Stop Freaking Out About Artificial Sweeteners
Edit 9/25/14: I have received a full-text copy of the study and made a follow-up blog post to this one on the human intervention part of this study as well as quantified the amounts of saccharin you must eat to experience the effects the humans achieved in the study.
One of this week’s catchy nutrition-related headlines is “Artificial sweeteners could cause spikes in blood sugar.” Rant ON…
The real scientific article published in Nature says “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota,” and if you read the article abstract, which is all the public has access to unless you pay for the article or are at an academic or professional institution that has access to the article, you will see that the experiment was done on MICE. They demonstrated that feeding MICE artificial sweeteners changes MOUSE gut bacteria, transplanted the gut bacteria into a germ free MOUSE, and then those MICE also had the same metabolic profile as the MICE eating whatever concentration of artificial sweeteners they were fed.
These studies have already been conducted, i.e. studies that show the gut microflora has an impact on your body chemistry, in other studies with mice fecal transplantation. There are also case studies of humans with bowel inflammation being cured at high rates with fecal transplantation from healthy individuals.
What this article does NOT show is that humans who consume artificial sweeteners, likely in amounts that don’t quite reach that which mice were fed (but who can say, since the public doesn’t have access to the article without paying), are likely to experience the same metabolic derangements. Yes, humans may have some of the same metabolic pathways that could be affected by the bacteria, but the study did NOT show that humans who eat artificial sweeteners WILL GET spikes in blood sugar or experience glucose intolerance.
Glucose intolerance is affected by quite a number of other factors, not just artificial sweeteners, such as inactivity and overall caloric content and macronutrient distributation (carbs/fat/protein) of that diet. The idea that a small amount of artificial sweetener is a game breaker for humans is highly unlikely.
I chew gum with artificial sweetener daily because it keeps my breath fresh when working with clients and lacks real sugar, which feeds oral bacteria that may promote cavities in humans. Some days I might have 4 pieces of gum. I don’t have glucose intolerance OR cavities. Far from it. I’m very physically active and eat a balanced diet to match my caloric expenditure. Unless artificial sweeteners represent a significant portion by weight of food you are eating, I would not give these headlines any more credence.
These headlines are more likely to hurt those who exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies to avoid anything at all possible that MIGHT be considered bad (colloquially termed orthorexia). Articles like these cause undo anxiety for these people who don’t know who to believe so just dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s when it comes to nutrition, regardless of the strength of the science and the source of the information.
Rant OFF. Please comment and share.