It is not clear why artificial sweeteners increase the risk of diabetes, but there are various theories.
One theory is that products containing artificial sweeteners increase the craving for sweets, leading to higher sugar intake and weight gain, which increases the risk of diabetes (3).
Another theory is that artificial sweeteners disrupt your body’s ability to properly compensate for the calories consumed by sugar, as your brain associates the sweet taste with zero calories (4).
Some research has shown that artificial sweeteners can change the type and number of bacteria that live in the large intestine, which can contribute to glucose intolerance, weight gain and diabetes (5).
In a series of elegant experiments, Israeli researchers have demonstrated, in laboratory animals and humans, that the effect of artificial sweeteners on changing the gut bacteria has a profound role in changing metabolism, especially the metabolism of sugar. These researchers have been able to induce diabetes in laboratory animals at will, simply by feeding them artificially sweetened foods. They then were able to characterize the changes in the gut bacteria. Even more profound was their research that demonstrated that by taking fecal specimens from the animal that had been exposed to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and transplanting these fecal specimens into laboratory animals that did not have gut bacteria, the risk for diabetes was also increased.
If that wasn’t compelling enough, they then showed that similar changes occur in human gut bacteria when humans consume artificial sweetener, as well as the fact that these changes in the gut bacteria relate to metabolic changes that pave the way for diabetes.
Such artificial sweeteners are aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. A study published in 2013 in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism states: “The negative impact of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages on weight and other health outcomes has been increasingly recognized; therefore, many people have turned to high-intensity sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin as a way to reduce the risk of these consequences. However, accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This paper discusses these findings and considers the hypothesis that consuming sweet-tasting but noncaloric or reduced-calorie food and beverages interferes with learned responses that normally contribute to glucose and energy homeostasis. Because of this interference, frequent consumption of high-intensity sweeteners may have the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.” (4).
- Nettleton JA, Lutsey PL, Wang Y, Lima JA, Michos ED, Jacobs, Jr. DR., Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA), Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr; 32(4): 688–694. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19151203/
- Fumiaki Imamura F, O’Connor L., Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction, BMJ. 2015; 351: h3576. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26199070/
- Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP., Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain, Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1894-900. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18535548/
- Swithers SE., Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements, Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep; 24(9): 431–441. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23850261/
- Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, Elinav E. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25231862/
Doctor of Naturopathy-Nutritionist-Author
PhD candidate in Integrative Medicine
Member of American Naturopathic Medical Association
Fellow of the American Council of Applied Clinical Nutrition
Member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners
Member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants
Member of the Canadian Association of Natural Nutritional Practitioners
Member of the Association for Natural Medicine in Europe
Member of the Society of Complementary Alternative and Holistic Practitioners
Member of the Pancyprian Association of Nutritionists
Member of the Professional Association of Complementary Medicine and Humanities