Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for your Gut?
Hi, and welcome back! If you're new to Oswald Digestive Clinic, take some time to browse through our many blogs/videos on nutrition topics that help give you some tips to lead a healthier lifestyle. My name is Marcy Vasque, and I'm a functional medicine nutritionist specializing in gut health.
I work with clients who live with intestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and really that's just to name a few.
But as we continue to learn more and more about the significance of having a healthy gut, it's very often that my clients will also have issues relating to things like hormones, insulin resistance, thyroid issues, or autoimmune diseases.
So if this sounds like you or someone you know and love and would like to become a client, you can easily schedule your initial appointment.
But if you're the type of person who likes to kind of gain more knowledge on their own and do it their own way, I would like you to look at our free guide, which is Five Ways to Improve Gut Health.
So today we're going dig in and discuss all things artificial sweeteners and whether they should, or should not be in a diet to have a healthy life.
Artificial sugar sweeteners have continued to be a controversial health issue, there are many people who are very opposed to them. And as research continues to come in, we're becoming more educated on whether or not we should include them in a healthy diet.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for your Gut?
The sugars and sweeteners that we're talking about today are things like asperine, osis, even Saccharin, and they have been purported to have links that increase cancer and other diseases.
On the other hand, they have become very popular as people try to reduce calorie consumption to lose weight. So, let's dig in and see what the research is telling us.
In the past, research on artificial sweeteners has really been lacking, but now as with continued research, there is really sufficient evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners should not be included in a healthy diet.
Will artificial sweeteners give you cancer or other diseases?
Do they actually help with weight loss? Should we be consuming them?
The first question is: can artificial sweeteners give you cancer? Artificial sweeteners have actually been tied to cancer risk since the 1970s.
At that time, there was a study done that showed that a combination of saccharin and cyclamate actually caused bladder cancer in lab rats.
Now what happened was that the mechanism behind these effects were later found to be specific only to rats, and cannot necessarily be generalized to other animals or humans. Further studies actually demonstrated that neither sweetener is actually carcinogenic.
But what did happen in this study cast a shadow of doubt on overall artificial sweeteners and the reputation of artificial sweeteners has basically never recovered. Then in a later study, it suggested that there was a connection between Sparta consumption and brain tumors.
The authors based this hypothesis on the fact that both brain cancer and a Sparta mean consumption has increased since the 1980s. And that was despite not knowing whether the people getting brain tumors actually consumed artificial sweeteners.
And on a rat study where a Sparta was supplemented D and it was added into the diet, it led to the formation of brain tumors. So this association has actually been more or less basically dismissed by the research community.
Any further testing or research that has been done between brain tumors and Sparta has been inconclusive, but basically it's not causing brain tumors.
Other studies have also been completed to suggest different kinds of cancers that artificial sweeteners could be causing, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, stomach, and colon cancer.
But due to the evidence given, it does not seem that artificial sweeteners are a huge risk for cancer, although, of course, the possibility can't be ruled out. And so I'm always going to suggest to not eat the artificial sweeteners.
Can artificial sweeteners change your metabolic health?
The second question we're gonna answer today is, can artificial sweeteners change your metabolic health? For many, many years, artificial sweeteners have also been tied to an increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome and related diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
And after numerous observational studies have been completed to kind of sort out whether there was an association between this, they have basically found that artificial sweeteners and the consumption of them with metabolic syndrome is not a factor.
Now, fortunately, we have meta-analysis which serves to kind of pull together similar studies and try to determine the overall effect.
And in July of 2017, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a meta-analysis that picked apart on the findings from seven randomized controlled trials or RCTs and 30 cohort studies on artificial sweeteners. In total, the studies followed more than 400,000 people for about 10 years.
So, what did we find in those randomized controlled trials? We found that artificial sweeteners have no significant effect on cardiovascular or metabolic risk.
However, in the long-term cohort studies, consumption of artificial sweeteners was associated with a higher incident of type two diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular events, even after some of these controlling for confounding variables were put together.
So of course, observational studies cannot really confirm causality, but other studies published in the Journal of Nature followed and showed that artificial sweeteners altered our gut microbiota and that this was actually linked to glucose tolerance in mice.
