For decades, health professionals have debated whether the possible side effects of artificial sweeteners are worth the intended benefit of reducing obesity.* Supporters of the sweetener Splenda–a compound comprised of sugar bound with molecules of chlorine–have stated their product does nothing more than provide the taste of sweet.
But current research from the Washington University School of Medicine points in another direction:
“Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert — it does have an effect,” said first author M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine. “And we need to do more studies to determine whether this observation means long-term use could be harmful.”
The study is small, but it has been reviewed by health professionals and found to sound. It recently appeared in Diabetes Care, the publication for the American Diabetes Association.
Previous research from numerous institutions have found that artificial sweeteners increase insulin responses and decrease the efficiency with which the body processes glucose. This research, undertaken with human subjects, produced the same results. Researchers concluded that artificial sweeteners do indeed influence metabolic functions by impacting receptors in the gut that are similar to taste buds. In other words, the very taste of sweet is enough to alter how the body processes energy and information.
Research participants first drank either a glass of water, or water containing sucralose (Splenda). Then they were given an amount of glucose commonly used to test an individual’s glucose tolerance. In those participants who drank the artificial sweetener, blood sugar peaked at a higher level than those who drank water. Even more troubling was the fact insulin levels were higher as well–up to 20% higher.
It’s tempting to call that higher insulin response a potential positive. However, it’s well-known and established that repeatedly high insulin responses lead to insulin resistance, and resistance leads to Type II diabetes. Moreover, high levels of insulin have an established connection with high cholesterol.
I do not expect this news to filter down to healthcare and wellness professionals for some time, and recommendations given to patients and clients will take even longer. But you can take action now by removing all artificial sweeteners from your diet. As much as we may want something to taste sweet (a survival instinct based on scarcity that’s out-of-sync with modern availability), we don’t need something as artificially sweet as sucralose and other chemical additives give us.
About two weeks without sweeteners resets your taste buds to their more natural, non-crave-inducing state. If two weeks sounds like a long time, consider how quickly the last two weeks of your life flew past. Since time truly does pass in an eyeblink, why not invest those two weeks in order to gain possible years of active living?
*Since the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in the food supply of the United States, the percentage of the population facing diabetes and obesity has increased exponentially.