Artificial sweeteners were initially touted as a modern way of sweetening food without the calories. Unfortunately, evidence continues to mount that not only do artificial sweeteners fail to prevent obesity, they may actually be contributing to it. A recent study found that artificial sweeteners have a detrimental effect on the microscopic organisms in our gut that influence all sorts of our bodies’ physiological processes.
Not all bacteria are bad; gut bacteria are an entirely natural and beneficial occurrence. Trillions of them live inside each one of us. Gut bacteria:
A study published in the journal Nature, suggests that artificial sweeteners cause a change in our gut bacteria’s overall makeup, leading to increased blood sugar, decreased insulin efficiency and other symptoms of obesity. “This huge and poorly understood microbial world which resides within each one of us, starting from birth, has been shown to have a huge effect on our physiology,” says Eran Elinav, joint head of the study out of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.
In order to get a clear idea of how artificial sweeteners affected gut bacteria, scientists first added one of the artificial sweeteners saccharin, aspartame or sucralose to the water of laboratory mice. After 11 weeks, the mice drinking artificially sweetened water were compared with a control group fed normal, unsweetened water. The mice drinking the artificial sweeteners had developed significantly lowered insulin efficiency, with saccharin having the worst effects of the three. In order to test the gut bacteria hypothesis, researchers then fed fecal matter containing gut bacteria from the mice with poor insulin efficiency to normal mice. These normal mice, without eating any artificial sweeteners themselves, lost insulin efficiency within only 6 days. Researchers then examined the results of another study concerning 381 people fed controlled doses of artificial sweeteners. They found similar links between decreased insulin efficiency as well as symptoms of obesity and raised blood sugar levels. The study concludes by saying, “Our findings suggest that [artificial sweeteners] may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic they themselves were intended to fight.”
While there is still more research to be done, these results show just one more reason to avoid artificial sweeteners. If you’re concerned about any damage that may have already been done, though, there is good news. The troubles with gut bacteria caused by artificial sweeteners can be reversed simply by cutting artificial sweeteners out of your diet.
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