12 Apr Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Diabetes and Obesity?
You've made a goal to cut your sugar consumption to help with weight loss. And now you may be questioning if artificial sweeteners are a healthy option.
Artificial sweeteners are sometimes called synthetic sugar substitutes—they add sweetness to foods and drinks without the extra calories. Saccharin (Sweet' N Low), sucralose (Splenda, not to be confused with sucrose), and aspartame (Equal) are commonly used artificial sweeteners in the US. They're in everyday foods and products, including baked goods, chewing gum, candy, soda, etc.
Artificial sweeteners are an appealing choice; however, groundbreaking studies reveal that non-caloric artificial sweeteners confuse your body and create changes that lead to diabetes and obesity.
Artificial Sweeteners Alter Gut Bacteria and Induce Diabetes
Researchers administered formulations of saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame in the drinking water of 10-week old mice, while another group of mice received either glucose or sucrose. After 11 weeks, the artificial sweetener fed mice developed impaired glucose tolerance—a pre-diabetic state of hyperglycemia.
The researchers hypothesize that synthetic sweeteners pass through your gastrointestinal tract without digestion, therefore, coming in contact with and altering the microbes in your gut(1).
As a result, bacteria become imbalanced creating a state of dysbiosis—a state when your gut contains fewer than normal healthy bacteria. Scientists have now observed that dysbiosis affects glucose metabolism, which excess blood glucose precedes diabetes and weight gain.
Artificial Sweeteners Alter Gut Bacteria and Induce Obesity
Studies suggest that dysbiosis may play a role in how much you weigh. Scientists studying gut bacteria have discovered that normal-weight people tend to have different patterns of bacteria in their guts than overweight people.
Studies comparing the gut bacteria of normal-weight and overweight identical twins have found the same phenomenon. This comparison demonstrates that these differences in the gut biome are not genetic.
Furthermore, the scientists transferred the gut bacteria from identical human twins to mice. Interestingly, the mice that received bacteria from the overweight twin gained weight(2), despite all the mice being fed the same diet.
Artificial sweeteners’ ability to disrupt the gut microbiome can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight gain, but this disruption is not the only mechanism involved here. These synthetic sweeteners can confuse your body making it even harder to shed the extra pounds.
Artificial Sweeteners “Confuse” Your Body
Sweeteners, for most of human history, have been tied to calories. Our sweet taste receptors mainly evolved to help us identify calorie-rich food. So imagine the results when our taste receptors are blasted with sweetness without the expected burst of calories(3).
Research shows that artificial sweeteners can impair the innate capacity to regulate the intake of calories. When rats are fed artificial sweeteners, they consistently gain more weight than rats fed with glucose(4) or sucrose. After the rats switched back to glucose or sucrose to reestablish the normal connection between sweetness and calorie-rich foods, they didn't tend to lose the excess weight.
Additionally, rats fed with artificial sweeteners also exhibit an impaired ability to respond to sugar-containing foods. One study shows that rats fed artificial sweeteners could not compensate for the calorie content by eating less chow afterward, while rats fed sugar-containing food compensated almost entirely by eating less chow.
In response to the consumption of a caloric sugar-containing meal, rats that have been repeatedly given saccharin display a reduced thermic effect (metabolic rate after the ingestion of a meal) and higher blood glucose when compared with rats that have been given glucose. Also, the saccharin-fed rats secreted less GLP-1(5)—which is involved with feeling full and glucose regulation—when given a sugar-containing test meal.
Two interesting human studies that used MRI to measure brain responses to sucrose indicate that artificial sweeteners may alter the way the brain responds to sweet tastes. People who regularly consume artificially sweetened drinks had higher reward responses(6) to both sucrose and saccharin when compared to those that don't consume artificial sweeteners.
Furthermore, those who don't consume synthetic sweeteners had different brain responses to sucrose and saccharin, while those that do consume synthetic sweeteners responded the same to both sweeteners.
Should You Be Eating Artificial Sweeteners?
The taste for sweetness is imprinted deeply in the human psyche and is as ancient as biological time. Ultimately, artificial sweeteners are new to the human diet, and tricking the body with chemicals made to taste like nutrients is not a safe approach.
Increasing evidence from human observational studies and animal studies point to a link between artificial sweeteners and an increased risk for:
- Glucose intolerance
- Weight gain