Sucralose sweetener may modify sugar metabolism: Study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Insulin

Dietary intake of the non-nutritive sweetener sucralose might alter the way your body processes and reacts to normal dietary sugars, according to new research.

The new small scale study, published in Diabetes Care​, analysed how intake of the sweetener sucralose (in this case Splenda)affected the metabolic responses of 17 severely obese yet otherwise healthy people - finding that sucralose intake was responsible for up to a 20% spike in blood sugar and insulin levels when the participants were given a later 'dose' of glucose.

"Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert — it does have an effect,"​ said Dr Yanina Pepino from the Washington University School of Medicine - first author of the study.

However, Matthew Wootton, group VP, investor and media relations for Tate & Lyle said there have been 'numerous' clinical studies in both diabetic and non-diabetic people over the years - and all have shown that sucralose is safe for consumption.

"EFSA, FDA and many other regulators have concluded that sucralose does not adversely affect glucose control,"​ he told FoodNavigator.

"You have to look at the extensive tests that have been carried out over the years - they have shown sucralose to be safe for the whole population."

Sucralose study

Pepino and her team studied people with an average body mass index (BMI) of just over 42 - giving them either water or sucralose to drink before they consumed a glucose challenge test.

"When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose,"​ she explained. "Insulin levels also rose about 20% higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response."

"Whether these acute effects of sucralose will influence how our bodies handle sugar in the long term is something we need to know,"​ she added - noting that such changes to metabolism may not have harmful effects.

"What these all mean for daily life scenarios is still unknown, but our findings are stressing the need for more studies."

Wootton commented that the study did not involve people with diabetes and only used a small number of subjects:

"Importantly, the study is not backed by the extensive scientific data available," ​said the Tate & Lyle VP.

" The study included no control or review of the diet or lifestyle of participants in days building up to the tests and used subjects who were excessively overweight.'

Research details

The team tested each of the 17 participants twice in a crossover study that meant each participant acted as their own control.

Analysis of this data revealed that compared to drinking water sucralose ingestion led to a greater incremental increase in peak plasma glucose concentrations, an average of a 20% increase in insulin levels, a 22% jump in peak insulin secretion rate, a 7% decrease in insulin clearance , and a 23% decrease in insulin sensitivity.

"The artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response,"​ said Pepino.

"Although we found that sucralose affects the glucose and insulin response to glucose ingestion, we don't know the mechanism responsible,"​ she added. "We have shown that sucralose is having an effect. In obese people without diabetes."

"We have shown sucralose is more than just something sweet that you put into your mouth with no other consequences."

However Pepino added that such elevations in responses 'could be a good thing' because it shows that person is able to make enough insulin to deal with spiking glucose levels.

On the other hand, she said, that the findings may have negative implications because "when people routinely secrete more insulin, they can become resistant to its effects, a path that leads to type 2 diabetes."

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Why is this such a surpise?

Posted by David F. Spencer,

I had never bothered considering this issue because I avoid all sugar substitutes. It's not like anything we consume that "needs" artificial sweeteners are essential foods; simply don't consume them or consume them in moderation.
Sucralose is a disaccharide, a modified sucrose with galactose replacing the glucose and several (3) hydroxyls being replaced by chlorines. I confess that I haven't bothered to research whether it is non-caloric because the disaccharide itself cannot even be hydrolyzed into the monomers or whether the chlorination of the monomers is the ultimate biochemical issue. However, just because it is not metabolizable doesn't necessarily mean it cannot induce biochemical responses. Our tongues, the sweetness receptors on it, are 'fooled', and I believe sucralose is sweeter than normal sucrose. So unless sucralose doesn't pass through the mouth, stomach or intestinal walls (in other words, it can't get into the blood stream) why is it so outrageous to discover that it can/may be an inducer of biochemical responses, including, it seems, probably insulin production? Now the modified dipeptide aspartame is a different story, because although it also fools our taste receptors it is not a carbohydrate and so although aspartame may also have health consequences they probably won't have anything to do with our normal sugar metabolism such as insulin production.

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Yet not ignored or discounted

Posted by Alastair Ross (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden),

While the safety of sucralose may be well founded, this is still an important study, and well carried out for the stated objective. A double blind crossover study in 17 subjects is not that small given the objective of validating previous findings in animals. The scientists are not overstating the results by saying that these results raise questions and need to be followed up.

It is worrying that Tate and Lyle, and the Calorie Control Council are seeking to minimise the value of this research. If there are shortcomings, then these perhaps could be elaborated on? The lack of dietary control prior to the GTT is to a great extent nullified by the crossover design (provided the subjects did not change their diets in between). One would also assume that obese subjects are a key group who are using sweeteners in order to lose weight, so this is not an irrelevant population to study.

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Data on overweight

Posted by GSmit,

I agree on the need for more studies. One factoid that may or may not be germain to the study is that several years ago there was a study correlating various foods with overweight. I recall one food being especially well correlated with overweight: diet soda. Now, there could be many reasons for that result, and not all diet sodas are sucralose sweetened, and I'm not even sure that insulin spikes are related to overweight, but I would submit that if studies are done, that this would be one thing to consider.

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