In our previous blog post we tackled the hotly debated effect that artificial sweeteners have on insulin and blood sugar levels.
It turns out artificial sweeteners do not impact insulin directly in humans. However, we explained there may be other ways artificial sweeteners increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, inflammation, gut dysbiosis, weight gain and more.
Artificial sweeteners, although they are free of calories, does not make them free of health concerns. Research conducted in France, China and Israel show some serious gut microbiome issues, along with other negative side effects which make them worth avoiding.
Read on to find out what they discovered…
In a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, French researchers set out to determine if sugar sweetened beverages caused an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, in comparison to artificially sweetened beverages or non-sweetened beverages1.
This was a comprehensive study that followed over 60,000 women for fourteen years.
Unsurprisingly, sugar sweetened beverages saw an increase of up to 1.5 times (150%) greater risk of type 2 diabetes than non-sweetened beverages.
However, the biggest shock was that the group consuming artificially sweetened beverages saw near double the increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
At the time of publishing this research the scientists suggested that people who consume artificially sweetened beverages generally lead unhealthier lives, which may reflect in these results.
Also, artificial sweeteners are non-nutritive, so your bodies hunger system will stay activated until you provide it with some calories. This didn’t happen with sugar sweetened beverages because the sugar provided calories.
And it turns out this might have more to do with the GUT MICROBIOME…
In 2017 scientists published ground breaking research that showed Surculose (an artificial sweetener) caused microbiome changes that lead to inflammation, leaky gut and liver damage2.
These changes in the gut microbiome negatively impacted the health of study participants at three and six months, by preferentially influencing the genes that release a powerful endotoxin called Lipopolysaccharide (LPS).
LPS has been linked to depression, impaired cognitive function, mood fluctuations, autoimmune diseases, cancer and metabolic syndrome.
Furthermore, another 2017 study from Israel confirmed the gut dysbiosis side effects of artificial sweeteners. In this study they showed a strong correlation between artificial sweetener use and diabetes. This was due to microbiome influencing which caused insulin resistance due to a downregulation of the glucose 6-phosphate transport system3.
In summary, when supplementing with artificial sweeteners, participants had impaired glucose uptake which led to increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The FOUR worst common sweeteners?
Most sports nutrition supplements moved away from this sweetener more than 5 – 10 years ago after consistent studies showing alarming health concerns. However, you still find it in your diet soda’s and chewing gum on a regular basis.
The American Journal of Industrial Medicine has recommended a review of Aspartame as a food or supplement after finding it has carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects4.
One study found Aspartame may impair memory performance and increase oxidative damage to the brain. Another recently showed that women who consume artificial sweeteners during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding can predispose their unborn children to metabolic syndrome and obesity later in life5.
Aspartame consists of a combination of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. These substances can stay in the liver, kidneys and brain for quite some time. Side effects of Aspartame consumption may include headaches, mood and anxiety disorders, dizziness, depression and liver dysfunction.
Sucralose seems to currently be the artificial sweetener of choice in the Sports Nutrition industry. It’s branded as semi-natural because it’s made from sugar, which is like saying breathing Hydrogen gas is healthy because hydrogen comes from water (H20).
There is nothing natural about this compound. It is a chlorinated sugar compound. Yes, chlorine, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet!
Sucralose was originally found through the development of a new insecticide and wasn’t intended to be consumed by humans. In fact, the insecticide was designed to make the intestines of bugs explode! This may be why constant use of Sucralose can lead to dysbiosis of our gut microbes (bugs) and damage to the gut lining.
In 2014, the Center for Science placed Splenda on its “caution” list, pending a review of a medical study that found it could be linked to leukaemia in mice.
A study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health also found that cooking with Sucralose at high temperatures can generate dangerous chloropropanols – a class of highly toxic compounds6.
- Acesulfame K (ACE K)
ACE K is generally used in combination with Sucralose (as if one toxic sweetener wasn’t enough). It is composed of a potassium salt that contains methylene chloride.
ACE K has undergone the lowest amount of safety research. Even though long-term exposure to methylene chloride (the main chemical component) has been shown to cause stomach upset, nausea, mood disorders, cancer, impaired liver and kidney function, eyesight degradation, and perhaps even autism7.
In addition to sweetening supplements you will find ACE K as a flavour enhancer in many food products on the shelves of your supermarket today.
All the above artificial sweeteners have been linked to an increase in diabetes and weight gain (which seems a little counter intuitive) and another large population study published in 2009 (MESA) of over 6,000 participants proved this link loud and clear8.
- Xylitol (Sorbitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Erythritol and other sugar alcohols)
Sugar alcohols are the flavour of the month. In the race to avoid artificial sweeteners and cut calories, companies are naively adding them to food bars, drinks, gum and more. Sugar Alcohols are absorbed poorly by the body and cause gastrointestinal side effects that include bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.
Their laxative effect is so pronounced that most companies offer a warning that states not to consume more than one serve per day. Anything that disrupts the gut microbiome so much that it needs a special warning should throw up a red flag for you!
Note to dog owners: Sugar alcohol-based artificial sweeteners are a life-threatening toxin to dogs. Be mindful of mints, lollies, xylitol gum, frozen desserts and other foods when your pets are around.
WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?
- Avoid sweet food and drinks altogether. This may not be the easiest option, but it is the most effective one!
- Use Stevia, Monk Fruit or Thaumatin to naturally sweeten food or beverages. Stevia has a long history of safe use, tastes delicious and comes without the dangerous side effects of artificial sweeteners.
Disclaimer: The above article is merely a guide and is in no way a recommendation or a treatment protocol for any health conditions or diseases. You should always consult with a qualified health care provider before changing your supplement, training or nutritional strategy. Supplementation should not be attempted by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone on prescription medication or children under the age of 15 unless advised by your qualified health care provider.
- Guy Fegherazzi et al., Consumption of artificial and sugar sweetened beverages and the incident of type 2 diabetes – American Journal of Nutrition 2013
- Xiaoming Bian et al., Gut Microbiome Response to Sucralose and Its Potential Role in Inducing Liver Inflammation in Mice. Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 487
- Jotham Suez et al., Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. doi:10.1038/nature13793
- Soffritti M et al., The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation.
- Araújo JR et al., Exposure to non-nutritive sweeteners during pregnancy and lactation: Impact in programming of metabolic diseases in the progeny later in life. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Nov; 49:196-201
- AnjaRahn et al., Thermal degradation of sucralose and its potential in generating chloropropanols in the presence of glycerol. 2009.04.133
- Kalkbrenner AE et al., Environmental chemical exposures and autism spectrum disorders: a review of the epidemiological evidence. Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2014 Nov; 44(10):277-318
- Jennifer A. Nettleton et al., Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Diabetes Care 2009 Apr; 32(4): 688-694.