ARE ARTIFICIAL S WEE TENERS helpful or hurtful to one’s health? It’s a subject of much debate. Some studies suggest the s weeteners help dieters cut calories and lose weight. Others say the products interfere with a person’s metabolism and may actually lead to weight gain. And now researchers
at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Tel Aviv have hit on
a new concern: drinking diet soda and similarly sweetened
products may increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Nature, found observable changes in the makeup of gut
microbes in mice fed nonnutritive sweeteners, including
sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. These changes to the
animals’ intestinal flora resulted in a decrease in glucose tolerance. And when those same microbes were extracted from
the mice and injected into the guts of mice not fed artificial
sweeteners, they too developed glucose intolerance.
Researchers are working to replicate results in human
studies. If they can, it suggests that people who are already
predisposed to diabetes may actually increase their likelihood
of developing the disease by ingesting nonnutritive sweeteners.
So does this latest study tip the scales and suggest we
need to swear off artificial sweeteners altogether?
“The research is intriguing and suggests we need
How Sweet It Is
to look at this connection a bit further,” says Dr. Linda
Gaudiani, director of both Braden Diabetes Center and
the Diabetes Care Program at Marin General Hospital.
“At present, the six main nonnutritive sweeteners have
been deemed safe. If that changes, we will certainly need
to rethink things.”
In the meantime, she advises caution and moderation for
those consuming nonnutritive s weeteners. “People are natu-
rally drawn to sweet things,” she notes; “ideally, you want to
satisfy this craving by introducing naturally sweet foods.”
Still, she concedes, for folks who must live on a low-sugar
diet, nonnutritive sweeteners serve a purpose: “Consuming
small amounts of nonnutritive sweetener can make dietary
restrictions more palatable.”
That said, she adds, it’s best to limit intake of both artifi-
cial sweeteners and simple sugars — especially sound advice
in a country where undiagnosed diabetes may be present in
three out of 10 adults.
Research is exploring
whether certain people
who are already
predisposed to diabetes
may actually increase
their likelihood of
developing the disease by
and Type 2
BY DAWN MARGOLIS DENBERG