A new study forces us to once again question the safety of consuming artificial sweeteners. A study published last week in the journal Nature provides evidence suggesting diet soda could negatively impact gut microbes leading to glucose resistance and ultimately Type 2 diabetes. The results of the study add weight to the theory that artificial sweeteners might trick the brain, confusing how the body processes sugar.
In the study, mice fed artificial sweeteners (sucralose, saccharin and aspartame) developed glucose intolerance. The researchers then tested their theory on humans. They found that some individuals showed changes in blood glucose levels after a week of exposure to artificial sweeteners, with a few reaching pre-diabetic levels in just days. If this research is demonstrated in other studies, it could impact how we perceive diabetes risk.
The experiments showed that artificial sweeteners altered gut bacteria possibly leading to glucose intolerance. Each person’s microbiome is different so artificial sweeteners likely will not have the same effect on everyone. It remains unclear exactly how bacteria in the gut react to artificial sweeteners and why they affect some people more than others. Researchers suspect bacteria that regulates glucose may be pushed out by artificial sweeteners explaining why some individuals weren’t as able to process glucose.
While these are striking findings, it’s important to remember one study alone does not yield enough evidence to prove a theory. Science moves slowly and takes time to establish accepted conclusions. This study does, however, open the door to future research about the effects artificial sweeteners have on bacteria in the gut. Our microbiomes have been the subject of quite a bit of fuss lately, see here and here and here. When indulging in soda, diet or otherwise, do so only occasionally opting instead for unsweetened tea or water.