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This Artificial Sweetener is Misunderstood, Say Scientists

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Saccharin might not be unhealthy as previously believed says study

Do you avoid artificial sweeteners because you’ve heard that they are unhealthy? According to a new study, at least one artificial sweetener is actually misunderstood and not the cause behind obesity and diabetes.

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Past Artificial Sweetener Concerns

The foundation of artificial sweetener research has historically been based on the paradoxical phenomenon that non-caloric artificial sweeteners do not appear to help reduce weight; but rather, appear to have just the opposite effect. Health experts therefore, reasoned that part of the reason in some cases of obesity and diabetes is that artificial sweeteners are actually a poor substitute for calorie-laden sugar and that they may be harming our bodies by inducing glucose intolerance.

How Your Sugar Choice Could Undermine Your Weight Loss Plan

A number of studies have determined that there is an association between zero calorie artificial sweeteners and several metabolic syndrome-related health issues. Issues such as an increased weight and waist-to-hip ratio, glucose intolerance, higher fasting blood glucose levels, and higher A1C values that are indicative of metabolic syndrome; and therefore—obesity.

In fact, one of the earlier more highly regarded studies typically cited as evidence of this being more than an association are those from the Weizmann Institute that determined that artificial sweeteners could actually lead to diabetes. They observed that when mice were fed artificial sweeteners that they developed glucose intolerance, which can lead to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

When the artificial sweeteners were later found not being absorbed into the bloodstream, scientists hypothesized that artificial sweeteners might be altering our gut bacteria and thereby be the cause of glucose intolerance—a popular notion today that many health problems are based on our gut biomes.

Recommended Options to Artificial Sweeteners

There is no doubt that eating too much sugar leads to obesity and diabetes. And because earlier studies have pointed to artificial sweeteners as posing health problems, many dieters have turned to natural sweeteners such as Stevia. But then again, even the highly popular all-natural sweetener Stevia, has been associated with some evidence that it might be harming our gut biomes as well.

How To Best Use Stevia For Losing Weight

The safest and healthiest option has been—and still is today—to simply learn to cut out the excess sugar from our diet. Personal experience shows that this is the first step toward losing weight quickly.

Saccharin Appears To Be Safe After All, Say Scientists

However, it is possible that not all artificial sweeteners may be so bad after all. In a new study published in the journal Microbiome, researchers report that the sugar substitute saccharin doesn’t lead to the development of diabetes in healthy adults as previous studies have suggested.

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“It’s not that the findings of previous studies are wrong, they just didn’t adequately control for things like underlying health conditions, diet choices and lifestyle habits,” said George Kyriazis, assistant professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology at Ohio State and senior author of the study.

“By studying the artificial sweetener saccharin in healthy adults, we’ve isolated its effects and found no change in participants’ gut microbiome or their metabolic profiles, as it was previously suggested.”

In the study, 46 healthy adults ages 18-45 with body mass indexes of 25 or less were placed under a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which they were fed capsules that contained the maximum acceptable daily amount of either saccharin (400 mg) or a placebo. Similar experiments were performed with mice.

What the researchers found and concluded is that in both man and mice, saccharin does not affect glucose tolerance, or cause any significant gut microbiota changes or apparent adverse health effects.

“Sugar, on the other hand, is well-documented to contribute to obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” Kyriazis said. “So when given the choice, artificial sweeteners such as saccharin are the clear winner based on all of the scientific information we currently have.”

A YouTube Video About the Research


Are Artificial Sweeteners Considered Safe Now?

While the new study challenges past warnings that artificial sweeteners are bad for our health, this study—as most do on both sides of this controversy—have their limitations. For now until repeat studies further investigate the results, it is better to err on the side of caution; If not through avoidance of artificial sweeteners, at least by applying common sense and practice moderation—as with all things regarding diet and good health.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

References:

Ohio State Study: High Doses Of Saccharin Don't Lead To Diabetes In Healthy Adults” The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center news release 12 Jan. 2021.

Ohio State Study: High Doses Of Saccharin Don't Lead To Diabetes In Healthy Adults” Serrano, et el. Microbiome 9:11 2021.

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