Studio shoot with black backdrop showing packets of artificial sweeteners

Low-calories sweeteners might not be as good for us as we thought

Some artificial sweeteners disrupt the microbes in our gut—possibly in ways that increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Artificial sweeteners, which can be hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than cane sugar, are generally not processed by the human body, which is why they provide no or few calories. 

You know the feeling. You slurp that diet soda relishing the sweet taste without the guilt or calories associated with sugar. But a new study suggests that these artificial sweeteners may not be as harmless as once thought; they may even increase the risk of diabetes or weight gain.

Scientists have long suspected a link between artificial sweeteners and obesity in humans, but until now that connection had only been shown in lab mice. Now, in a first of its kind trial, scientists in Israel have tested these chemicals in humans. Their results show that artificial sweeteners not only disturb the microbes living in the guts of humans—which are critical for supplying essential nutrients, synthesizing vitamin K, and digesting dietary fibers among other things—but some may impact how quickly the body removes sugar from the blood after a meal. The longer glucose stays in the blood, the greater the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease.

“They are used with the hope of giving us the sweet taste without having to pay the caloric price,” says Eran Elinav an immunologist at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the latest study. “But non-nutritive sweeteners are not inert in humans.”

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