Can Sugar Substitutes Contribute to Diabetes?

Although there is a greater widespread understanding of the lifestyle choices that can help prevent Type 2 diabetes, nearly 30 percent of Americans over the age of 65 (15.9 million seniors) have the chronic condition whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.  Many adults with a sugar habit in the form of soda, cookies, or cakes have used artificial sweeteners as an alternative to natural sugar but new research suggests that these sugar substitutes may contribute to the development of diabetes. 

According to a recent New York Post report, research out of the German National Cancer Centre, published in the journal Cell, has established new data that suggests artificial sweeteners, specifically saccharin and sucralose, significantly impact glucose tolerance in healthy adults.  Researchers found that these artificial sweeteners can lead to distinct changes in gut microbes and the molecules they secrete into the blood.  These changes in composition and function of the body’s microbes were strongly linked to differences in study participants’ glycemic responses. 

Prior research suggested that non-nutritive artificial sweeteners may have a negative effect on metabolism and appetite control, but manufacturers have continued to deny any adverse effects of sugar substitutes on the human body.   Because each person’s microbiome is highly unique, the effects of the sweeteners will vary between individuals.  

Until more is known about the health risks of sugar substitutes, and because sugar is so harmful to our metabolic health, researchers recommend choosing water as one’s beverage of choice and limiting consumption of other sweets.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 tsp of added sugar for men and no more than 6 tsp per day for women.  In reality, the average person consumes 19.5 tsp of added sugar every day, totaling 66 pounds of added sugar each year. 

Read more about the health controversy over sugar substitutes and their perceived benefits by following this link to a recent article in the National Library of Medicine’s Center for Biotechnology Information.