Consequences of eating artificial sweeteners

Can saccharin, aspartame and sucralose  harm your intestinal health?

A study reveals that artificial sweeteners increase the risk of diabetes and obesity

A study by the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot (Israel) published in August 2014, has shown that artificial sweeteners promote weight gain, occurrence of diabetes and obesity. Paradoxically, they are used to prevent these health problems.

Eran Elinav, author of the study, says: “The results of our study indicate that artificial sweeteners induce the same problems they are intended to prevent.”

cafe con sacarina
Photo of coffee with saccharin, one of the most common artificial sweeteners in bars.


Previous studies have shown the relationship between the type of intestinal flora and the occurrence of diseases such as obesity or diabetes, but never had linked consumption of sweeteners with changes in the intestinal flora.

According to this study, artificial sweeteners are bad because they modify the intestinal microbiota, that is to say, the intestinal bacteria that live in our intestines, and feed on the degradation of dietary fiber and fermentable carbohydrates.

Intestinal flora and disease prevention

Photo of sucralose, an artificial sweetener. It has no calories and does not cause tooth decay.

Formerly the intestinal microbiota had been considered as a relatively passive population of bacteria, but today, it is talking about a symbiotic relationship between probiotics or intestinal bacteria and the human organism.

As a result of the microbial activity the intestinal flora executes, the body gets benefits: protection against intestinal infections, synthesis of vitamins, improves absorption of nutrients, increase of immunity, reduction of reactions of allergy and asthma, etc.

This study has shown, once again, the important role of intestinal microbiota for human health.

Study Results

The study evaluated the effect of consumption of the three most consumed artificial sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame and sucralose (Splenda ®).

The study had to record the diet of 700 volunteers, the composition of the intestinal flora and their levels of blood sugar over 1 week. The aim was to analyze these parameters to determine what effects have the intestinal microbiota on human nutrition and on disease incidence. With this study they wanted to develop customized diets according to the type of intestinal flora of each individual.

Of all the studied sweeteners, saccharin was the most damaging:

– All people who regularly consumed artificial sweeteners levels had higher blood sugar.

– The three sweeteners adversely affected the ability to regulate blood sugar and increased risk of diabetes. Of the three, saccharin was more harmful than aspartame and sucralose. Regular users of saccharin had higher levels of glycated hemoglobin (indicating mismatches on sugar regulation) and the enzyme ALT (related to liver damage).

Artificial sweeteners modified intestinal flora decreasing bacteria of the genus Bacteroidetes (related to protection against diabetes), and increasing bacteria of the genus Firmicutes. It has been observed that, when in the gut there are more Firmicutes bacteria than Bacterioidetes bacteria, the risk of obesity is higher.

– In some study participants, sweeteners had no beneficial or detrimental role.

– A dietary survey was conducted to 381 people, in which it was revealed that the more frequent consumption of saccharin, the greater the weight of the person and higher sugar levels. In addition, fat in individuals was placed in the abdominal area, where it is more dangerous to health because of the proximity to vital organs.

– In a study with mice, intestinal microbiota fed with sweeteners was transplanted to other mice that had never had eaten any sweeteners. The results were that the change of intestinal flora had the same effect on increasing blood sugar in mice that never tasted sweeteners. This demonstrates that the intestinal flora produced by sweeteners is the cause of these effects, not sweeteners alone.

Study Conclusions

This research, led by the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot (Israel), will force to reconsider the massive use of saccharin in food industry

Saccharin and other artificial sweeteners alter the intestinal flora so they make it difficult to control sugar levels in the blood, increasing the risk of certain diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.

According to one of the authors of the study, Eran Elinav, “the results indicate that artificial sweeteners induce the same problems they are intended to prevent.” It adds that these results “are not the last word” on the issue, but the first, so “it would be premature to make general recommendations on the consumption of sweeteners such as saccharin”.

Is stevia sweetener bad?

stevia sweetener
Photo of stevia sweetener. For now, the harmful effects have only been shown on artificial sweeteners. It is unknown whether stevia, a natural sweetener, could have the same negative effects.

Refreshments: With sugar or sweetener? It is preferable to not consume these industrial products regularly.

When researchers wondered whether other sweeteners like stevia have similar effects, they responded that there have been no studies on the subject, so that it can not be speculated on the outcome.

Eran Elinav said stevia is a natural sweetener, found in nature, while the three tested artificial sweeteners are artificial (saccharin, aspartame, sucralose -Splenda®) and can only be obtained in laboratories.

Nor are artificial sweeteners the group of polyols, such as stevia, xylitol or sorbitol. These are found in fruits and plants. They are obtained from natural extracts, but they also can be chemically manufactured in laboratories.

Is it better to have drinks with sugar than with sweeteners?

The study authors also warned of sugary drinks and sodas. Regular consumption of sugary drinks and refined sugar also has negative effects on health, such as sweeteners, increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes.

According to these findings, it is recommended not to use sugary sodas or industrial products with sugar or sweeteners usually. It seems that it is best to opt for a natural diet with few processed foods, avoiding the usual consumption of sweeteners and products with added sugars.

Diet for a healthy intestinal microbiota

To have a healthy intestinal flora it is needed a diet rich in fiber, without excluding food groups such important as foods rich in carbohydrates (fruits, tubers, whole grains, legumes,…).

In addition, it is recommended to vary the foods in each group, that is to say, eat the widest possible variety of fruits, vegetables, grains (oats, wheat, millet, rice,…) and legumes (chickpeas, peas, lentils,…)

Related bibliography

Readers interested in reading the scientific study mentioned on this page, can see the original summary, or buy the original article, the following external link: See study.

*Related information:

How to improve intestinal flora

Bad food for intestinal flora

Fiber fattening?

punto rojo More information on probiotics.

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

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