Artificial sweeteners allow consumers to enjoy sweetness in foods and drinks without the calories. They apparently help people lose weight and, in diabetic patients, control blood sugar levels.
At least that’s what we have been told for years.
However, a recent study published in Nature has found that artificial sweeteners do the exact opposite. According to the study, artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to metabolic problems associated with the onset of diabetes and obesity.
The culprit may be the bacteria and microbes living in the gut, the collection of which is known as the microbiome.
Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel conducted a study investigating the effects of saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame (known by most as Equal, Splenda, and Sweet'N Low, respectively) in lab mice.
They spiked the drinking water of 10-week-old mice with the artificial sweeteners, and then compared those mice with ones that drank plain water or real sugar water.
After a week, the mice that drank artificially sweetened water developed glucose intolerance. The regular and sugar water mice showed no significant changes.
Glucose intolerance occurs when the body does not respond correctly to having sugar in the blood, resulting in higher blood sugar levels. This can lead to all sorts of metabolic problems, notably type 2 diabetes.
The researchers decided to wipe out the gut bacteria of the mice using antibiotics. They found that the artificial sweetener-drinking mice no longer had glucose intolerance after this treatment.
Additionally, if the feces of an artificial sweetener-drinking mouse were transplanted in a regular mouse, the regular mouse developed glucose intolerance. Evidence pointed to the microbiome as the potential cause for glucose intolerance in the mice.
Of the sweeteners used, saccharin had the strongest impact on glucose intolerance, followed by sucralose and then aspartame. In a part of the study focused on saccharin, the researchers discovered that the types of gut bacteria of saccharin-drinking mice significantly changed.