Artificial sweeteners boost blood glucose levels

If you’re trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. You aren’t alone. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are big industries now – anywhere you turn, you will find snacks, beverages and food marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet.”

In recent years, researchers have been looking into the effects of artificial sweeteners in our health. A study on the metabolism of artificial sweeteners has found that the compounds may alter the type and function of bacteria that colonize the digestive tract and lead to elevated blood sugar levels, a harbinger of diabetes.

A research team from Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel gave mice drinking water supplemented with glucose and an artificial sweetener. The so-called non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS), saccharin, sucralose and aspartame, tested in the study are most common ones used in food products such as diet coke. The researchers observed that the mice developed elevated blood sugar levels compared with mice drinking water alone or water with just sugar in it. When the team gave the mice an antibiotic that wiped out gut bacteria, blood sugar levels dropped to match those of the control mice.

The researchers noted similar associations between sweeteners consumption, microbial changes, and glucose metabolism in a group of seven human volunteers in a one-week study. Previous studies have shown that dietary changes can alter gut microbe composition and function. In addition, human health and nutrition studies have shown that using artificial sweeteners to limit calories has not curbed the global prevalence of obesity. The researchers say their results raise new questions about the benefits versus safety of consuming artificial sweeteners.

The old saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch stands true in the case of artificial sweeteners. For me, eating healthy means eating everything in moderation. Evolution has shaped human to use and therefore respond to glucose as a fuel to power our biological system. Our brain, the feedback regulation to and from our brain through our senses, the digestive and metabolic enzymes and the symbiotic microbiomes in our body are all tailored to response to “glucose.” I have long believed that “fooling” such an intricate system with artificial sweeteners cannot and should not be the solution to global obesity epidemic. I hope you agree.

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: J. Suez; T. Korem; D. Zeevi; G. Zilberman-Schapira; C. A. Thaiss; O. Maza; D. Israeli; N. Zmora; S. Gilad; A. Weinberger; Y. Kuperman; A. Harmelin; L. Kolodkin-Gal; H. Shapiro; Z. Halpern; E. Segal; and E. Elinav, Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota, Nature 514, 181-186 (09 October 2014)

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