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Biological Chemistry

Artificial Sweeteners Boost Glucose Levels

Study suggests that consuming artificial sweeteners alters gut microbe metabolism, increasing blood sugar levels and presaging diabetes

by Stephen K. Ritter
September 22, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 38

A preliminary study on the metabolism of artificial sweeteners has found that the compounds may alter the types and functions of bacteria that colonize the digestive tract and lead to elevated blood sugar levels, a harbinger of diabetes (Nature 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nature13793). A research team led by Eran Elinav of Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, gave mice drinking water supplemented with glucose and an artificial sweetener. The mice developed elevated blood sugar levels compared with mice drinking water alone or water with just sugar in it. When the team gave the mice an antibiotic that wiped out gut bacteria, blood sugar levels dropped to match those of the control mice. The researchers noted similar associations between sweetener consumption, microbial changes, and glucose metabolism in a group of seven human volunteers in a one-week study. Previous studies have shown that dietary changes can alter gut microbe composition and function. In addition, human health and nutrition studies have shown that using artificial sweeteners to limit calories has not curbed the global prevalence of obesity. The researchers say their results raise new questions about the benefits versus safety of consuming artificial sweeteners.


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