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Artificial Sweeteners: Linked to the Obesity & Diabetes Epidemics?

As the obesity epidemic and diabetes rates continue to rise, researchers are looking into whether artificial sweeteners are actually a benefit to those who are dieting and/or have diabetes. In recent years there has been a steady rise in the number of people that are making the switch from using regular sugar to using artificial sweeteners (like Sweet’N Low, Necta Sweet, Equal, Splenda, and more) because they have been led to believe it won’t raise blood sugar levels. It will probably come as a surprise for many to learn that artificial sweeteners may actually cause a person’s blood sugar levels to increase, even though they don’t contain any real sugar or calories.

Co-author Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel explained that "our findings suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight." According to the study, published in the September 17th issue of Nature, the ingredients found in artificial sweeteners (like saccharine) alter the composition and functions of the bacteria in the gut, which was found to raise blood sugar levels in both humans and mice. In simpler terms, using artificial sweeteners can make a person more susceptible to diabetes and obesity by changing the way that their body handles sugar (CBC News Article, 9/17/14).

While these findings are still preliminary and follow-up studies need to be conducted, these findings provide additional support to back the American Diabetes Association’s position that “using non-nutritive sweeteners is not a panacea” (Judy Wylie-Rosette, an ADA spokesperson and professor of epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City). While experts like Wylie-Rosette say that artificially sweetened sodas are still better for you than drinking sugary sodas, experts from the Harvard School of Public Health point out “that those who drank artificially sweetened drinks had a 47% higher increase in BMI than those who did not!” Experts like Nita Forouhi, who is the program leader at the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit at Cambridge University, believe that "this research raises caution that [non-caloric artificial sweeteners] may not represent the 'innocent magic bullet' they were intended to be to help with the obesity and diabetes epidemics, but it does not yet provide sufficient evidence to alter public health and clinical practice."

Israelian researchers also noted that their study results indicate that not everyone’s body has the same response to using artificial sweeteners; the study revealed “evidence that some people may be more susceptible than others to blood sugar increases caused by artificial sweeteners.” While experts emphasize that people shouldn’t be making immediate dietary changes based on these findings, those who do use artificial sweeteners might want to consider monitoring their blood sugar levels.



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