Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel authored the study which involved feeding zero calorie sweeteners to mice. The mice, who were given three popular types of sweetener (Saccharin, Aspartame and Sucralose ), developed a glucose intolerance. In other words, their systems responded by increasing glucose levels to the point of hypoglycaemia.
Intrigued by these findings, researchers Eran Elinav and Eran Segal set out to investigate if this would also be the case for humans. They did this by examining the data from 400 people who were already enrolled in a nutrition study called the Personalised Nutrition Project. They discovered from the data that people who ate or drank a lot of artificial sweeteners had elevated levels of HbA1C, a long term index of blood sugar, compared with those who didn’t eat the sweeteners.
Then they did a one-week experiment with seven volunteers who hadn’t previously eaten artificial sweeteners. Each had to consume 10-12 packets of the sweetener over a seven-day period and then be tested to see what had changed.
NPR reported the researchers’ findings. “What we find is that a subgroup [four of the seven people] developed significant disturbances in their blood glucose even after short-term exposure to artificial sweeteners,” Elinav says. For example, results of a glucose tolerance test found that some individuals’ blood sugar temporarily shot up to levels that are characterised as pre-diabetic within just a few days of introducing the artificial sweetener. Their experiments showed that artificial sweeteners can alter the mix of bacteria in the guts of mice and people in a way that can lead some to become glucose intolerant.”
The questions remains, why should we believe this research over every other study that has come out about artificial sweeteners? Every year there seems to be a new point of view, so what makes this study different?
Well, although this research is only in its early stages, the gut link could partly explain why other studies on artificial sweeteners fluctuate so wildly in their conclusions. The makeup of everyone’s gut chemistry or microbiome is different, with many changeable factors.
So if diet soda does effect the gut, researchers will have to find a way to establish a consistent control group of patients to experiment on before we can truly say we know if diet soda is good or bad for us.