Artificial Sweeteners Weren't So Sweet for Health

Artificial sweeteners may alter gut bacteria and lead to glucose intolerance


They sweeten tea, coffee, diet soda and baked goods, but artificial sweeteners aren't likely sweetening conditions for the healthy bacteria in your stomach.

A new study found that artificial sweeteners may change the bacteria in your stomach. This, the study authors said, may create a domino effect in your body, leading to glucose intolerance.

Cutting calories was made easier when non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) came on the market. They quickly became a popular way to sweeten beverages and baked goods without the calories of sugar.

However, researchers are learning more about those little packets that adorn most restaurants tables.

After conducting lab tests on mice, a team of Israeli researchers found that consuming these sweeteners may lead to dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is a term for an imbalance of bacteria in your stomach. Dysbiosis has been linked to illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cancer and colitis.

If that’s not scary enough, the authors of this study also found that eating NAS may lead to the development of glucose intolerance — a common precursor to type 2 diabetes and a risk factor for heart and liver disease.

Glucose intolerance is the body’s inability to properly process sugar in the diet.

These researchers said the reasons behind artificial sweeteners' apparent health effects were unclear.

This study was conducted on 10-week-old mice. The researchers fed the mice a daily dose of the artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose or saccharin.

A second set of mice received water with natural sugars, glucose or sucrose. At the three-month mark, the mice in this group appeared healthy.

However, the mice given artificial sweeteners had abnormally high blood sugar (glucose) levels. They appeared to be having trouble absorbing glucose from the blood, the study authors found.

Lead study author Dr. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, told Scientific American that these results suggest that NAS may play a part in obesity and a host of other health problems.

Then, Dr. Segal and team took their research a bit deeper.

They also analyzed 381 men and women. They found that those who used artificial sweeteners gained weight and had an increased waist-to-hip ratio and impaired glucose tolerance.

Dr. Segal told Scientific American that he isn’t taking any chances. He said he has switched from using artificial to natural sweeteners in his morning coffee.

This article was published in late 2014 in the journal Nature. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.