If it’s calorie-free it won’t have any impact on your weight, right?
Well that’s true of water, but turns out for artificially sweetened goodies it might not be that black and white.
New research from the Washington University School of Medicine has found the popular sweetener sucralose (marketed as Splenda) does more than just trick your taste buds.
“Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert — it does have an effect (on the body),” said Dr. M Y Pepino, head of the study.
The study involved 17 insulin-sensitive (non-diabetic) obese subjects as they are most likely to receive calorie-restriction advice. Each subject was tested twice, receiving either water or sucralose to consume before drinking a dose of glucose (sugar). Researchers wanted to observe whether blood sugar or insulin levels reacted differently with the sucralose-glucose combination.
“When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose,” Pepino explained to the Washington University Newsroom.
“Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response.”
So what does all that mean for you?
While using a sweetener isn’t addictive like the real thing, tricking the taste buds with a sugar mime also seems to trick your body’s hormones into action – specifically insulin, the hormone which regulates sugar metabolism.
Unfortunately, excessive insulin in the blood can lead to insulin resistance, one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes.
The exact way in which sucralose has this effect in obese people (and potentially non-obese people as well) remains unclear.
“Although we found that sucralose affects the glucose and insulin response to glucose ingestion, we don’t know the mechanism responsible,” said Pepino.
“In obese people without diabetes, we have shown sucralose is more than just something sweet that you put into your mouth with no other consequences.”
One very possible explanation has emerged from studies which also found sweeteners affect more than just taste-buds. Researchers have discovered that the intestines and pancreas have receptors virtually identical to those in the mouth – designed to detect sweetness from sugars.
The body did not evolve to recognize laboratory-designed sweetness such as sucralose, and thus is tricked into releasing hormones such as insulin. Some studies also found when artificial sweeteners activate those gut receptors, the absorption of glucose also increases.
Whether other types of sweeteners such as stevia and aspartame have a similar effect to sucralose remains to be seen (although aspartame has been banned by the FDA twice before, and sweeteners rot your teeth as much as cocaine).
In any case, we are the “trial generation” for sweeteners and other artificial ingredients, so watch this space.
Do you use sweeteners daily, and if so, which ones?