Artificial sweeteners may increase risk of diabetes in two weeks, study claims

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/Credithumonia
©iStock/Credithumonia

Related tags: Low calorie sweeteners, Sugar, Blood sugar

Artificial sweeteners could potentially increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2DM) in two weeks, says research that fuels ongoing debate over the sugar substitutes’ long-term health effects. 

The Australian study determined that the use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) supplementation during this period was enough to enhance glucose absorption and raise the blood glucose response.

"This study supports the concept that artificial sweeteners could reduce the body's control of blood sugar levels,”​ said the study’s authors, led by the University of Adelaide’s associate professor Dr Richard Young.

“This highlights the potential for exaggerated post-meal glucose levels in high habitual NAS users, which could predispose them to developing type 2 diabetes.”

A global health issue

Older studies have implicated a high intake of these sweeteners to weight gain and increased glucose intolerance.

What makes these findings more pertinent is the use of NAS among the general population that, along with diabetics, are looking to reduce sugar intake in food and beverages.

Reduction of sugar, as well as salt and fat, remains a global health issue, in which reformulation efforts have included widespread industry usage of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulphame K2, saccharin and sucralose.

Despite these findings, the scientific opinion by the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) recognises the beneficial effect of low calorie sweeteners in post-prandial glucose stating, “consumption of foods with low calorie sweeteners instead of sugar induces a lower blood glucose rise after their consumption compared to sugar-containing foods​”.

Led by Dr Young, the small study recruited 27 healthy subjects who were given a sweetener combination of sucralose and acesulfame-K in quantities equivalent to drinking 1.5 litres (L) of diet beverage per day, or an inactive placebo.

Subjects consumed the NAS in capsule form designed to dissolve in the intestine. These were taken three times a day before meals over the two-weeks.

At the end of this period, subjects had their response to glucose tested, assessing its absorption, plasma glucose, insulin levels and gut peptides.

Findings revealed that sweetener treatment caused an increase in measures of the body's response to glucose. This was greater for both glucose absorption and blood glucose,

Numbers of the gut peptide GLP-1, which acts to limit the rise in blood glucose after meals, were reduced. None of these measures changed in those subjects given a placebo.

“These data show that intake of these sweeteners in healthy subjects may increase glycaemic responses,”​ said Dr Young. “The study is the first to document an effect of these sweeteners to increase glucose absorption in humans.”

Sweeteners are a viable option

In response to these findings the International Sweeteners Association (ISA), were adamant that low calorie sweeteners did not affect glucose control or increase diabetes risk.

“Study findings presented are not supported by a number of earlier studies by the same research group,”​ they revealed.

“Outcomes of a considerable number of studies​published by the same authors​, consistently found no impact of low calorie sweeteners on blood glucose regulation.”

ISA also pointed towards a wealth of evidence demonstrating that low calorie sweeteners did not adversely affect glycaemic control in healthy individuals and in people with diabetes.

“For people with diabetes, low calorie sweeteners used in foods and drinks as well as table-top sweeteners and as part of a healthy diet are an option that can aid in glucose control and offer broader food choices by providing the pleasure of sweet taste without raising blood glucose.”

Source: Diabetologia

Published online ahead of print: N/A

“Impact of artificial sweeteners on glycaemic control in healthy humans.”

Authors: R L Young et al.

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