Artificial sweeteners could trigger harmful metabolic changes, study says

While artificial sweeteners are often promoted as healthier alternatives to sugar for diabetics, they could actually speed up the development of glucose intolerance, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

The reason for this intolerance could have to do with changes in gut bacteria - often called the human microbiome - that occur in the presence of artificial sweeteners.

For the study, researchers gave mice water that included three commonly used artificial sweeteners. These mice were compared with other mice that drank just water or other mice that drank sugar water.

Mice that consumed water with artificial sweeteners showed glucose intolerance, which was observed by transferring the microbiota from mice that consumed these sweeteners into "germ-free" mice that had been treated with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria.

The recipient mice showed signs of glucose intolerance after the tranfser, proving that the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners could be linked to the quality of gut flora.

Human trials

In human trials, many volunteers began to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of consuming artificial sweeteners. The changes, researchers said, could be explained by the difference in gut microbiota.

Lead researcher Dr. Eran Elinav said that certain gut bacteria can react to chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that provoke inflammatory responses similar to what happens during a sugar overdose. This then changes the body's ability to utilize sugar.

"Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us," Dr. Elinav said. "Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners - through the bacteria in our guts - to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today's massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances."

Source: Weizmann Institute of Science

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