scientific studies have linked sugar to a number of health issues like obesity,
diabetes, tooth decay and even behavioural disorders. However, sugar
substitutes might also not be a viable alternative. According to a study
published in Nature on 17 September
2014, non-caloric sweeteners (NAS) can trigger glucose intolerance in mice and
substitutes or artificial sweeteners
are widely used as safe
food additives consumed by lean and obese individuals and diabetics and non-diabetics.
The low calorie content makes it safe for people with diabetes. However,
supporting data is insufficient and controversial to prove its safety.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel showed the unexpected
effect NAS has on gut microbiota causing glucose intolerance and upping the
risk of diabetes.
Eran Elinav and computational biologist Eran Segal identified changes in the
composition and function of mice gut microbiome after the mice consumed sugar
substitutes. According to the researchers, these changes are similar to those
linked to obesity and diabetes in humans. The team observed that sugar
substitutes have a direct impact and effect on the body's ability to utilize
is the body's inability to cope with large amounts of
sugar in the diet and this is the first indication pointing to the onset of
In the mice experiment, the scientists
gave mice water with sugar substitutes (amount equivalent to those permitted by
the U.S Food and Drug Administration - FDA). These mice developed glucose
intolerance as compared those mice that drank just water or sugar water.
To confirm this
finding with humans, the researchers gave 7 healthy individuals (without a
history of sugar substitute consumption) a high dose of saccharin (5
milligrams/kilogram of body weight which is the FDA's maximum acceptable intake
per day) on 6 consecutive days. Of these, 4 individuals showed signs of glucose
Similarly in a
cohort of 381 non-diabetic volunteers, the researchers found that those who
regularly consumed sugar substitutes in high amounts showed higher fasting
blood glucose levels (FBS), poorer glucose tolerance and different gut
microbiome profiles as against those who did not use these sugar substitutes.
Based on the findings from human data, the
researchers reported that sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners "may have
directly contributed to enhancing the exact (diabetes) epidemic that they themselves
were intended to fight" (Nature
study points out evidence that sugar substitutes/artificial sweeteners are not
that safe after all and must be used with some caution given its links to
increasing the risk of diabetes.