Popular artificial sweetener increases blood sugar levels and insulin levels

by Barbara Hewitt on May 31, 2013

Popular artificial sweetener increases blood sugar levels and insulin levels

Popular artificial sweetener increases blood sugar levels and insulin levels

Research is needed to find out if artificial sweeteners could be a factor in the increasing number of people developing type 2 diabetes after a study found it increases blood sugar and insulin levels. Scientists who have carried out a small study that found that a popular artificial sweetener is not inert and has an effect on how the body handles sugar and say more now needs to be done to find out if it means long term use could be harmful.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, United States, analysed the sweetener sucralose (Splenda®) in 17 severely obese people who do not have diabetes and don’t use artificial sweeteners regularly.

Yanina Pepino, research assistant professor of medicine at the school, and her team studied people with an average body mass index (BMI) of just over 42; a person is considered obese when BMI reaches 30. The researchers gave subjects either water or sucralose to drink before they consumed a glucose challenge test. The glucose dosage is very similar to what a person might receive as part of a glucose tolerance test. The researchers wanted to learn whether the combination of sucralose and glucose would affect insulin and blood sugar levels.

Quote from DiabetesForum.com : “There are many artifical sweetners on the market. Many claim to have no calories. Sometimes, Splenda spikes my blood sugar. Usually the first thing in the morning.”

‘We wanted to study this population because these sweeteners frequently are recommended to them as a way to make their diets healthier by limiting calorie intake,’ Pepino explained. Every participant was tested twice. Those who drank water followed by glucose in one visit drank sucralose followed by glucose in the next. In this way, each subject served as his or her own control group.

‘When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose. Insulin levels also rose about 20% higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response,’ said Pepino.

The elevated insulin response could be a good thing, she pointed out, because it shows the person is able to make enough insulin to deal with spiking glucose levels. But it also might be bad because when people routinely secrete more insulin, they can become resistant to its effects, a path that leads to type 2 diabetes. It has been thought that artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, don’t have an effect on metabolism. They are used in such small quantities that they don’t increase calorie intake. Rather, the sweeteners react with receptors on the tongue to give people the sensation of tasting something sweet without the calories associated with natural sweeteners, such as table sugar.

‘Most of the studies of artificial sweeteners have been conducted in healthy, lean individuals. In many of these studies, the artificial sweetener is given by itself. But in real life, people rarely consume a sweetener by itself. They use it in their coffee or on breakfast cereal or when they want to sweeten some other food they are eating or drinking,’ she explained, adding that just how sucralose influences glucose and insulin levels in people who are obese is still something of a mystery.

‘Although we found that sucralose affects the glucose and insulin response to glucose ingestion, we don’t know the mechanism responsible. We have shown that sucralose is having an effect. In obese people without diabetes, we have shown sucralose is more than just something sweet that you put into your mouth with no other consequences,’ said Pepino. She said further studies are needed to learn more about the mechanism through which sucralose may influence glucose and insulin levels, as well as whether those changes are harmful. A 20% increase in insulin may or may not be clinically significant, she added.

‘What these all mean for daily life scenarios is still unknown, but our findings are stressing the need for more studies. Whether these acute effects of sucralose will influence how our bodies handle sugar in the long term is something we need to know,’ she added.

In a statement, Splenda said experts from around the world have found that its sweetener is suitable for everyone, including those with diabetes. ‘Numerous clinical studies in people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and non-diabetic people have shown that Splenda Brand Sweetener (sucralose) does not affect blood glucose levels, insulin, or HbA1c. The FDA and other important safety and regulatory agencies from around the world have concluded that sucralose does not adversely affect glucose control, including in people with diabetes,’ the statement said.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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