By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Israeli researchers have conducted a series of experiments that show zero-calorie artificial sweeteners commonly used throughout the world are not as benign as they are widely believed to be. The experiments, reported in a 2014 article in the scientific journal Nature, indicate that popular sugar substitutes called non-nutritive sweeteners or non-caloric artificial sweeteners – bearing familiar names like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame – may actually promote obesity-associated metabolic changes and increase blood sugar levels.
The Israeli researchers experimented with both laboratory mice and humans. They found that the artificial sweeteners “drive the development of glucose (blood sugar) intolerance” by harming beneficial intestinal bacteria critical for health and proper gut function. The changes to the microbial population in the gut, they said, are associated with susceptibility to metabolic abnormalities and intestinal dysfunction, “thereby calling for a reassessment of massive” artificial sweetener usage.
My Viewpoint: Not only are chemicalized sweeteners added to thousands of pre-packaged beverages and foods; people everywhere also dump packets of them into their daily tea and coffee. Regular consumption is not a good idea: while artificial sweeteners have been marketed for years as safe because of their negative calorie content, scientific support for actual safety is sparse, and an increasing numbers of studies, like this new one, have challenged the safety assumption.
What this Means to You: Artificial sweeteners have been successfully marketed – and wildly so − to the massive global sweet tooth as a way to combat obesity and diabetes. But evidence is growing questioning their safety. I attended a medical conference in 2009 in which a Duke University researcher discussed a study he conducted the year before showing that sucralose (Splenda), at levels equivalent to those approved for humans, generated a number of adverse effects in laboratory animals, including gut disturbances and increased body weight.
Recommendation: Chemical sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin have rap sheets riddled with controversy over their effects on the body, which include headaches, weight gain, and even the possible development of diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Avoid them as much as possible. If you’ve got to feed a sweet tooth, opt for small amounts of honey, maple syrup, or the natural sweetener, Stevia; and be sure to read labels carefully.
- Suez J, et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014. Published online at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7521/full/nature13793.html
- Abou-Donia MB, et al. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008;71(21):1415-29. Published online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18800291
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