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Artificial Sweeteners: Not So Sweet After All?


Amy van der Hiel

A recent study conducted at the Weizmann Science Institute suggests that artificial sweeteners may trigger health problems instead of benefiting people. This is important because not only is saccharin in artificial sweeteners, but it is also found in salad dressings, vitamins, and in low/zero calorie items we often eat.

Previously, sweeteners were known to pass through the gut undigested, therefore allowing people with health issues to use the sugar substitute. Recent tests on mice and humans found that saccharin actually interferes and alters microbiota bacteria found in the gut and small intestines, leading to serious conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Mice were monitored for 11 consecutive weeks when given drinking water doped with saccharin and the results showed they had abnormally high levels of glucose in their bloodstream. When food is digested it is broken down into glucose, the most common carbohydrate, and then enters the bloodstream to either be used as fuel or stored. When glucose metabolism is blocked, the blood glucose level is high. The test was repeated with mice on high-fat diet and the results were the same, showing that the saccharin had the same effect irrespective of the animal’s weight. Four of seven humans that ate a high-saccharin diet were also found to have an impaired glucose metabolism.

Why the microbiota are affected is still unknown as the test is preliminary, but the conclusion has been made that certain saccharin sugar substitutes are not simply passing through the intestines.

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  1. simbiotic

    Great article choice! Did you know that artificial sweeteners are widely accused of causing cancer? I read this article ( and it said how Saccharin used to be on a list of carcinogens. It is a widely debated idea that artificial sweeteners can cause cancer! The uproar started in the 1970s when saccharin was connected to bladder cancer in rats. This inclined scientists to examine artificial sweetener’s impact on humans. But then it was found that the reactions that caused bladder cancer in rats wasn’t even possible in humans, resulting in saccharin getting taken off the list in 2000 by the National Cancer Institution.
    Another study suggested that Aspartame, a sweetener made of two amino acids (Asparatic Acid and Phenylalanine) and a widely used sweetener in diet sodas, was said to cause brain tumors. It was later settled by the NCI that Aspartame did not cause brain tumors. But then, the question of Aspartame’s safety to our health came up again. In 2005, studies showed that if you gave a rat a lot of diet sodas, it had a greater chance of getting a lymphoma or leukemia.
    What confuses me is that why did these sweeteners get approved if they caused testing subjects so much trouble! They get FDA approves but there are still so many potential health risks with the sweeteners!

  2. herarst

    The article is very interesting. A lot of these artificial sweeteners claim to be good for you when they just make things worse. And to answer kysquared’s question, Truvia is made up of a derivative of the Stevia plant. Unfortunately Stevia may be a carcinogen despite the FDA’s approval and has been banned as a food additive. It seems as though the potential side effects of the Stevia plant are not very well known.

  3. covalentbond

    Really great article! I did mine on the microbiome so I might have some resources for you!
    I think that since the artificial sweeteners went straight past our digestive track, it’s safe to assume that we can’t digest them fully. However, the fact that they affected the microbiome suggests that our microbes can digest them.This means, just like human breast milk, we can consider the artificial sweetener a prebiotic, which means it’s food for the microbiome, not the host. The introduction of a new food brings on a series of new bacterias that come into play when triggered by something they can digest. However, artificial sweeteners are something relatively new and exactly what they say they are: artificial and of no real nutritional value. What good could that do for our microbiomes?
    Microbiomes change with diet:
    Inability to digest breast milk –> prebiotic: (about 1/4 way down)

  4. gigabytes

    Great article rheaction! I recently read an article that provided a commentary on the multiple dangers of artificial sweeteners ( ). I agree with Kysquared that the study was narrow in scope because it was limited to one form of artificial sweetener- It would therefore be interesting to see the test results for sweeteners such as Sucralose, Aspartame, or stevia. This article points out a larger issue. it brings to light the societal problem of genetically modified foods and the dangers that they pose to our bodily systems. Here is an organization that is working towards creating a GMO free society

  5. gherloniapparatus

    This article is really interesting! It’s surprising to read about sugar substitutes being more harmful than regular sugars, as people tend to think that diets that replace natural sugars can help you lose weight. However, after reading more here I learned that these sugars also can increase your appetite. Along with saccharin, the article also mentions the affects of other sweeteners like Kyle mentioned such as sucralose and aspartame. It includes the many side affects that come with artificial sweeteners.

  6. kysquared

    Very interesting article!
    What about different types of artificial sweeteners? I read about one called Truvia: This one is made up of the Stevia plant, and has no Saccharides, so I imagine it has the potential to be less harmful than the ones mentioned in this article. Stevia is also shown to have negligible effect on blood glucose, so it is popular on low carb diets.

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