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How Artificial Sweeteners Might Lead to Type 2 Diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Artificial sweeteners could lead to type 2 diabetes, finds new study.

There has been some concern about whether artificial sweeteners that are recommended to help with weight loss and for people with type 2 diabetes are really healthy. A new study suggests artificial sweeteners might do more harm than good in the long run.

Washington University School of Medicine researchers recently conducted a small study to look at the effect of Splenda, which is sucralose, has on glucose and insulin resistance.

For the study, the researchers looked at severely obese people without diabetes who do not use artificial sweeteners on a regular basis.

The study’s first author M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine said the finding showed artificial sweeteners are not ‘inert’ and they do have an effect on the body that could be bad for health.

Pepino explains the researchers studied obese people because artificial sweeteners are often recommended as a way to reduce calorie intake.

For the study, each participant was tested twice so they could act as their own control. Those who drank water followed by glucose at one visit drank sucralose followed by glucose at the next.

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“When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose,” Pepino explained in a press release. “Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response.”

Recent studies have also shown when the body detects anything sweet hormones in the gut are also released, including insulin. In theory; over time, metabolism could be affected because it is not just the pancreas that detects sweet food and drinks.

The spike in insulin seen from artificial sweeteners could be good, said Pepino, because it means the body is responding to glucose spikes. But it could also set us up for diabetes from insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes from resistance to the hormone.

Past studies have looked at the effect of artificial sweeteners in lean people, Pepino said. “In many of these studies, the artificial sweetener is given by itself. But in real life, people rarely consume a sweetener by itself. They use it in their coffee or on breakfast cereal or when they want to sweeten some other food they are eating or drinking.”

The finding is published in the journal Diabetes Care.

More studies are needed to understand how sucralose in artificial sweeteners affects metabolism in obese people and whether the sugar substitutes are harmful.

Pepino says the sweeteners could affect how the body handles sugar in the long run. She stresses the need for more studies to find out if cutting calories with sugar substitutes might actually promote type 2 diabetes rather than help prevent the disease and whether sucralose in artificial sweeteners really are inert substances that are unrecognized by the body.