Artificial Sweeteners: Lessons for the Slow Learners

sucralose side effects

It seemed like, for a brief period, society was finally catching onto the idea that artificial sweeteners, in all amounts and all types, was a bad thing.

Then the moment passed.

I continue to see almost every single gum available in stores with artificial sweeteners (and typically more than one type is used).  And just in the past few weeks I’ve had patients ask me about “medical” weight loss plans that contain sucralose.  And of course diet sodas continue to grace the shelves in every store known to man.

When I ask the distributors about the artificial sweeteners in their products, I ALWAYS get the same answer: “Well it’s just a little bit.”

If it’s just a “little bit” then why is it even in the product?  For taste, of course.  This means that there is enough for your body to recognize the “sweet” in whatever product it’s in.  This is where the problem starts.  You see–we don’t just have taste buds on our tongues–we also have them in the small intestine in cells called the L cells.  When the L cells taste sweet, even VERY small amounts, it sends a signal to the rest of the body that calories are on their way.

But alas!  It is just a trick we play on our intestinal L cells when we use artificial sweeteners.  No calories are on their way.  Over time, we begin to disassociate our sense of taste from our body’s reaction to sweet.  This is a disastrous outcome, especially in our children, in whom artificial sweeteners should not even be kept in the same room.

And they are everywhere.  Think you’re doing good by avoiding diet soda?  How about that pack of gum in your pocket or purse?  I’m betting that it’s got multiple types of artificial sweeteners.  Ask for lemonade at a restaurant?  There’s a chance that it’s sugar free and the waiter failed to mention it.

You need to extra vigilant about reading labels to make sure you’re avoiding artificial sweeteners.  Anything less is going to have consequences to your health.

Every time I present a research study on the topic of the lie-that-is-artificial-sweeteners-to-manage-weight, I wonder just how much accumulated research it’s going to take for society to wake up and kick these chemicals to the curb.

Maybe this particular study will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  In it, researchers looked at four different drink options  and how they each related to the risk of prediabetes in a large group of 1868 people free from prediabetes at the beginning of the study.  Sugar sweetened beverages, artificial sweetened beverages, natural fruit juices and bottled juices were compared.   Here’s what they found over the course of 3.24 years:

  • When compared to those who consume less than one serving per week, those who had more than 5 servings/wk of bottle fruit juices were 14% more likely to be diagnosed with prediabetes.
  • Natural fruit juices increased the risk by 30%.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages increased the risk by 43%.
  • And artificial sweeteners? Almost double the risk of prediabetes at 74%.

There are a few pretty darn important take home messages from this study.

First, even if you think drinking fruit juice is a good idea for your health, it’s NOT.  In this study, rather than being good for participants, it actually increased the risk of prediabetes.  We should never drink our calories.  There will never be as many nutrients per calorie in a fruit juice than there will be in the fruit whole.  Period.

Second, rather than protecting against diabetes, artificial sweeteners dramatically increased the risk.  Totally the opposite of what society has been led to believe for years now.  It is now clearly at the point where no one can rightfully claim that the use of artificial sweeteners have any place in the diets of humans.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.