Yale University researchers found that combining the artificial sweetener sucralose with carbohydrates can lead to previously healthy people becoming glucose intolerant, which can cause elevated blood glucose levels and potentially result in diabetes. The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The researchers split 45 healthy adults into three groups. One group was given beverages sweetened with the equivalent of two packets of sucralose, while the second group received beverages sweetened with sugar. A third control group got beverages containing sucralose plus maltodextrin, a carbohydrate.
Only the third group experienced negative health effects after drinking seven of the assigned beverages during two weeks in the lab, The Washington Post reported. Their insulin levels were much higher, meaning their bodies had to release more of the substance in order to maintain the same blood glucose levels. This suggested less insulin sensitivity, which can result in metabolic problems and increased weight.
The Yale researchers said they conducted this study to clear up some of the ongoing debate over whether consuming no-calorie and low-calorie sweeteners has a negative effect on human health. They noted previous studies had shown a connection between these sweeteners — which, in the case of sucralose, is in Splenda, Zerocal, Sukrana, SucraPlus and other products — and weight gain and diabetes.
They also said because of widespread obesity and diabetes, "it is of pressing importance to resolve the controversy" surrounding consumption of these sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are found in many CPGs and baked goods, so it's likely many consumers have eaten and drank this combination.
However, there are questions about the reliability of the findings from the Yale study since it involved relatively few participants and a short study period. Frank Hu, a nutrition professor at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Post the study's findings should be tested through other studies. Hu added that data from randomized control trials running for six months to a year showed using low-calorie sweetened drinks instead of regular versions resulted in modest weight and fat loss.
Some additional studies have indicated a risk of developing Type 2 diabetes from consuming artificial sweeteners. In 2017, researchers from the University of Adelaide found an impaired bodily response to glucose in healthy volunteers who consumed capsules of sucralose and acesulfame K in diet beverages over a two-week period.
The FDA and the European Food Safety Authority have declared sucralose safe for consumers, but consumer groups are not so sanguine. The Center for Science in the Public Interest gave it an "avoid" rating, and continues to advise consumers to also pass on aspartame, acesulfame-potassium and saccharin. However, the group also said too much sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages pose risks of diabetes, heart disease and obesity that "far outweigh the cancer risk posed by artificial sweeteners."
While the controversy surrounding the health effects of artificial sweeteners continues, the results from this latest Yale study aren't likely to help the category, which has seen more consumers turning away from the products and sometimes opting for less sugar in general, regardless of the source.
The situation may leave companies baffled about what to use next if consumers don't want either sugar or artificial sweeteners in their foods and beverages. This is occurring just as the FDA is including added sugars on Nutrition Facts panels, so some manufacturers will likely continue trying natural and better-for-you ingredients such as honey, stevia, honey and maple syrup in order to entice label-reading consumers to buy their products.