Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners that many use to cut their sugar consumption could actually put them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, research suggests.
Scientists found just two weeks of high intake of low-calorie sweeteners was enough to significantly alter the make-up of bacteria in the gut.
This changes the way the body absorbs and regulates blood sugar, the researchers said, which over time increases the risk of developing diabetes.
Low-calorie sweeteners which are used in many diet drinks were linked to changes in bacteria in the gut that could increase the risk of diabetes
Many people at risk of diabetes, such as those who are obese or already have high blood sugar, use diet drinks and sweeteners. The authors said their findings supported ‘the concept that such sweeteners worsen blood sugar control in healthy subjects’ [File photo]
The findings are particularly concerning because many people are at risk of diabetes – such as those who are obese or already have high blood sugar – use diet drinks and sweeteners.
The researchers, led by Professor Richard Young of Adelaide Medical School in Australia, tracked 29 young healthy people for two weeks.
Half were given capsules of sweeteners containing sucralose and acesulfame-K, the equivalent of about four and half cans of diet drink a day.
The other half were given placebo capsules containing no sweeteners.
The researchers analysed the bacteria in the volunteers’ guts and found a significant alteration in those who had consumed the sweeteners, along with lower release of the hormone GLP-1, which helps to control blood glucose levels.
The authors, presenting their findings at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference in Berlin, said: ‘Two weeks of low-calorie sweetener supplementation was sufficient to disrupt gut bacteria and increase the abundance of those normally absent in healthy individuals.
The authors said their findings supported ‘the concept that such sweeteners worsen blood sugar control in healthy subjects.’
Scientists found just two weeks of high intake of low-calorie sweeteners was enough to significantly alter the make-up of bacteria in the gut. This changes the way the body absorbs and regulates blood sugar, the researchers said, which over time increases the risk of developing diabetes
But British experts warned the results were not definitive – and artificial sweeteners are a better alternative to sugar.
Professor Naveed Sattar, of the University of Glasgow, said: ‘This study, whilst well done, is not the same as taking one or two diet drinks containing sweeteners per day, more often than not with food.
‘This evidence will in no way stop me taking a can a day of a diet drink – or recommending such drinks as alternatives to sugar-rich drinks for patients.’
Dr Katarina Kos, diabetes and obesity lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: ‘The best option … may remain water as a zero calorie drink.
Gavin Partington, director general at British Soft Drinks Association, said: ‘Low calorie sweeteners are safe and have been approved by all leading health authorities around the world for decades, as well Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK.
‘These claims run contrary to the substantial body of global scientific research which shows how low calorie sweeteners can safely help people to reduce their calorie intake and manage their weight.’
WHAT ARE THE FEARS OVER SWEETENERS? AND WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SHOW?
In an era of obesity and diabetes, there is more focus on sweeteners and sugar alternatives than ever before. But some in the scientific community say the jury is still out on the effects of sweeteners and more research is needed.
OBESITY AND DIABETES
A study published in April this year from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University linked artificial sweeteners to obesity and diabetes, claiming sweeteners change how the body processes fat and uses energy.
Researchers fed groups of rats diets high in sugar or artificial sweeteners including aspartame and acesulfame potassium. After three weeks, blood samples showed significant differences in concentrations of biochemicals, fats and amino acids.
Leading gut microbiome expert Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, has warned that if you give animals lots of sweeteners, you get a reduction in diversity of the microbes and they produce abnormal chemicals – different metabolic signals which have been shown to be more likely to give you diabetes and make you put on weight.
He adds that while there’s no hard evidence yet in humans, he has seen enough to make him wary of regularly eating these additives.
STROKE AND DEMENTIA
Consuming a can a day of low-or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claimed last year.
A Boston University study found that people who glugged diet drinks daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not.
However, the researchers were quick to point out that these findings, which appear separately in the journals Alzheimer’s & Dementia and Stroke, demonstrated correlation but not cause-and-effect.