Last week I discussed why you shouldn’t freak out about the latest news about artificial sweeteners. This week, I will give a bit more information on the study, now that I have obtained a full-text copy of it from professional resources. Specifically, I will let you how much the humans were consuming and real food recommendations you can take from this study, as yes, there are some take-home messages for some of the population, particularly diet soda/pop drinkers, and not as much for those who use packets of artificial sweetener.
Before I get started, I would like to link to this post in theguardian.com about how journals like Nature, Cell, and Science are damaging science due to incentives. I agree with a lot of what this writer says. Back to my post.
According to the human trial in this study, the only sweetener tested was saccharin, which is sold as Sweet N Low (the pink packets). Thus, everything I say will apply only to saccharin. The science doesn’t speak strongly for other sweeteners at this time because they were mice experiments. Similar pathways and mechanisms for glucose intolerance based on species of microbiota present in mice can be surmised, but it is only preliminary and cannot be assumed the same happens for all human populations.
Before we go into specifics, the humans studied were not well-controlled based on the paper description. There is not a mention of the type of humans other than that they were “seven healthy volunteers (5 males and 2 females, aged 28-36) who do not normally consume NAS or NAS-containing foods for 1 week.” NAS means non-caloric artificial sweeteners (more on researchers writing in code in another blog post…). We don’t know anything about these humans’ weights, heights, race, diet, exercise habits, stress, family history of diabetes, etc. That’s a lot of information to not have about these subjects.
The humans were given the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) maximum acceptable daily intake of commercial saccharin of 5 mg per kilogram body weight in three divided daily doses equivalent to 120 mg, totaling 360 mg a day. They were monitored by continuous glucose measurements and daily glucose tolerance tests (GTT). Doing some math, this is the maximum dose allowed for someone who is about 158 lbs. There was no mention of the individual humans’ weights. A glucose tolerance test is when someone ingests 75 g of glucose (which is about five 8″ tortillas or two cans of Coke, if Coke was pure glucose and not fructose, in 5 minutes time) and researchers measure blood glucose at regular intervals afterwards for three hours.
I would think that just taking a glucose tolerance test every day for 6 days would have an effect on glucose tolerance, but they were also consuming the maximum “safe” amount of saccharin on top of it. There were four participants who experienced glucose intolerance, and the researchers noted that their gut bacteria had higher counts of Bacteroides fragilis, Weissella cibaria, and Candidatus Arthromitus.
To get the same amount of saccharin (360 mg) a day the subjects had, you would have to consume 10 packets of Sweet N Low per day, since each packet has 36 mg of saccharin. So unless you are using that many Sweet N Low packets a day, I wouldn’t worry about this study.
The only diet soda I know that still uses saccharin is called Tab, produced by The Coca-Cola Company, with 96 mg of saccharin per 12 fluid ounce can. The FDA also sets a limit of 12 mg saccharin per fluid ounce. So unless you drink 4 of these 12 fluid ounce cans per day, as well as eat large amounts of pure glucose sugar along side it equivalent to a glucose tolerance test without any other food to slow down that glucose absorption (such protein and fat found in whole foods), I wouldn’t worry about artificial sweeteners yet.
What’s your take on this study? Do you disagree with my conclusions? Did I miss something? Please comment and share.