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Artificial sweeteners under scrutiny

Friday 19 September 2014 12:02pm

Professor Jim Mann  and Dr Lisa Te Morenga comment about recent research on the impact of artificial sweeteners on metabolic disorders.

They call for further research. Professor Mann also points out that the best answer, if you're thirsty, is not choosing between sugar or artificially sweetened beverages—but choosing water, milk or dilute fruit juice.

Read the news stories:

Read the research paper published in Nature:
Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota published online 17 September 2014, Nature

A response to the research published in Nature

Lisa Te Morenga and Jim Mann wrote the following commentary on the original research published in Nature.

Are artificial sweeteners really safe?

Artificially sweetened foods and drinks can be helpful for overweight individuals, with or without diabetes, trying to cut back on calories to achieve weight loss. However new research just published in Nature suggests that artificial sweeteners might in fact increase the risk of developing diabetes.

An interesting series of studies in mice has shown that adding the artificial sweeteners saccharin, sucralose and aspartame to the normal diets of mice significantly increases their blood glucose levels when compared with mice fed a normal diet with sugar added. The same effect was also shown when the mice were fed high fat diets supplemented with either artificial sweeteners or sugars.

Further investigations found that the artificial sweeteners altered the composition and function of gut bacteria populations (microbiome) in the mice leading to adverse metabolic effects. Subsequent investigations in a small group of people showed that consumption of artificial sweeteners resulted in impaired glycaemic responses and altered microbiomes in four out of seven of the subjects. Furthermore data from a study of 381 non-diabetic adults showed that consumption of artificial sweeteners was associated with risk factors for diabetes and fatty liver disease and was correlated with distinctive families of gut bacteria.

Further research including larger, longer and well controlled trials in humans are essential before offering new advice regarding the use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners. The human trial reported in this research involved seven individuals followed for just seven days and did not include an appropriate control group. The volunteers consumed the maximum acceptable daily intake of saccharin, far in excess of amounts likely to be used by the great majority of consumers.

We do not believe that the present data provide evidence that the use of products containing artificial sweeteners should be abandoned nor do they provide any evidence that advice to reduce free sugars is inappropriate. Sugar sweetened beverages are best replaced by water, milk or occasionally diluted fruit juice. Cutting down on manufactured foods such as cakes biscuits and chocolates, which do not typically include artificial sweeteners, is a further means of reducing sugars. Until more information regarding the effects of artificial sweeteners in humans is available we can see no reason why those who find these products useful in achieving and maintaining body weight should not continue to use them in moderation.

Download this commentary as a PDF:
Are artificial sweeteners really safe? (33 KB)