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Scientists Link Obesity Epidemic to Artificial Sweeteners
- Updated: September 18, 2014
Instead of preventing metabolic disorders, scientists now believe that artificial sweeteners work to exacerbate them. Believed not to raise blood sugar levels, many people on diets choose calorie-free artificial sweeteners but according to a report in the journal Nature, researchers using both mice and humans found that blood sugars levels are instead increased.
According to researchers’ findings, microbes in the gut are interfered with by artificial sweeteners and as a result, blood sugar levels increase. The danger is that high levels of blood sugars are an indicator for metabolic disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Eran Segal with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, along with coauthors of the study, states that the consumption of non-caloric artificial sweeteners could have a direct connection to enhancing an already established obesity epidemic.
As part of this study, a number of experiments were performed. Drinking water for the mice was supplemented with artificial sweetener. As a result, these mice became glucose intolerant compared to the group of mice who drank pure water or water with just sugar added. The same results were noted in mice that ate normal chow compared to those on a diet consisting of high-fat.
However, when the mice fed both diets were given antibiotics used to kill gut bacteria, the effect on glucose intolerance returned to normal. Using the data gathered, Taylor Feehley and Cathryn Nagler who work in the pathology department at the University of Chicago believe that artificial sweeteners could contribute to obesity-related metabolic conditions being elevated because the composition and function of gut bacteria is altered.
For the part of the study involving humans, gut bacteria of 381 non-diabetic people with an average age of 43 were analyzed. From this, differences in gut bacteria were found in participates who consumed artificial sweeteners compared to the participants who did not. In addition, consumers of artificial sweeteners had diabetes markers to include glucose intolerance and increased blood sugar levels.
The last part of the study consisted of seven humans who did not typically consume artificial sweeteners. For seven days, these individuals added artificial sweeteners to their diet but after only four days, researchers saw two changes in 50% of the group. First, blood glucose levels increased and the makeup of gut bacteria changed.
Experts feel that the artificial sweeteners caused bacterial species that extract energy from food and often stored as fat, expanded. As stated by Nagler, there is a possibility that artificial sweeteners suppress other bacteria growth, which in turn staves off resistance to insulin. To promote resistance to weight gain or improve glucose tolerance, researchers suggest studies used to identify certain bacterial populations could be beneficial.
Several experts not associated with the study called the outcome intriguing. However, these experts also noted that the findings associated with the human participants were too preliminary as far as making recommendations for nutritional change. Added by Nita Forouhi, program leader at Cambridge University’s unit of Medical Research Council’s epidemiology, this new study raises concern that non-caloric artificial sweeteners are not as innocent as once believed.