Could artificial sweetener CAUSE diabetes? Splenda ‘modifies way the body handles sugar’, increasing insulin production by 20%

  • Study found sugar substitute sucralose had  an effect on blood sugar levels
  • Also discovered that insulin production  increased by 20% when consumed
  • Scientists aren’t sure what implications  are, but said that regularly elevated insulin levels could eventually cause  insulin resistance and even diabetes

By  Rachel Reilly

PUBLISHED: 12:27 EST, 30 May  2013 |  UPDATED: 12:27  EST, 30 May 2013

Sugar substitute Splenda is made of sucralose, which has been found to affect blood glucose and insulin levelsSplenda is made of sucralose, which has been found to  affect blood glucose and insulin levels

Splenda can modify how the body handles sugar  and could lead to diabetes, according to a new study.

Scientists found that consuming the sugar  alternative made of sucralose caused a person’s sugar levels to peak at a higher  level and in turn increase the amount of insulin a person produced.

Researchers said that while they did not  fully understand the implications of the findings, they might suggest that  Splenda could raise the risk of diabetes.

This is because regularly elevated insulin  levels can lead to insulin  resistance, which is a known path to type 2  diabetes.

‘Our results indicate that this  artificial  sweetener is not inert – it does have an effect,’ said Yanina Pepino, research  assistant professor of medicine at the  Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis, who led the study.

‘And we need to do more studies to determine  whether this observation  means long-term use could be harmful.’

Sucralose is made from sugar, but once  processed its chemical make up is very different. Gram for gram it is 600 times  sweeter than table sugar.

The scientists analysed  the effects of Splenda in 17 severely obese people who did not have diabetes and  did not use artificial sweeteners regularly.

Participants had an  average body mass index  of just over 42. A person is considered  obese when their BMI reaches 30.

Scientists gave subjects either water or dissolved sucralose to drink before they consumed glucose (sugar).


They wanted to understand whether the  combination of sucralose and glucose would affect insulin and blood  sugar  levels.

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 person served as his or her own control  group.

‘We wanted to study [overweight people] because these sweeteners frequently are recommended to them as a way to  make  their diets healthier by limiting calorie intake,’ Pepino said.

They found that when study participants  drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when  they  drank only water before consuming glucose.

Better off with the real thing?: Artificial sweeteners were once thought to be the holy grail for dieters and diabetics 

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Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent  higher. So despite no extra sugar being consumed, the artificial sweetener was  related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response.

Professor Yanina explained that they do not  fully understand the implications that these rises could have.

She said: ‘The elevated insulin response  could be a good thing 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.

While scientists are not sure what the implications of the study are, they said there could be an increased risk of diabetes 

While scientists are not sure what the implications of  the study are, they said there could be an increased risk of diabetes

But recent findings in animal studies suggest  that some sweeteners may be doing more than just making foods and drinks taste  sweeter.

One finding indicates that the  gastrointestinal tract and the pancreas can detect sweet foods and drinks with  receptors that are virtually identical to those in the mouth.

That causes an increased release of hormones,  such as insulin.

Some animal studies also have found that when  receptors in the gut are activated by artificial sweeteners, the absorption of  glucose also increases.

Professor Pepino added: ‘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.’

Just how sucralose influences glucose and  insulin levels in people who are obese is still somewhat of a  mystery.

‘Although we found that sucralose affects the  glucose and insulin response to glucose ingestion, we don’t know the mechanism  responsible,’ said Pepino.

‘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.’

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.

The study was published in the journal  Diabetes Care.

In a statement, Splenda said: ‘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.

‘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.

‘Experts from around the world have found  that Splenda Brand Sweetener is suitable for everyone, including those with  diabetes.’

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