Photo of packets of artificial sweetener
A popular artificial sweetener has an inexplicable metabolic effect that could lead to type-2 diabetes

Popular sweetener may put some on the path to diabetes

6 June, 2013

Natural Health News – The popular artificial sweetener sucralose is not necessarily ‘inert’, according to a new study.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis say they have found that  sucralose (sold under the names Splenda and Equal) actually changes the way to body metabolises sugar.

The small study, available online in the journal Diabetes Care, involved 17 severely obese people who did not have diabetes and didn’t use artificial sweeteners regularly.

A rise in insulin levels

The scientists studied people with an average body mass index (BMI) of just over 42; a person is considered obese when BMI reaches 30. They gave these individuals either water or sucralose to drink before administering a glucose challenge test.

They chose to study very overweight individuals because artificial sweeteners frequently are recommended to them as ‘healthy’ alternative to sugar.

Every participant was tested twice. Those who drank water followed by glucose in one visit drank sucralose followed by glucose in the next. In this way, each subject served as his or her own control group.

“When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose,” said lead author M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine. “Insulin levels also rose about 20% higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response.”

Ono the one hand, the elevated insulin response could be a good thing, because it shows the person is able to make enough insulin to deal with spiking glucose levels. But it can also be harmful because when people routinely secrete more insulin then they need, they can become resistant to its effects, a path that leads to type-2 diabetes.

Fake sugars, real health problems

It has long been thought that artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, don’t have an effect on metabolism. They are used in such small quantities that they don’t increase calorie intake. Rather, the sweeteners react with receptors on the tongue to give people the sensation of tasting something sweet without the calories associated with natural sweeteners, such as table sugar.

But more and more studies are showing health deficits caused by consumptions of artificial sweeteners. Recently they have been implicated in  an increased risk of type-2 diabetes and in weight gain. It has been speculated that they can confuse the mechanism by which the body identifies a foods caloric content by its sweet taste.

Other evidence suggests that sweet taste, regardless of whether it is from sugar or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame K and saccharin, increases your appetite.

Pepino, who is part of Washington University’s Center for Human Nutrition, suggested studies like these could help explain how sweeteners may affect metabolism, even at very low doses.

Testing the wrong people

To date though, human studies involving artificial sweeteners haven’t found comparable changes.

“Most of the studies of artificial sweeteners have been conducted in healthy, lean individuals,” Pepino said. “In many of these studies, the artificial sweetener is given by itself. But in real life, people rarely consume a sweetener by itself. They use it in their coffee or on breakfast cereal or when they want to sweeten some other food they are eating or drinking.”

The need for more research

Although the researchers found that sucralose affects the glucose and the insulin response to glucose ingestion, they don’t understand why.

“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,” said Pepino.

“What these all mean for daily life scenarios is still unknown, but our findings are stressing the need for more studies,” she added. “Whether these acute effects of sucralose will influence how our bodies handle sugar in the long term is something we need to know.”


  • NYR Natural News editor Pat Thomas wrote one of the earliest exposes on artificial sweeteners. It first appeared in the Ecologist magazine in 2005.  You can aaccess parts of it e.g. Aspartame –killing you by degrees part 1 and part 2 and Life After Aspartame (a look at sucralose) which were reprinted at The full article is also available in various places on the web including on docstoc.