Using artificial sweeteners may disrupt the way the body handles sugar, increasing the risk of diabetes for some people, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
The research, conducted primarily on laboratory animals, suggests that artificial sweeteners, such as Splenda, Equal and NutraSweet, can change the bacteria that normally resides in the gut. When this happens, it disrupts how the body handles sugar in the diet, which can lead to increased blood sugar levels, a condition called glucose intolerance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Researchers say that it is too early to caution people about diabetes risk with artificial sweeteners, and that the benefits of the products – at least at this point – seem to outweigh the risks. Artificial sweeteners are still considered safe and beneficial for weight control as well as for those who have diabetes. But it does give experts pause for thought.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that is growing in epidemic proportions. People with diabetes must follow a strict diet and adopt a healthier lifestyle to help keep blood sugar levels under control. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, amputations and dementia.
Most people with diabetes will eventually require medication to manage their blood sugar levels. These drugs often come with serious risks. For example, the type 2 diabetes drug Actos can increase the risk of bladder cancer. Newer treatments Januvia and Byetta, both in a class of diabetes medications known as incretin mimetics, have been linked to acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.