Though they were developed to combat rising levels of obesity as a zero-calorie alternative to sugar, artificial sweeteners may actually be contributing to them, new research has found.
Published this week in Nature, an Israeli research team first found that lab rats fed two different diets, but both with artificial sweeteners added to their water, experienced a rise in blood sugar, an early warning sign of Type 2 diabetes. The mice also saw a change in microbiota, the ecosystem of gut bacteria.
After the first work looking at mice, the team examined 381 humans already partaking in a nutritional study and found those who were consuming artificial sweeteners, too, had elevated blood sugar levels and a lower glucose tolerance.
To further test this, they had seven healthy humans consume the maximum daily intake of saccharin, a popular zero-calorie sweetener. After a week, four of the subjects had lower glucose tolerance and higher blood sugar levels. They also experienced, like the mice, a change in microbiota and gut bacteria.
Some researchers are torn and the authors are hesitant to make any major claims as there has been plenty of previous research linking artificial sweeteners with weight loss, though they also note that, as a general observation, the widespread use of artificial sweeteners did become prevalent shortly before obesity levels really began to rise as rapidly.