Many who are trying to lose weight and improve their health switch over to diet sodas and other artificially sweetened food. However, a new study suggests that artificial sweeteners may actually increase blood sugar levels, leading to more health problems.
Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute and his team authored the study published in the journal Nature. They describe how they fed artificial sweeteners to one group of mice and kept another group as a control. They found that the diet of artificial sweeteners changed the gut microbes of the mice drastically compared to the control group.
Shockingly, they found that the mice who were fed the artificial sweeteners had higher blood sugar levels. This could be cause for concern because many people turn to zero calorie artificial sweeteners to cut the amount of sugar, and calories, they are consuming.
Following the mice studies, the researchers also looked at groups of humans who did and did not consume artificial sweeteners. They found that people who regularly added artificial sweeteners to their diet had different bacteria in their gut than those that did not. In addition, when those that did not consume artificial sweeteners began doing so, their bacteria experienced some changes. The sweetener-related bacteria were ones known to be related to glucose intolerance.
One thing the researchers did notice was that some people experienced changes in their gut bacteria more than others. This suggests that some are more susceptible to the effects of artificial sweeteners than others.
While the link between artificial sweeteners and an increase in blood glucose is not entirely clear, researchers think that this may have something to do with the sweeteners causing an inflammatory response. Inflammation can cause changes in glucose metabolism.
There may be another reason artificial sweeteners increase glucose levels in the blood. Artificial sweeteners tend to be quite sweet, and can cause cravings for more sweet foods. While someone may be adding sweeteners to their drinks to lower their sugar intake, they may be increasingly consuming other foods that they may not realize is high in sugar.
This is not the first study to cast doubt on whether artificial sweeteners are a healthy choice. Other studies have linked artificial sweeteners to an increased risk of diabetes, although it was unclear whether this was directly due to the sweeteners or to the fact that overweight people tend to consume sweeteners.
The change in gut microbiome could cause more than just changes in blood sugar. It could also put people more at risk for obesity. If gut bacteria were thriving on the high levels of artificial sweeteners, their increased activity could also extract more calories from other food, causing weight gain.
Some criticize the study for focusing on one type of artificial sweetener instead of studying a variety of sweeteners in depth. More studies will be needed to determine whether artificial sweeteners do indeed contribute to diabetes and obesity. In the meantime, dieters may want to turn to a healthy glass of water instead of their favorite diet soda just to be on the safe side.