Diet cola drinks with artificial sweeteners are popular with people who want to watch their weight or avoid consuming a lot of sugar. However, research shows that artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet ‘N Low, may lead to obesity and diabetes like sugary drinks. Yes, it appears that Diet Cola is making us fatter rather than helping people keep sugar levels in check.
People turn to artificial sweeteners to help fight obesity, but may actually be helping it. A new study shows that artificial sweeteners may actually alter the microbes in the gut in a way that actually raises blood sugar and increase the possibility of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The research findings from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel show sugar substitutes can chemically affect the intestinal bacterial known as microbiota. This disturbance in the gut caused by the substitutes defeated their purpose as diet food and raised the blood sugar in mice that were fed no-calorie sweeteners, including aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. The researchers were surprised to find that the mice developed glucose intolerance, reported study author Eran Elinav in the research write up published in the journal Nature.
The researchers then transplanted gut bacteria from the mice that were fed the artificial sweeteners into mice that were specially bred to have no gut bacteria at all. Simply by receiving the bacteria without ingesting the artificial sweeteners themselves, the recipient mice developed glucose intolerance. The researchers analyzed the bacteria and found kinds that are linked to obesity and diabetes.
In the next phase, the researchers then looked whether the artificial sweetener affect that led to the higher blood sugar levels applied to both mice and men. The human research study had two parts. In the first, seven volunteers — people who did not regularly imbibe diet drinks — and asked them to consume a high dose of saccharine daily for one week. After only seven days, four of them showed increased blood sugar levels. As they did in the earlier mice study, the researchers then transferred bacteria from the sweetener-consuming humans to mice that had not consumed artificial sweeteners. Afterwards, the mice developed high blood sugar like those in the mice-to-mice study.
Part two of the human study involved taking bacterial samples from 400 participants. The researchers reported that they could see a pattern of differences in the bacteria from people who were regular users of artificial sweeteners than from those who were not users.
The mechanisms behind this and the overall health implications have yet to be determined. The study authors theorize that inflammation could be the missing link. They determined that the altered populations of gut bacteria triggered an inflammatory response. They believe that this is what set the changes in blood sugar metabolism into motion.
So what does this mean for diet cola aficionados and those who pour the pink or blue packets of powdered sweeteners in their coffee or tea? Not all the human subjects showed changes in their metabolism or gut bacteria from the artificial sweeteners. It could be that artificial sweeteners affect some people differently than others.
The study authors noted that artificial sweeteners were introduced to help reduce calories consumed “without compromising the human sweet tooth.” They point out that their findings suggest that the sweeteners may have, on the contrary “contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight.” So, it does appear that diet cola products and other artificially sweetened foods and drinks could be making us fatter. Further research is clearly needed.
By Dyanne Weiss