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Study: Daily Artificial Sweetener Intake May Not Increase Diabetes Risk in Healthy Adults

Artificial Sweetener Packets.

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Key Takeaways

  • In one short-term study, healthy people who used saccharin as an artificial-sweetener every day did not experience any negative outcomes.
  • Excessive sugar intake is linked to outcomes like obesity and an increased risk of developing diabetes.
  • While data is mixed regarding the benefits of using artificial sweeteners, adopting habits like drinking water, exercising, and avoiding cigarette smoking can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

When healthy people consume high levels of saccharin—an artificial sweetener—for two weeks, it does not lead to the development of diabetes, according to a new study.

“This double-blind, placebo-controlled study found no alteration in gut bacteria or glucose intolerance in healthy adults after an intervention of saccharin supplement for two weeks”, Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDCES, CSOWM, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Hailey Crean Nutrition, tells Verywell. 

While saccharin has a sweet taste, it is considered to be non-caloric because humans cannot metabolize it. Therefore, some people choose to include this sweetener in their diet instead of sugar – an ingredient that contains calories and carbohydrates. 

In the study, participants were given the maximum recommended amount of saccharin every day for two weeks, which is considered far more than the average consumer would use. Additionally, mice were provided with a daily dose of saccharin. At the end of the study, both animal and human subjects did not experience any adverse health outcomes when taking the sweetener, including symptoms of diabetes. These results were published in the journal Microbiome in January. 

“The impact of non-caloric artificial sweeteners on glucose tolerance and the gut microbiome has been a much-debated topic with conflicting results in the current research,” Crean adds. However, the current study is unique in that it is focused on healthy subjects, and not people who have underlying health conditions. This differentiation was important in allowing researchers to determine whether the sweetener offered a health effect without considering as many confounding variables. 

“With the growing incidence of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes and the increased use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners in both children and adults, there is good cause for continued study,” Crean says. 

What This Means For You

If you are a healthy individual, using saccharin as a sweetener may be a safe and viable option if you are limiting added sugars to reduce your diabetes risk. To reduce your risk of diabetes, you can also work to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and limit added sugars in your diet.

Are Artificial Sweeteners a Solution?

From candy to ice cream, sugar is found in most beloved treats. But while added sugars offer that satisfying sweet taste, in certain situations, consumption is linked to outcomes like weight gain and increased risk of developing diabetes.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, recommend that Americans limit their added sugar intake to 10% of calories consumed per day.

Artificial sweeteners come in many forms. From saccharin to aspartame, these alternatives have been used for many years, especially in populations of people who limit added sugars due to health concerns. They are often added to foods in the same way as sugar and offer a similar sweet taste. 

Researchers estimate that 25% of children and 41% of adults consume non-caloric artificial sweeteners daily, as reported in a 2017 study.

And while data does exist that highlights how artificial sweetener consumption is linked to increased risk of stroke, obesity, and negative changes to the gut microbiome, the current study suggests only positive outcomes. 

Why the Discrepancy?

“Misinformation has swirled around low- and no-calorie sweeteners over the years due to inappropriate use and interpretation of observational 'studies,'" Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDCES, registered dietitian and author of Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy, tells Verywell. "However, the total body of scientific research and guidance from health authorities around the globe, including the FDA, have found them to be safe to consume. When one or more of these sweeteners are used to replace a source of added sugars, like granulated sugar, brown sugar or honey, they can help people consume fewer calories and less refined carbohydrates, which in turn can help people to manage weight, diabetes, and live a healthier lifestyle.”

Warshaw recently published a paper that is intended to help arm healthcare providers with practical strategies to help people reduce added sugars. "One of the best strategies is for people to start with small changes—day after day of saving 50 calories here and 100 calories there really adds up," she says. "Low- and no-calorie sweeteners can help bridge that gap.”

Warshaw also encourages “people to choose the low- or no-calorie sweetener that tastes best to them so they’ll continue to use it long-term."

However, the long-term effects of those kind of sweeteners were not evaluated in this recent study.

“A noted limitation of this study is that the intervention was only two weeks and it may take longer exposure to the no-calorie artificial sweetener to see an effect,” Crean says. “However, this may also support the practice of moderation as the study appears to support the use of short-term saccharin use without negative impacts on gut bacteria or glucose tolerance.”

How To Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes

Clearly, data is still conflicting when it comes to artificial sweeteners and diabetes risk. According to the current study, consumption does not increase risk, while other research suggests otherwise, particularly when artificially-sweetened beverages are consumed.

Until there is a firm consensus on whether artificial sweeteners should be a part of an eating plan, there are other ways that people can reduce their risk of developing diabetes, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Participating in regular exercise
  • Limiting added sugars in your diet

And when choosing your beverages and deciding between one that is sweetened with sugar or an artificial sweetener, don’t forget about a third option: water. Since researchers have stated that both artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice are unlikely to be healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, water appears to be a very viable alternative.

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