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article imageZero-calorie sweeteners are a risk to blood sugar levels: study

By Michael Thomas     Sep 17, 2014 in Health
While low-calorie sweeteners like Splenda are often thought of as an important part of weight-loss regimens, a new study illustrates that they may have a serious effect on gut bacteria, and therefore blood sugar levels.
The study, "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota," was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
According to the study, in a certain group of people, artificial sweeteners "may affect the composition and function of the gut microbiome," such that blood sugar levels rise higher than usual. Human health in turn suffers, because when the body can't break sugars down, they're stored as fat.
To arrive at this conclusion, the Verge reports, Eran Elinav — an immunologist at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Health — and his team tested sweetening agents saccharin, sucralose and aspartame on mice. It turned out that mice who ingested the artificial sweeteners had a larger change in blood sugar levels than the mice who ingested actual sugar.
There was one problem, however — zero-calorie sweeteners can't be digested by mammals, which is why they have no calories, and thus the team couldn't blame rising blood sugar levels on the sweeteners by themselves.
To find out more, the team performed two experiments,
In the first, they fed antibiotics — which kill gut bacteria — to the mice who took the artificial sweeteners. They found that when antibiotics were cleared from the mice's systems, blood sugar levels went back to normal.
In the second experiment, the team transplanted feces from sweetener-fed mice into mice who hadn't taken sweetener. The recipient quickly showed higher blood sugar levels.Genetic analysis eventually showed that when microbial colonies changed, so too did bacterial function.
The team then moved onto human tests, with a group of 381 people. Sure enough, scientists found that those who took sweeteners showed higher blood sugar levels and increased weight gain.
Finally, the team did a much smaller experiment with seven people who don't consume sweeteners as part of their diet. Each participant received a dose of saccharin and the team followed them for seven days. After four days, about half the group showed higher blood sugar levels. This proved that only some people are susceptible to the risk of higher blood sugar levels.
While the research shows promise, Elinav said that the results are preliminary and do not mean everyone should immediately change eating habits.
Not everyone agreed with the way the researchers designed the trial, however. Christopher Gardner, a food scientist at Stanford University, said that giving each participant the FDA's maximum suggested saccharin intake (5 mg / kg body weight per day) was unrealistic. It would be the equivalent of a 150-pound person drinking 42 355-ml cans of soda.
Still, the data seems to indicate that the numerous studies concluding that sweeteners are bad for your health have some merit.
More about Sweetener, zero calorie sweeteners, Blood sugar
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