Friday, September 26, 2014

The hidden bane of artificial sweeteners has been exposed

The results are in. Scientists now have very strong evidence that artificial sweeteners can alter gut bacteria in humans and that may lead to glucose intolerance and that in turn may lead to obesity and diabetes. A recent study has found that artificial sweeteners have a profound effect on gut bacteria that decreases our tolerance for glucose. In a nutshell, the body adapts to the artificial sweetener rather than natural sugars.

An article in ArsTechnica regarding the same Nature Journal entry says:
"Could this really be relevant to human health? To get a hint, the team got seven healthy volunteers to start consuming high levels of saccharin (the FDA's recommended maximum daily dose). At the end of a week, four of them ended up with a reduced insulin response."
This is suggestive, but not conclusive since everyone responds differently to artificial sweeteners. I do find it interesting that a reduced insulin response is found at all in just a week. What stands out to me is what happened next:
"Again, the researchers took stool samples and gave them to germ-free mice. Fecal transplants from those who had a poor insulin response transferred this response to the mice; fecal transplants from the ones who were unaffected by the saccharine had no effect."
The effect can be transferred? Well, it's not contagious, but the fecal transplants carried gut bacteria and that transferred the poor insulin response from one mouse to another. This shows that we get a lot of help from bacteria cells in our gut that don't even carry our own DNA. The scientists in this study also note that changes in gut bacteria can lead to metabolic disease and artificial sweetener induced glucose intolerance in health human subjects.

I remember years ago, how my sister shared with me her research about aspartame. She said that aspartame was originally a component of aircraft glue. I was never able to confirm that connection, but that was before the internet. Even today, I still cannot find that association, but that information altered my perception of artificial sweeteners. Already, I had tried them and hated the taste in drinks like Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

So for most of my adult life, I've taken a rather dim view of diet or lite anything. If you're drinking Coke lite, you're probably drinking too much. If you're using artificial sweeteners, you have almost no idea what you're putting into your body. My suspicions are that strong about it so I avoid them like the plague. I felt vindicated when I read that artificial sweeteners tend to increase your appetite. After all, we're dealing with a food industry that profits from addiction to food, so it makes sense.

The ability of our body to adapt is, I believe, the point to remember, for the body adapts to more than just artificial sweeteners. It's with anything we eat. Our bodies are built to adapt to the environment. Life adapts, automatically. When the environment changes, we change or we die. We don't have a choice about it, except with the modern diet for humans, as our gut bacteria have shown us. There we can make choices.

We can choose McD's or we can make our own at home. We can choose an apple, or an apple rollup in a nice, neat little package of cardboard and plastic. We can choose a diet soda pop, or we can drink some fresh squeezed orange juice. No pain, no gain, right?

The abstract for the article (sorry, I wasn't willing to pay $32 to Nature to get access to the PDF), has this to say in conclusion:
"Collectively, our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage."
Here we have scientists who have done good research on the effects of artificial sweeteners and they are calling for more work on the subject. They too, have noted the dearth of studies and call for more studies to be done before we can be certain artificial sweeteners are safe.

Whatever the choices we make in what we choose to eat, one thing is clear, we adapt to our choices and we often pay very dear prices for the changes we incur. Can we ever look at a pack of Equal the same way again? I can. But with a bit more certainty now.
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