Artificial sweeteners (AS) are marketed to be a guilt-free alternative to sugar since they lack calories. They have been a popular sugar substitute among Americans for decades, and many will turn to AS so that they can eat the food they desire and not be concerned with the repercussions. A 2014 study conducted on mice by Suez et al. however, challenges this popular practice. The study revealed that prolonged usage of AS altered vital intestinal bacteria and caused glucose intolerance in the mice tested. Causing hyperglycemia in the blood, AS and their ability to trigger type-2 diabetes outweigh their short-term benefits.
Suez showed the effect that the AS saccharin had on mice, compared to the control that consumed glucose during the experiment. These data indicate that AS caused potential to develop type-2 diabetes, as the mice who were fed the AS consistently displayed higher amounts of the sugar in their system than the control. However, although a glucose intolerance is indicated by the data, one cannot be certain that the mice continued to show signs of diabetes after the experiment. The figure only reports blood glucose levels for 2 hours and does not contain any post-experiment follow-ups. Despite this discrepancy, these findings are still valid, as the figure displays a p value of <0.03, which indicate that there is a correlation between AS usage and glucose intolerance. It is safe to extrapolate these results and assume that the glucose intolerance of the mice would continue with prolonged consumption of AS as seen in humans.
By providing experimental evidence that AS can prevent glucose from exiting the blood stream, Suez et. al provide powerful insight when it comes to the role of AS such as saccharin. When people drink zero-calorie soda to avoid weight gain, they are introducing the possibility of multiple other health issues that include diabetes. With the ability to alter an organism’s intestinal bacteria, AS can in fact predispose them to diabetes and the number of health issues that are associated with it, which raises the question of whether AS are truly worth using.
*Suez, Jotham et al., Nature, vol. 514, no. 186, 2014