Gut-wrenching risks of artificial sweeteners

As much as I despise sugar, I think I may detest artificial sweeteners even more. And the latest research on these poisons only reaffirms my hatred. Not only does this new study reveal that artificial sweeteners lead to the very diseases they’re supposed to help prevent, but they also wreak havoc on your gut bacteria.

In fact, these two findings are directly linked.

Researchers gave mice water laced with the three most commonly used artificial sweeteners, in amounts equivalent to those permitted by the good old FDA. They also had two more groups—one that got sugar water, and one that got regular water. The mice that got the artificial sweeteners obviously developed more glucose intolerance than the ones that drank regular water. But they also had higher rates than the mice that drank straight-up sugar water.

And, as you know, glucose intolerance is the first step on the road to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

Just to confirm these findings: repeating the experiment with different types of mice—and different doses of sweeteners—didn’t alter the result.

Next, the researchers investigated a hypothesis that gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. So they treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria. And, what do you know: it resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners’ effects on glucose metabolism. This, in itself, was conclusive proof that changes to gut bacteria are directly responsible for the harmful effects to glucose metabolism.

Of course, you know how I feel about animal research…I’m much more interested in knowing the effects on humans. Luckily, these researchers felt the same way. So they also looked at data from a previous study they’d conducted, called the Personalized Nutrition Project (which is the largest human trial to date to examine the connection between nutrition and gut bacteria, by the way). And, once again, they found a significant link between artificial sweetener consumption, gut bacteria, and glucose intolerance.

And just to cement these findings even further, they also followed up with a human trial.

They recruited participants who didn’t typically consume foods or drinks that contain artificial sweeteners and asked them to eat them for a week. Then they tested the subjects’ glucose levels and gut bacteria. Sure enough, a significant portion of the volunteers had already started to develop glucose intolerance.

And the researchers traced these problems directly back to changes in the subjects’ gut bacteria that occurred after exposure to artificial sweeteners.

In other words—the subjects’ gut bacteria was a mess, and they were well on their way to diabetes. After just ONE WEEK of consuming artificial sweeteners.

Bottom line: drop that pink packet. And blue packet. And yellow packet. And if you haven’t unclenched your grip on that diet soda by now, I’m coming to snatch it out of your hands.


Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.” Nature, 8/28/14 (epub ahead of print)

“Certain gut bacteria may induce metabolic changes following exposure to artificial sweeteners.” ScienceDaily, 9/17/14 (