New evidence shows artificial sweeteners are actually ‘part of the problem’

Posted by
September 23, 2014

dietpepsiIn our last blog, we talked about new scientific findings on the health effects of high fructose corn syrup. An experiment involving 22 healthy college students showed that two weeks of regular soft drink consumption accompanied by relative inactivity started to immediately generate risk factors for heart disease, inflammation and diabetes. And that to counteract them, a lot of exercise (the equivalent of walking at least six miles a day) was required.

But what about just switching to diet drinks laced with those zero-calorie artificial sweeteners? Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier?

Sure it would. Whether it would accomplish anything, however (other than putting your health and quite possibly your brain at risk), now seems even less likely than it did before.

For some time, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that consumption of such sweeteners as a way of controlling weight may actually be counterproductive. Recent studies have shown that they can actually create a craving for high–calorie foods by decreasing levels of the “reward chemical” dopamine, and actually seem to promote obesity.

Now, new research out of Israel points to artificial sweeteners as likely culprits in the development of “obesity-related metabolic conditions,” such as type 2 diabetes, by interfering with our internal ecosystem of gut bacteria, which is an essential part of the body’s mechanism for regulating blood sugar.

And while exercise didn’t seem to be a factor in this study, it conclusions may not be the kind that can be just “walked off.”

The study, as reported in the journal Nature, found that that the three most widely used non-caloric synthetic sweeteners — saccharin, sucra­lose and aspartame — actually raised blood sugar levels in mice by creating increased glucose intolerance. No such effect was observed in mice either drinking water by itself or water with plain sugar added to it, whether fed normal chow or a high-fat diet.

Humans were also part of the research, including nearly 400 non-diabetic individuals who were involved in comparative tests.  The researchers found those who consumed artificial sweeteners to have significantly altered gut bacteria, along with signs of glucose intolerance and raised blood sugar levels similar to the results found in the mice.

A long-overdue ‘reassessment’

“Our findings suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight, “noted the lead author, Dr. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who added that the results had convinced him to stop using artificial sweeteners in his coffee.

That’s what the writer of an accompanying commentary, Cathryn R. Nagler, a professor of pathology at the University of Chicago, thinks other users of these sugar substitutes should be moved to do as well.  “What the study suggests is we should step back and reassess our extensive use of artificial sweeteners,” she said.

Of course, regular readers of this blog know that there are other good reasons to “reassess” our use of these chemicals. Aspartame, which is found in most diet products, has been the subject of thousands of consumer adverse reaction complaints, ranging from seizures to migraines to temporary blindness (which is why airline pilots are discouraged from drinking diet sodas). It is also considered by many experts to be a neurotoxin – or more specifically, an “excitotoxin” due to its ability to literally excite certain brain cells to death, especially in children and the elderly.

And research done on sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (as we’ve previously noted)  found that it had diabetes-promoting effects in human test subjects, It has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and been reported to cause migraines.

(As for saccharine, while the Food and Drug Administration has decided it is not a bladder cancer risk, as earlier research seemed to indicate, it still can cause allergic reactions in some people. But since it is really not used much anymore to sweeten processed foods or beverages, its consumption is now somewhat of a marginal issue at best.)

What is becoming more and more apparent, however, is that the great majority of soft drinks, whether regular or diet, are hazardous to our health – and that the addition of artificial sweeteners to food and beverages is not an effective way of avoiding obesity and diabetes, but is rather likely to be helping promote these “epidemics” as well as causing other health problems.

So does that mean that we need to forgo all sweetness in our diet? By no means. Thankfully, we still have old-fashioned, natural and genuinely “nutritive” sweeteners, like real sugar, honey, maple syrup and molasses available to us (or, for those who prefer a non-caloric product, stevia). And, unlike HFCS that has been clandestinely added to so many of our processed foods (including those that aren’t even supposed to be sweet), they can be used “in moderation.”