Artificial sweeteners have been marketed for benefits related to helping prevent obesity and diabetes. But is this really the case? Turns out that artificial sweeteners have been linked to not only a greater risk of obesity and diabetes. They can also harm our gut microbiome – our probiotics – according to scientists.
What are artificial sweeteners?
This may seem elementary to most of us, but not all sugar replacements are considered artificial sweeteners. Additives such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol are sugar alcohols that are isolated from plants and grain products. So these should not be considered artificial.
These sugar alcohols have some benefits. For example, xylitol has been shown to help prevent cavities and gum disease when used over time. At the same time, sugar alcohols can bother some people when it comes to digestibility. So while sugar alcohols are not necessarily something everyone can tolerate, they are derived from natural sources.
In addition, stevia should not be considered artificial. Stevia is isolated from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia has specifically been linked to reducing the risk of diabetes according to researchers.
Many other sugar additives are considered artificial because they were produced in a laboratory, and are manufactured from chemicals. Here is a list of popular artificial sweeteners:
• Acesulfame potassium-k
The marketing efforts behind these artificial sweeteners have been significant. Colorful logos with natural-looking branded names might put a nice face on these products. And certainly, we cannot blame the companies for trying to produce alternatives to refined sugars. After all, refined sugars have been linked to cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol issues, faster aging, diabetes and strokes, and a number of other ailments.
The problem is that most of these artificial sweeteners do not have a historical or genetic fingerprint in the body. They are considered by the body as foreigners to one degree or another. Thus as we’ll show, researchers are finding they can disrupt our metabolism with a variety of potentially harmful results.
The prospect that artificial sweeteners produce more obesity is not a new one. For example, a 2008 study from the University of Texas studied 5,158 adults from San Antonio, and followed them for 11 years. They found that those who consumed artificially sweetened beverages doubled the incidence of obesity (193%) and increased their average body mass index (BMI) levels by an average of 47 percent.
A number of other studies have found similar results. Some a lot older. For example, a 1986 study on nearly 80,000 women found that artificial sweeteners resulted in weight gain after a year. The difference was less than two pounds, but this is way different than the assumption that artificial sweeteners help us lose weight.
In a late 2017 study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of research connecting artificial sweeteners with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
The researchers concluded that the increased artificial sweetener consumption was associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome. The researchers concluded:
“Although artificial sweeteners were developed as a sugar substitute to help reduce insulin resistance and obesity, data in both animal models and humans suggest that the effects of artificial sweeteners may contribute to metabolic syndrome and the obesity epidemic.”
Chemical sweeteners and metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is considered as conditions related to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The reality that these man-made sweeteners contribute to diabetes and heart disease has also been found in the research.
A 2016 study from the University of Calgary and Purdue University concluded that these man-made sugars disrupt our metabolism. The researchers stated:
“… associations observed in long-term prospective studies raise the concern that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners might actually contribute to development of metabolic derangements that lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
“Results from animal studies in both the agricultural sector and the laboratory indicate that artificial sweeteners may not only promote food intake and weight gain but can also induce metabolic alterations in a wide range of animal species.”
Other prior human studies, such as a 2008 study from the University of Minnesota found that drinking diet soda was among the dietary traits linked to a greater risk of metabolic syndrome. This study followed 9,514 people between 45 and 64 years old for nine years.
Some of the reasons behind this result may relate to the lack of satiety produced by consuming a man-made sweetener. Some have proposed that the lack of sugar can create an urge for more energy-producing carbohydrates.
Chem sweeteners harm our gut microbes
The more likely relationship between chemical sweeteners and metabolic syndrome is the effect they have on our gut microbiome.
For example, in a 2017 study from the University of Georgia, scientists tested acesulfame potassium (Ace-K). They found that the sweetener not only produced weight gain among the mice over a four-week period. It also altered their gut microbiome.
The man-made sweetener also increased inflammation among those mice with Crohn’s disease. The researchers concluded:
“Collectively, our results may provide a novel understanding of the interaction between artificial sweeteners and the gut microbiome, as well as the potential role of this interaction in the development of obesity and the associated chronic inflammation.”
In a 2018 study, scientists from the University of Negeve in Israel found similar effects among other artificial sweeteners. The researchers tested aspartame, sucralose, neotame, saccharine, advantame and acesulfame potassium-k separately. They found the sweeteners harmed certain beneficial microbes that live in the gut.
The researchers also tested 10 different sports drinks that also contain those sweeteners. They found that normally healthy probiotics in the gut actually began producing toxins. In other words, they began acting abnormally.
The researchers stated:
“Toxic effects were found when the bacteria were exposed to certain concentrations of the artificial sweeteners.”
Another 2018 study, from the University of North Carolina, found similar results with neotame. The researchers found mice consuming the sweetener underwent significant changes in their gut bacteria, resulting in dysbiosis.
Here again, the researchers found the bacteria began producing toxins as a result of their contact with these artificial sweeteners:
A 2014 study showed that the changes in the microbiome had the effect of producing glucose intolerance.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.