So for humans included in the study, even just one week of artificial sweetener consumption was just enough to reduce glucose tolerance in half the participants. So it's clear that artificial sweeteners can have an impact on your gut microbiota and that can really have those far-reaching effects on our health.
Do artificial sweeteners actually help you lose weight?
Now the next question we're going to answer is: do artificial sweeteners actually help you lose weight?
You know, for most people, the primary reason that they're even consuming artificial sweeteners is really just to eat fewer calories and lose weight.
But do these artificial sweeteners actually help you achieve that goal? What we have found that is, yet again, evidence is really mixed. Now, there have been many observational studies that have found actually a positive association between artificial sweetener intake and obesity.
But while it's possible that the artificial sweeteners contributed to weight gain in these studies, it's also possible that the people who are overweight are just more likely to choose diet beverages or other artificially sweetened foods in an effort to lose weight.
In fact, in one study, overweight subjects were given supplements with either sucrose or artificial sweeteners for about 10 weeks at the end of that trial period.
What they found is that subjects in the artificial sweetener group had experienced on average a reduction in weight, fat mass, and blood pressure while the subjects in the sucrose group, which is sugar, actually gained weight and had an increase in their blood pressure.
But other trials have also successfully shown that calorie reduction in weight loss and participants who consumed artificial sweeteners were fine.
So what do we make of all of this? Fortunately, again, we are going to use that same meta-analysis that I am mentioned above, that took in about 400,000 people and looked at weight loss and their artificial sweetener consumption.
When they pooled that all together, they really found that there is no significant effect of artificial sweeteners on body mass index or your bmi.
But on the other hand, when they pooled the cohort studies, consumption of artificial sweeteners was positively associated with an increase in weight waste circumference, and a higher incident of obesity.
So based on this evidence, it seems that artificial sweeteners do not necessarily lead to weight loss, but they really might do the opposite and lead to weight gain.
As I mentioned earlier, artificial sweeteners have the ability to disrupt the gut microbiota that can lead to weight gain in itself. But that's not the only mechanism that's really involved with this.
The sweeteners can actually confuse your body and make it harder for you to shed those extra pounds. So if you're looking to shed some weight reaching for that Diet Coke or a zero-calorie drink, it sounds like it's probably not the way to go.
So how do these artificial sweeteners confuse our body? Well, what happens is that our sweet taste receptors have evolved primarily to help us identify these calorie-rich foods sources
So imagine you're having an artificial sweetener, it's confusing our taste receptors and bombarding it with all of the sweetness, but without that expected surge in calories.
And in fact, in animal studies, they indicate that artificial sweeteners can really impair that innate ability to regulate caloric intake.
Rats that that were fed artificial sweeteners were found to consistently gain more weight than rats who were just fed regular glucose or sugar. What they also found is that rats don't tend to lose that excess weight that was gained, even after their diets were switched back to eating glucose or just eating that sugar.
So to reestablish that normal connection between the sweet taste and calorie rich foods was not happening. And because there was no satiation from having the artificial sweetener, the brain gets confused and it feels like it still needs to get those caloric dense food in.
That's how they can increase weight gain, you'll have the artificial sweetener and then you end up eating more later on to feel full and satiated, which is when the brain gets the actual glucose that it needs.
So should we actually be eating artificial sugars?
That's the big question to answer today. So to kind of sum it all up, artificial sweeteners are really new to the human diet.
There's been a lot of research completed and through that we've gotten a lot more educated about it. What you're hearing me say today is that artificial sugars really should not be a part of your healthy diet. We don't know quite enough yet on how they are actually affecting us.
And it with the evidence that has been shown recently is that it does increase risks for glucose intolerance, weight gain, and diabetes. And these are all things that we can stay away from if we just stay away from the artificial sweeteners.
Also, some of the observational evidence has suggested there's a link between the consumption of the sweetener and cardiovascular disease risk. So we don't want do that either, right? We want to stay as healthy as possible.
So I believe that there's strong enough evidence to suggest that we can stay away from artificial sweeteners and they really should not be included in a healthy diet.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
Or you can just start by downloading our FREE GUIDE: 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH