Artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of diabetes, according to a new study. Microbes in the digestive track of humans can be affected by the chemicals used in man-made sweeteners.
Aspartame, saccharin, and other indigestible chemicals with sweet tastes are consumed by dieters and diabetics. The substances do not enter the bloodstream, so they do not increase blood sugar levels, nor add extra calories.
Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) may affect human bodies in unexpected ways, according to researchers. Some of these effects may actually encourage the very same condition consumers are attempting to avoid.
Glucose intolerance, a class of metabolic conditions which include type 2 diabetes and abnormally high glucose levels, were increased in laboratory tests in humans and mice who consumed the artificial substances. Each of these conditions can lead to diabetes.
Dietary researchers fed mice with water, glucose (sugar) solution, or a mixture of glucose and an artificial sweetener. The tiny rodents were then fed a sugary snack, and their blood glucose levels were measured. Investigators found those animals who consumed artificial sweeteners experienced a greater spike in blood sugar than other rodents in the study.
When mice were given antibiotics to kill off bacteria in the gut, their glucose tolerance reset. Healthy mice implanted with gut bacteria from mice with glucose intolerance, which developed after eating artificial sweeteners, also came down with the problem.
Bacteria in and around the human body is called the microbiome. Investigation of these organisms, and how they affect the human body, is still a relatively new field science. A 2013 study examined the effects of sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda, on 17 obese subjects. Those people consuming the substance saw an increase in glucose intolerance over those who drank plain water.
Saccharin, an artificial sweetener marketed under the brand name Sweet 'N Low, was consumed by seven human subjects, at the highest levels recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four of the people studied developed glucose intolerance similar to those seen in mice in the study.
Although researchers believe their study is reason to take a second look at the use of artificial sweeteners, they caution the public that there is not yet enough evidence to make radical dietary changes.
The first artificial chemicals were developed 100 years ago, as a less-expensive alternative to sugar, honey and molasses. Safety tests carried out over the last century are complicated by poor diet and other factors in human subjects.
The study, Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota, was detailed in the journal Nature.