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Artificial Sweeteners May Raise Blood Sugar, Promote Obesity

Sep 19, 2014

A new study from Israel says that artificial sweeteners may be hastening rather than slowing the global obesity epidemic.

The study found that artificial sweeteners can trigger “dramatic” blood sugar disturbances in both people and mice by altering bacterial populations in the gut, the National Post (of Canada) reports. The Israeli scientists, whose findings were released Wednesday in the journal Nature, call for a reassessment of use of artificial sweeteners, one of the most widely used food additives in the world.

The study found that artificial sweeteners can raise blood sugar levels and do so by altering the microbiota, the ecosystem of bacteria and microorganisms living in the gut. Guelph University microbiologist Emma Allen-Vercoe, who specializes in microbiota and its role in health, told the National Post she was struck by the fact “that the effect on the microbiota was so extreme.” But critics say some of the conclusions are not substantiated by the experiments, most of which entailed feeding high levels of saccharin to mice. One of the human experiments involved just seven people.

The Israeli team fed saccharin, sucralose and aspartame to mice and found the sweeteners altered the animals’ metabolism and raised blood sugar levels. They then fed mice saccharin and found a shift in gut bacteria was involved in elevating the blood sugars. In the human portion of the study, the researchers looked at 381 people involved in an ongoing nutritional study and found that many who consumed artificial sweeteners also had elevated glucose levels and shifts in gut bacteria. In the seven-person experiment, people who did not normally consume sweeteners were put on a diet that included the maximum daily intake of saccharin allowed by health authorities — the equivalent of about 40 cans a day of artificially sweetened soda. Four volunteers developed elevated blood-glucose levels and altered gut bacteria similar to what was seen in the saccharin-fed mice, according to the National Post.

The Israeli team calls its results “preliminary.” But co-author Eran Segal said the findings raise enough red flags to prompt additional study of the “massive use” of artificial sweeteners, according to the National Post.

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