Artificial sweeteners: safe for blood sugar?

Popular artificial sweetener Splenda was found to have an effect on how the body handles blood sugar in a recent study published in Diabetes Care.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say that Splenda – and other artificial, low- or no-calorie sweeteners – may not be as benign as they seem, especially for people with diabetes.

Blood sugar peaks

Professor of medicine M. Yanina Pepino and his team studied people with an average body mass index (BMI) of over 42, giving subjects either water or sucralose before doing a glucose challenge test – which is similar to a glucose-tolerance test. The team wanted to see if the combination of sucralose and glucose would have an impact on blood sugar levels and insulin in participants.

"When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose," Pepino explained. "Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response."

Pepino points out that the insulin response could be positive, as it shows that the body is able to make sufficient insulin to handle high blood sugar levels. On the other hand, the secretion of excess insulin can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Conflicting information

Artificial sweeteners are often recommended to diabetics as a safe alternative to natural sugar, as they have been thought to have no effect on metabolism. But emerging research suggests that they can cause the increased release of hormones and the absorption of glucose, indicating that they may not be as safe for diabetics as previously thought.

Pepino notes that most participants in studies on artificial sweeteners are given the sweetener by itself, but in real life, people would normally be consuming the sweetener in a beverage, such as coffee or tea. How sucralose affects glucose and insulin in obese individuals – or how it might affect those with diabetes – is not yet entirely known.

"We have shown that sucralose is having an effect. 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."

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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