Artificial Sweeteners and Gut Ecology

Nutritionhelp refers to the balance of microbes in the digestive tract as ‘gut ecology’. This term includes the trillions of friendly bacteria which we should host (contributing at least a couple of pounds to body weight) and also unhelpful microbes and yeast. To support the correct balance within intestinal flora, Nutritionhelp recommends a sugar free diet, where unhelpful yeasts, such as Candida albicans, are starved. However, this does not mean that sugar alternatives are suitable.

Not only may these keep the sweet tooth alive, making it harder to stick to sugar-free foods, but research has shown that artificial sweeteners might actively upset the gut ecology, which in turn has been found to impact blood sugar levels and potentially lead to glucose intolerance – a well known precursor to type 2 diabetes.

The following excerpts from an article by Dr. Mercola, report on the latest research on artificial sweeteners and their impact on the gut microbes.

Artificial Sweeteners Raise Your Risk of Diabetes by Altering Your Gut Microbiome

Both artificial sweeteners and certain gut microbes have previously been linked to obesity, and according to the latest research, artificial sweeteners may raise your risk of diabetes by disrupting your intestinal microflora. According to the authors of the widely publicized study:

“[W]e demonstrate that consumption of commonly used non-caloric artificial sweeteners formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota.”

The researchers found that artificial sweeteners alter certain metabolic pathways associated with metabolic disease, and that it can induce gut dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people.

Glucose intolerance is a condition in which your body loses its ability to cope with high amounts of sugar, and it’s a well-known precursor to type 2 diabetes. It also plays a role in obesity, because the excess sugar in your blood ends up being stored in your fat cells.

The fact that artificial sweeteners may exacerbate metabolic disorders like diabetes is a severe blow to diabetics who dutifully follow recommendations to switch to diet foods and beverages in order to control their diabetes.

The fact that artificial sweeteners are NOT a dieter’s nor a diabetic’s best friend has been known by researchers for some time. The problem is that it hasn’t received the necessary traction in the media—until now.

“Collectively, our results link non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage,” the researchers note.

In sharp contrast to many other studies, this one was actually able to clearly showcausality, meaning there’s a direct cause and effect relationship between consuming artificial sweeteners and developing elevated blood sugar levels. As reported by The Scientist:

Those who switch to artificial sweeteners are typically carrying extra pounds and/or are diabetic, or prone to these conditions. Unfortunately, this may be the absolute worst diet change you could implement if you’re overweight or diabetic. Research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks and other “diet” foods tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, stimulate fat storage and weight gain, and promote insulin resistance and diabetes.

There are a number of different reasons for this. First of all, artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it’s going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn’t arrive, your body signals that it needs more, which results in carb cravings. This connection between sweet taste and increased hunger can be found in the medical literature going back at least two decades (see list of selected studies below). But artificial sweeteners also produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote weight gain—and now we can add gut dysbiosis and altered microbiome to that list!
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