Artificial sweeteners may disrupt body's blood sugar controls

Scientists have found that artificial sweeteners alter the microbiome, the population of bacteria that is in the digestive system.

Artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes, researchers are reporting.
That is “the very same condition that we often aim to prevent” by consuming sweeteners instead of sugar, said Dr Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, at a news conference to discuss the findings.
The scientists performed a multitude of experiments, mostly on mice, to back up their assertion that the sweeteners alter the microbiome, the population of bacteria that is in the digestive system.
The different mix of microbes, the researchers contend, changes the metabolism of glucose, causing levels to rise higher after eating and to decline more slowly than they would.
The findings by Dr Elinav and his collaborators in Israel, including Eran Segal, a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at Weizmann, were published in September by the journal Nature.
Cathryn R Nagler, a professor of pathology at the University of Chicago who was not involved with the research but did write an accompanying commentary in Nature, called the results “very compelling.”
She noted that many conditions, including obesity and diabetes, had been linked to changes in the microbiome. “What the study suggests,” she said, “is we should step back and reassess our extensive use of artificial sweeteners.”
Previous studies on the health effects of artificial sweeteners have come to conflicting and confusing findings. Some found that they were associated with weight loss; others found the exact opposite, that people who drank diet soda actually weighed more.
Some found a correlation between artificial sweeteners and diabetes, but those findings were not entirely convincing: Those who switch to the products may already be overweight and prone to the disease.
While acknowledging that it is too early for broad or definitive conclusions, Dr Elinav said he had already changed his own behavior.
“I’ve consumed huge amounts of coffee, and extensively used sweeteners, thinking like many other people that they are at least not harmful to me and perhaps even beneficial,” he said. “Given the surprising results that we got in our study, I made a personal preference to stop using them.
“We don’t think the body of evidence that we present in humans is sufficient to change the current recommendations,” he continued. “But I would hope it would provoke a healthy discussion.”
In the initial set of experiments, the scientists added saccharin (the sweetener in the pink packets of Sweet’N