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Study Questions Role of Artificial Sweeteners in Causing Metabolic Diseases

Update Date: Sep 18, 2014 03:13 PM EDT

Artificial sweeteners add sweetness without the calories, which makes them a very popular option for people looking to lose weight. However, despite this belief that artificial sweeteners are safe to consume, a new study conducted in mice and humans is reporting that artificial sweeteners could actually be contributing to metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

"In our studies we found that artificial sweeteners may drive, or contribute to... an exaggerated elevation in blood glucose levels - the very same condition that we often aim to prevent by consuming them," said co-leader of the study, Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, reported by Reuters.

In their animal study, the team tested the effects of three popular artificial sweeteners, which were saccharin, sucralose and aspartame. They provided mice with water that was spiked with different combinations of the artificial sweeteners and regular sugar. They found that mice that drank water mixed with glucose and a sweetener developed glucose intolerance in comparison to mice that drank water alone or water that contained only sugar in it.

In the human studies, the researchers recruited nearly 400 participants who consumed different combinations of sugar and artificial sweeteners. The team found that people who had artificial sweeteners had significantly different gut bacteria in comparison to people who had regular sugar. The artificial sweetener group had increased blood sugar levels and glucose intolerance.

The researchers then conducted a side experiment with seven people who did not use artificial sweeteners regularly. The participants were given a controlled diet to eat for seven days. The diet was composed of non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS). Just after four days, the team found that the participants had increased blood sugar levels. Their gut bacteria had also been altered. The changes were similar to those seen in the mice models.

"These results indicate that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may exacerbate, rather than prevent, metabolic disorders such as glucose intolerance and diabetes," the researchers concluded.

The study, "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota," was published in the journal, Nature.

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