Far from improving metabolism and helping people to slim, widespread use of artificial sweeteners may be fuelling the obesity and diabetes epidemic, it is claimed.
Scientists found that giving mice water laced with three commonly used sweeteners in doses corresponding to those recommended for humans caused them to develop glucose intolerance. The condition occurs when sugar levels in the blood rise and can lead to Type-2 diabetes, which affects around 2.7 million people in the UK.
Tests showed that in mice, sweeteners altered the balance of gut microbes that have been linked to susceptibility to metabolic diseases. They also affected the composition and function of gut bacteria in a small number of human volunteers, resulting in glucose intolerance after one week.
The lead researcher, Dr Eran Elinav, from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, said: “This calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.”
The study, reported in the journal Nature, found that people’s reaction to sweeteners varied depending on the kind of bacteria they harboured.