A lot of questions about the study in the journal Nature entitled “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.” Journalists in every news outlet are parroting this alarming study, but as usual, there is a problem that I call WARTS. Who Actually Read The Study?
Start with the title. Once again, entirely different compounds, saccharine, sucralose and aspartame – are all assumed to be the same, even though saccharine and aspartame are extensively metabolized by the body and sucralose is nearly inert.
Now, for those who are not long-time readers of my books and articles, I need to point out that I am not a promoter of artificial or natural sweeteners. In The Metabolic Makeover, Dr. Natalie Kather and I describe exactly how simple carbohydrates can wreak havoc in the human body. We point out that even artificial sweeteners should be used sparingly, and that of the three, sucralose appears to be the only safe choice.
Repeat after me: Everything is dose related. The scientists conducting this study fed mice enormous amounts of these sweeteners. Looking at the data, sucralose had the least adverse effect on the animals, leading me to question whether the experiment relates at all to a human being consuming a moderate amount. Regarding the massive doses administered to the mice, the investigators acknowledge that it was “below the reported toxic dose.” That is, the dose fed to the mice was less than the amount known to kill rodents.
Of course, there are people who consume enormous amounts of aspartame. In my research for Caffeine Blues, I interviewed people who were addicted to diet soft drinks, consuming 12 to 24 cans a day. And as the Nature study suggests, most were obese. So the Nature study does shine an important light on a possible connection between high dose consumption of aspartame and saccharine and what is now called diabesity.
The authors of this impressive research conducted a total of ten experiments, but only one included sucralose. How then did the peer review committee let them use the term, “artificial sweeteners” throughout?” A sleight of hand assumption. Here’s the quote: “As saccharine [in the first experiment] exerted the most pronounced effect, we further studied its role as a prototypical artificial sweetener.”
To their credit, they conducted a comprehensive array of experiments, including stool analysis, fecal transplantation, in vitro and in vivo genomics, and even a small human trial, but all of those utilized only saccharine.
And in that human trial, they gave volunteers a dose of saccharine that was truly massive – the maximum acceptable daily dose, equal to 5 mg per kg body weight; meaning a 160 pound subject was consuming 364 mg of that sweetener every day for six days. Ugh. They also had these men and women consume 75 grams of glucose each day (think of 18 sugar cubes) in order to see how their pancreas and liver handled such a metabolic assault. No surprise that 4 out of 7 volunteers showed altered gut flora (dysbiosis) and impaired glucose balance. What is amazing is that 3 volunteers had no adverse effect from this rather bizarre experiment.
So, compare what you now know about this research to the reports and the headlines now appearing in newspapers from coast to coast. Of course, even if the science is misrepresented, there may be a silver lining if it gets people to stop consumng sweet foods and beverages.
What about the small amount of sucralose in a Univera product called Xtra? We have performed extensive biochemical analysis of stool samples from a long-time (two servings/day for over ten years) consumer of Xtra, and found no dysbiosis, no impaired glucose tolerance and no tendency towards obesity.