Debate Over Health Effects Of Artificial Sweeteners Rages On

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

University of Adelaide researchers are opening back up the debate on whether or not artificial sweeteners are bad for us. The team wrote in the journal Diabetes Care they found artificially sweetened drinks were no different than simply drinking a glass of water. These findings contradict other studies in human and laboratory-based research.

“This is a controversial area because there’s a lot of conflicting research into artificial sweeteners,” said senior author and associate professor at the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine Chris Rayner.

Rayner says the debate centers on whether artificial sweeteners have a negative impact on our bodies, such as leading to the storage of fat. Scientists also question whether or not they have a beneficial impact, such as producing responses that signal fullness to the brain, or if they are inert and produce no impact whatsoever.

“In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut’s response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral – it was no different to drinking a glass of water,” the researcher added.

Studies have been unclear as to whether artificial sweeteners have a positive or negative effect, and Rayner says his team was fixed on trying to understand more about what was going on inside our bodies.

Population-level studies have not even agreed on the effects of long-term artificial sweetener intake in humans. However, study co-author Dr. Richard Young pointed out that a recent study has shown an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in regular and high consumers of artificially sweetened drinks.

“Those studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may interact with the gut in the longer term, but so far no-one’s managed to determine the actual mechanisms through which these sweeteners act,” Dr Young says. “It’s a complicated area because the way in which the sweet taste receptors in our gut detect and act on sweetness is very complex.”

The team said it appears artificial sweeteners have limited impact in the short term, but in people in a pre-diabetic or diabetic state, who are more likely to be regularly high users of artificial sweeteners, it might be a different story. Young said this is why more research in this area is still needed.

Last week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled the artificial sweetener aspartame is safe for moderate consumption. The European agency said it reexamined clinical evidence, listened to stakeholders and considered over 200 comments submitted online and determined the sweetener was safe. EFSA said its opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken.