Debate continues on impact of artificial sweeteners

December 18, 2013

New research from the University of Adelaide has added to the debate about how our bodies respond to artificial sweeteners and whether they are good, bad or have no effect on us.

In a study published in this month's Diabetes Care journal, researchers in the University's School of Medicine and the Nerve-Gut Laboratory have found that artificially sweetened drinks produced no different response in the healthy human gut to a glass of water.

The findings, by PhD student Dr Tongzhi Wu, are contrary to some other studies in humans and in laboratory-based research.

"This is a controversial area because there's a lot of conflicting research into artificial sweeteners," says senior author Associate Professor Chris Rayner, from the University of Adelaide's School of Medicine and Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

"The scientific debate centres on whether artificial sweeteners have a negative impact on our bodies, such as leading to the storage of fat. There are also questions about whether they have a beneficial impact, such as producing responses that signal fullness to the brain, or if they are inert and produce no impact.

"In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut's response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral - it was no different to drinking a glass of water.

"The fact is, the human studies have been unclear as to whether artificial sweeteners have a positive or negative effect, and this is why we're keen to better understand what's happening in our bodies," Associate Professor Rayner says.

Co-author Dr Richard Young, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher in the University's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory, says population-level studies have yet to agree on the effects of long-term intake in humans. However, a recent study has shown an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in regular and high consumers of artificially sweetened drinks.

"Those studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may interact with the gut in the longer term, but so far no-one's managed to determine the actual mechanisms through which these sweeteners act," Dr Young says.

"It's a complicated area because the way in which the sweet taste receptors in our gut detect and act on sweetness is very complex.

"So far it appears that artificial sweeteners have limited impact in the short term, but in people in a pre-diabetic or diabetic state, who are more likely to be regularly high users of artificial sweeteners, it might be a different story altogether. This is why more research is needed," Dr Young says.

This study has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Full details of the research can be found on the Diabetes Care website.

Explore further: Artificial sweeteners may do more than sweeten

More information: Tongzhi Wu, Michelle J. Bound, Scott D. Standfield, Max Bellon, Richard L. Young, Karen L. Jones, Michael Horowitz, and Christopher K. Rayner. "Artificial Sweeteners Have No Effect on Gastric Emptying, Glucagon-Like Peptide-1, or Glycemia After Oral Glucose in Healthy Humans" Diabetes Care, December 2013 36:e202-e203; DOI: 10.2337/dc13-0958

Related Stories

The dark side of artificial sweeteners

July 10, 2013

More and more Americans are consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, but whether this translates into better health has been heavily debated. An opinion article published by Cell Press on July 10th in the ...

Gut taste mechanisms are abnormal in diabetes sufferers

August 23, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered that the way the gut "tastes" sweet food may be defective in sufferers of type 2 diabetes, leading to problems with glucose uptake.

Sip on this: Do diet drinks make you fatter?

September 3, 2013

Diet drinks are no help in the fight against obesity and may actually encourage over-eating, according to a US academic who recently argued this point in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Carbonation alters the mind's perception of sweetness

September 17, 2013

Carbonation, an essential component of popular soft drinks, alters the brain's perception of sweetness and makes it difficult for the brain to determine the difference between sugar and artificial sweeteners, according to ...

The brain cannot be fooled by artificial sweeteners

September 22, 2013

Eating low-calorie sweetened products—especially when hungry or exhausted—may lead to a higher likelihood of seeking high calorie alternatives later, due to a newly discovered signal in the brain, suggests new research ...

Recommended for you

Major fall in diabetes-related amputations since the 1990s

November 22, 2015

A major new study has found a significant reduction in diabetes-related amputations since the mid-1990s, credited to improvements in diabetes care over this period. The research is published in Diabetologia (the journal of ...

Blocking immune cell treats new type of age-related diabetes

November 18, 2015

Diabetes is often the result of obesity and poor diet choices, but for some older adults the disease might simply be a consequence of aging. New research has discovered that diabetes—or insulin resistance—in aged, lean ...

Bacteria may cause type 2 diabetes

June 1, 2015

Bacteria and viruses have an obvious role in causing infectious diseases, but microbes have also been identified as the surprising cause of other illnesses, including cervical cancer (Human papilloma virus) and stomach ulcers ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.