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Artificial sweeteners and gut health is an emerging new area of science that is gathering a lot of attention due to its producing of some fascinating results.

For years many scientists have been puzzled as to why non-caloric drinks often don’t assist with weight loss and infact in some cases, produce the opposite effect. Well now a team at the Weizmann Institute in Israel have produced some interesting results that have been published in Nature magazine. They speculate that in some people, artificially sweetened drinks may actually be contributing to obesity and type 2 diabetes. But not in a way that many would expect…

You see, even though artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, by passing through, they do interact with trillions of bacteria in the gut microbiota. The researches did some tests on mice and got some staggering results:

“The researchers treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria; this resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners’ effects on glucose metabolism. Next, they transferred the microbiota from mice that consumed artificial sweeteners to ‘germ-free’ mice – resulting in a complete transmission of the glucose intolerance into the recipient mice. “

But would human microbiome behave in the same way?

As a first step, they looked at data collected from the Personalized Nutrition Project, the largest human trial so far looking at a connection between nutrition and microbiota. The team discovered a very strong association between  consumption of artificial sweeteners, configurations of gut bacteria and the propensity for glucose intolerance. They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of people who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week and then undergo tests of their glucose levels as well as their gut microbiota compositions.

It turns out many people , but not all, began to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of consuming artificial sweeteners. 

The head researcher commented “Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners – through the bacteria in our guts – to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”

Obviously more studies are needed in this area but increasingly we are seeing studies like this that point to the pivotal role our gut bacteria plays in helping with our metabolism. Our gut health thrives on fibre rich foods like vegetables and also the probiotics in fermented foods like sauerkraut, cultured yoghurt or Kombucha.

Zoe and I personally steer clear of any artificially sweetened drinks.

Here is more from the Weizmann Institute for those interested.

(thanks to Scientific American for the photo)