the findings led him to stop consuming caffeinated drinks with artificial sweeteners.

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