No more debate: Artificial sweeteners do not cause healthy adults to develop diabetes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s a lot of debate over which one is healthier to use, sugar or artificial sweeteners. However, the way many scientists look at it is: which one of these products is worse for your body? Now, researchers at The Ohio State University contend there really is a healthy option when choosing between sugar and sugar substitutes. Their study finds artificial sweeteners like saccharin do not lead to diabetes in healthy adults, even when consuming them in high doses.

“It’s not that the findings of previous studies are wrong, they just didn’t adequately control for things like underlying health conditions, diet choices and lifestyle habits,” study author George Kyriazis, assistant professor of biological chemistry and pharmacology, explains in a university release. “By studying the artificial sweetener saccharin in healthy adults, we’ve isolated its effects and found no change in participants’ gut microbiome or their metabolic profiles, as it was previously suggested.”

What’s the concern over artificial sweeteners?

Many people use non-caloric artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar in food and drinks. Saccharin is one of six sweeteners approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Their popularity has skyrocketed over the years as more research continues to sound the alarm about using too much sugar. From behavioral issues in children to metabolic conditions in adults, the evidence connecting sugar to poor health keeps growing. The OSU team argues that artificial sweeteners have been lumped in with sugar without solid scientific proof.

“Previous studies elsewhere have suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners is associated with metabolic syndrome, weight gain, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. These findings have raised concerns that consuming them may lead to adverse public health outcomes, and a lack of well-controlled interventional studies contributed to the confusion,” says study first author and OSU researcher Joan Serrano.

“Sugar, on the other hand, is well-documented to contribute to obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” adds Kyriazis.

No diabetic impact?

The study examined 46 healthy adults between 18 and 45 years-old who all had a body mass index under 25. Health experts consider any BMI number lower than 25 to be a normal weight regardless of height.

The participants either consumed capsules of saccharin or a placebo containing the sweet taste inhibitor lactisole. Volunteers taking the sweetener consumed 400 milligrams each day for two weeks; the maximum daily amount recommended for adults. Researchers excluded adults with chronic medical conditions or those taking prescriptions which could impact metabolic function.

The study also looked at the effect of saccharin on mice over 10 weeks. Animals consumed even larger amounts of the sweetener in comparison to the human experiment. Researchers note that the mice in the test genetically lacked sweet taste receptors. The results reveal artificial sweeteners do not affect glucose tolerance or cause any major changes to gut microbiota.

“When given the choice, artificial sweeteners such as saccharin are the clear winner based on all of the scientific information we currently have,” Kyriazis declares.

The OSU team plans to study how each of the FDA-approved sweeteners impact metabolic health. They also plan to observe the effect of sugar substitutes over a longer period of time.

The study appears in the journal Microbiome.

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