21 February 2019
Artificial sweeteners may raise blood sugar levels by altering digestive bacteria, a new study warns. Photo:
Artificial sweeteners may raise blood sugar levels by altering digestive bacteria, a new study warns. Photo:

Artificial sweeteners: Fresh food for thought

Artificial sweeteners, which are among the most common food additives, have been the subject of a long-running debate over their potential health benefits and risks.

Some studies have shown that the products pose no health risks and effectively help people cut calories, while other research has suggested that the sweeteners could actually do harm.

People suffering from obesity and diabetes tend to look upon the additives as a boon, as they help them get their usual taste in food without the calories. Sugar-free sodas and diet snacks, for instance, abound with artificial sweeteners.

But now, a new study warns that the sweeteners may be helping fuel, rather than thwart, the problems they were designed to combat.

Researchers in Israel have found that artificial sweeteners might be triggering higher blood sugar levels in some people and contributing to problems such as diabetes and obesity.

According to findings published this week, the sweeteners could disrupt digestive bacteria in our guts, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels.

In a series of experiments, researchers found that several of the most widely used types of non-calorie sweeteners in food and drinks caused mice to experience increased risk of glucose intolerance.

“We are talking about very dramatic increases,” the Washington Post quoted one of the study’s co-authors, Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, as saying.

Separately, the researchers analyzed nearly 400 people and found that the gut bacteria of those who used artificial sweeteners was noticeably different from people who did not.

The latest findings will no doubt fuel a fresh debate about artificial sweeteners, which were invented more than a century ago as a cheaper sugar substitute.

The Israeli researchers stressed that their findings are preliminary and shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation on whether people should reconsider using artificial sweeteners.

However, there is this one message that comes through clearly: Don’t take anything for granted with regard to what you consume.

Now, that’s some food for thought.

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