Artificially sweetened food and drinks, the food industry’s insurance product for sugar-haters and diabetics, have always been a grey area in terms of long-term health for consumers.
After all, whether it’s staring at the computer screen, holding the phone to your ear or gulping copious amounts of a sweetened diet drink, too much of anything artificial can’t be good for you, right?
Sweeteners Just Like a Glass of Water
Well, new research — from the University of Adelaide in Australia and published in December’s Diabetes Care Journal — has found that drinking sweeteners is just like drinking a glass of water as it has no effect on the gut. At least that was the case for the ten young, healthy, non-overweight males used in the study. All subjects were aged around 30-years-old.
“The scientific debate centers on whether artificial sweeteners have a negative impact on our bodies, such as leading to the storage of fat. There are also questions about whether they have a beneficial impact, such as producing responses that signal fullness to the brain, or if they are inert and produce no impact,” says senior author Associate Professor Chris Rayner.
Each of the study’s subjects was required to consume either 240mL water alone or sweetened with either 52 milligrams of sucralose (Splenda), 200 milligrams of AceK (Sunett or Sweet One), or 46 milligrams of sucralose plus 26 milligrams AceK. Ten minutes later, each subject drank 75 grams of glucose and had their gut responses measured accordingly.
The paper concludes that both sweeteners (sucralose and AceK), either alone or in combination, have no short-term effect on gastric emptying, GLP-1 or glycemic responses after glucose is consumed by healthy humans; in other words, no effects on the gut.
However, the study’s authors are the first to warn that this is not evidence to say those sweeteners are safe to drink, particularly in the long term.
“This is a controversial area because there’s a lot of conflicting research into artificial sweeteners,” said Rayner. “The fact is, the human studies have been unclear as to whether artificial sweeteners have a positive or negative effect, and this is why we’re keen to better understand what’s happening in our bodies.”
We Should Be Focusing on the Long-Term
While short-term studies (albeit small studies) have often found nil significant ill-effects of sweetener use, research into long-term consumption is where the real answers hide.
In the end, diet-drink faithfuls are not consuming them temporarily; they’re likely to be customers for life.
There have been myriad studies that find increased health risks with longer consumption of sweeteners. However these have been observational studies which only show a link, rather than proving cause and effect. This is why a conclusive statement about the health impact of sweeteners continues to elude us.
Co-author of the study Dr. Richard Young says:
Those [observational] studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may interact with the gut in the longer term, but so far no-one’s managed to determine the actual mechanisms through which these sweeteners act.
So far it appears that artificial sweeteners have limited impact in the short term, but in people in a pre-diabetic or diabetic state, who are more likely to be regularly high users of artificial sweeteners, it might be a different story altogether.
I fear that when future clinical trials are finalised, the outcomes and findings will be anything but sweet for long-term artificial sweetener consumers.
What do you choose to use? Sweetener or sugar?
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