Increasingly, it is being found that the microbial world present in each of our digestive tracts has some impressive powers to reach out and change our overall health. Discoveries in the past year have shown that our gut microbial colonies manipulate our food cravings and change our serotonin production and brain chemistry. Now it's been discovered that the effect of artificial sweeteners on those colonies alter our glucose metabolism. This creates more insulin resistance, more weight gain, and spurs the drift toward diabetes, even with zero calories.(1)
History of Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners have been around since the Roman Empire. The first substitute for sugar was lead acetate, also known as "sugar of lead." Lead poisoning was obviously a problem. It was associated with the deaths of Pope Clement II and Mozart among many others, so it was banned very early on. In the mid-19th century saccharin was developed. Since then, five other artificial sweeteners have appeared on the market, including aspartame (Nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda.) Each of these substitutes have endured strong opinions about their negative effects on health. Saccharin, for example, was banned for a few years starting in 1977 out of a concern it caused bladder cancer. It was subsequently put back on the market (cyclomate removed near the same time, however, remains banned.) Aspartame has been accused of causing migraine headaches and altered brain function. Many airline pilots refuse to drink diet sodas before flying because it has created drowsiness. This new study is the first to document that all the sweeteners can alter blood sugar regulation via the microflora of the digestive tract.
I've been against artificial sweeteners for all nineteen years I've been a naturopath. It is an extremely rare occurrence that ingesting a synthetic substance improves your overall health. The human body is a complicated work of nature and eons of adaption. It is always ludicrous to think that a superficial solution is going to change human physiology as we know it. One simplistic solution cooked up for losing weight was to substitute sweeteners with zero calories for sugar (sucrose) that has about 16 calories per teaspoon. On that single score it made some sense. However, no scientist can predict how a synthetic substance will be broken down in the body, what toxins might be created by the chemical process a liver will put it through. No scientist can predict what the body, and in the light of this present study - what the body's microflora, will do with the synthetic substance. The bottom line is this: you're better off with real sugar from real plants (sugar cane or sugar beets), that is, if you MUST feed your sweet tooth. The massively more healthy answer is extract your sweet tooth altogether and partake of nothing sweet. You honestly won't die, and you will most likely extend your life by a few healthy years.
Nature words for your health,
(1) Weizmann Institute of Science. "Certain gut bacteria may induce metabolic changes following exposure to artificial sweeteners." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 September 2014.