Are artificial sweeteners too good to be true?

Are artificial sweeteners too good to be true?

Last updated: April 2022

While we know that it is important to limit consumption of sugars to manage blood glucose levels, new research is suggesting that artificial sweeteners, too, may impact the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. A study, published in the journal Nature, examined consumption of artificial sweeteners through a number of experiments conducted primarily in mice.1


Researchers looked at the effect of adding saccharin (better known as Sweet’N Low), sucralose (better known as Splenda), or aspartame (better known as Equal) to the drinking water of mice.1-3 The amount of artificial sweetener given to the mice was equal to the maximum acceptable daily intake in humans per the FDA. While some mice received these artificial sweeteners in their drinking water, other mice received either plain water, or water with added sugar. At one week, no changes were seen in the mice that received regular or sugared water, but intolerance to glucose was evident in the mice receiving the artificial sweeteners. And, as we know, glucose intolerance can lead to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. So, why might this be happening?

As we know, in the human body, artificial sweeteners are not digested or absorbed. Therefore, scientists presumed that microbes in the gut could explain why they were seeing glucose intolerance in the mice.1-3 Study investigators gave the mice antibiotics for 4 weeks, which eliminated the differences in glucose tolerance between the mice that were fed artificial sweeteners versus the control mice. Though treating the mice with antibiotics resulted in elimination of glucose intolerance, study investigators were still unsure as to why they were seeing these results. They further investigated this phenomenon by focusing on saccharin. Intestinal bacteria were taken from the mice that had received the water with added saccharin, and those bacteria were then placed in the mice that had not been exposed to saccharine. Those mice actually developed glucose intolerance as well.

Investigators of the study were also interested to see if these results would translate to human subjects.2,3 They examined data for 381 nondiabetic people in an ongoing study, and a correlation between reported use of artificial sweetener (of any kind) and glucose intolerance was seen. Finally, the investigators examined 7 people who did not normally consume artificial sweeteners for a six-day period. Each participant received the maximum daily allowance of saccharin (per FDA regulations). In 4 of the 7 participants, a disruption of blood sugar levels, similar to those seen in the mice, was evident. Gut bacteria from the human subjects was also injected into the mice, and those mice then developed a glucose intolerance, indicating that artificial sweeteners have a similar effect in humans and in mice.

What does this all mean?

Though study data are compelling, no broad conclusions can be made about the consumption of artificial sweeteners based on these results. While previous studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners have negative effects on our health, results of those studies have also been inconclusive. There is some evidence that consuming artificial sweeteners can result in weight loss, however, other studies have suggested just the opposite. Additional studies have reported a correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and diabetes, but other factors, like study subjects being overweight, may have influenced the results. Overall, more research needs to be conducted to better understand what the relationship is between artificial sweeteners and the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.

Do you consume artificial sweeteners, and if so, how often? What do you think about the latest research? Do you think you will change any of your eating/drinking habits based on these and other data? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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