November 03, 2014
On the surface, artificial sweeteners may seem like the perfect fix. Zero calories equals zero guilt right? Well, that’s not how your body and gut see it. These artificial sweeteners may have no calories, but they do have a profound effect on your digestive system – and not in a good way.
Artificial sweeteners – like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame – pass through the body without being digested or absorbed. That’s why food and drinks containing these chemicals are able to claim zero calories. The body may not digest or absorb the artificial sweeteners, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any effect on the digestive tract. In fact the zero calories come at a huge price to overall health.
When passing through the digestive tract, artificial sweeteners have been found by researchers to have a dramatic affect on gut microbes. The body doesn’t digest or absorb the materials directly, yet the chemical sweeteners affect the composition and functionality of gut microbes that play a critical role in digestion and overall health. When the balance of gut microbiota is off, critical functions like the absorption of certain vitamins, the breakdown of material, and resistance to harmful yeasts and bacteria can suffer.
In certain studies, researchers administered artificial sweeteners to mice, and noticed that the composition of gut microbes changed almost immediately following doses of the sweeteners. Eventually, the functionality of the gut microbes was affected, causing a change in the metabolic pathways. Essentially, artificial sweeteners have a detrimental effect on the function of the digestive system, which affects how sugar is processed. Those who have used artificial sweeteners may benefit from a daily probiotic regimen to help restore balance to a potentially damaged digestive tract.
In another study, human volunteers who did not normally consume artificial sweeteners were given an FDA-acceptable daily dose of artificial sweeteners for five days. In just that short time frame, the volunteers developed significantly poorer glucose tolerance. Glucose tolerance is how well the body is able to regulate blood sugar and poor performance can lead to diseases like Type II Diabetes.
Perhaps the worst part of the artificial sweeteners findings is that these zero calorie sweeteners are often promoted to individuals with conditions like diabetes – because they do not contain sugar. While it is important for diabetics to control their sugar intake, replacing sugar with chemical alternatives could actually be making the problem worse. The disruption in metabolic processes that artificial sweeteners cause by altering gut microbes could actually be causing the obesity and diabetes that the sweeteners were developed to prevent in the first place. You can see how this could be a dangerous cycle.
In fact, if you look at the historical timelines, the uptake in use of artificial sweeteners in food and drinks in the U.S. coincides with the dramatic increase in obesity and diabetes. Meaning that while these chemical sweeteners were developed to help curb the consumption of sugar – it could actually be causing the glucose intolerance. When presented with these facts, it’s clear that suggesting artificial sweeteners as a healthy alternative to sugar is misleading – and possibly life threatening.
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