Artificial Sweeteners And Diabetes

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Health Current Events, Obesity

Another Myth Bites The Dust

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

artificial sweeteners and diabetesArtificial sweeteners and diabetes; is there a relationship?

Once again, artificial sweeteners have come up empty. They were supposed to help you lose weight, but several recent clinical studies have suggested that artificially sweetened beverages are just as likely to lead to weight gain as sugar sweetened beverages, see  Do Diet Sodas Make You Fat.

What about type 2 diabetes? There have been several clinical trials that have suggested that excess consumption of sugar sweetened beverages may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (For example, Basu et al, Am J Pub Health, 103: 2071-2077, 2013; Malik et al, Diabetes Care, 33: 2477-2483, 2010).

As a consequence if you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you’ve probably been advised by your doctor or dietitian to switch from sugar sweetened beverages to artificially sweetened beverages or natural fruit juices. But, does that really work? Maybe not.

In fact, some studies have suggested that excess consumption of artificially sweetened beverages or fruit juice may be just as likely to lead to type 2 diabetes as consuming sugar sweetened beverages (For example, Greenwood et al, Br J Nutr, 112: 725-734, 2014; Xi et al, PloS One, 9:e93471, 2014).

A Systematic Study Of Beverage Consumption And Diabetes Risk

However, this has been a very controversial topic. The problem is that it is devilishly difficult to design studies that provide definitive answers to these important questions.

To start with there are problems with confounding factors. For example,

  • It is pretty well established that consumption of sugar sweetened beverages leads to obesity and obesity leads to type 2 diabetes, but many of the studies did not adjust the data for obesity.
  • In addition, many people who are overweight often switch to artificially sweetened beverages in the mistaken belief that they will help them lose weight. Once again, many of the published studies did not correct for that.

There are also problems with study design. For example, many of the studies did not directly compare sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages in the same population group. If the population groups are different enough between studies, it can be a little like trying to compare apples to oranges.

Because of these limitations an international team of experts designed a major systematic review and meta-analysis (Imamura et al, Br J Med, doi: 101136/bmj.h3576, 2015) of all reasonably well designed prospective studies that measured the effect of beverage consumption on the development of type 2 diabetes over time.

They evaluated the data from 17 studies that represented 38,253 people who developed type 2 diabetes over a period of at least two years. They used the most rigorous statistical analysis methods available, and they interpreted their results very cautiously.

In short, this was a major study. So, what did the study show?

Is There a Relationship Between Artificial Sweeteners And  Diabetes?

On face value, the data appeared to be fairly clear:

  • prevent diabetesAn additional one serving per day of a sugar-sweetened beverage increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 18%. When you correct for obesity, the increased risk is 13%. (Note: we are talking about an 8 ounce serving here, not a 32 ounce Big Gulp or 64 ounce Double Gulp).
  • An additional one serving per day of an artificially-sweetened beverage increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 25%. When you correct for obesity, the increased risk is 8%.
  • An additional one serving per day of fruit juice increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 5%. When you correct for obesity, the risk actually increases to 7%.

In short, if you want to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, none of these options is a particularly good choice.

How Were These Data Interpreted

Of course, the strength of any meta-analysis is limited by the quality of the studies that were included in the meta-analysis. It is the old GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) principle. The authors acknowledged that limitation and analyzed in great detail the quality of the individual studies included in their meta-analysis. Their conclusions were as follows:

  • garbage in garbage outThe quality of the data on sugar sweetened beverages was strong enough that they could conclude that “habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, independent of obesity”. In short, you want to stay away from sugar sweetened beverages. They can cause obesity AND they can cause type 2 diabetes.
  • They also said that “…artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice also showed positive associations with incidence of type 2 diabetes”, but did not feel the existing data were strong enough to make a definitive conclusion. They felt that more studies are needed.
  • However, they did feel that the existing data were strong enough to conclude that “neither artificially sweetened beverages nor fruit juice are suitable alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages for the preventing of type 2 diabetes.” In short, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice may not cause type 2 diabetes, but they clearly don’t prevent it.

 

The Bottom Line

If you are overweight or otherwise at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you have probably been advised to switch from sugar-sweetened beverages to either artificially sweetened beverages or fruit juices. A major study has just turned that advice on its head!

This study (Imamura et al, Br J Med, doi: 101136/bmj.h3576, 2015) was a systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 previously published clinical studies that measured the effect of beverage consumption on the development of type 2 diabetes over time. Based on a very careful analysis of the data from this meta-analysis the authors concluded:

  • The quality of the data on sugar sweetened beverages was strong enough that they could unequivocally state that “habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, independent of obesity”. In short, you want to stay away from sugar sweetened beverages. They can cause obesity AND they can cause type 2 diabetes.
  • They also said that “…artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice also showed positive associations with incidence of type 2 diabetes”, but did not feel the existing data were strong enough to make a definitive conclusion. They felt that more studies are needed.
  • However, they did feel that the existing data were strong enough to conclude that “neither artificially sweetened beverages nor fruit juice are suitable alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages for the preventing of type 2 diabetes.” In short, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice may not cause type 2 diabetes, but they clearly don’t prevent it.

So what kind of beverages should you consume if you don’t want your beverage intake to contribute to type 2 diabetes?

  • Water is always the first choice.
  • Milk, protein shakes and similar beverages can also be an excellent choice as long as you take the calories into account. The protein content of those beverages generally slows the rate of sugar uptake. Look for products with a low glycemic index.
  • High intensity or long endurance exercise requires a lot of carbohydrate, so sugars in rehydration or recovery sports supplements are well tolerated. However, those same sports drinks would be a concern if used as part of a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Finally, tea, coffee, and non-caffeinated herbal teas are excellent choices as long as you learn to enjoy them without adding sugar or artificial sweeteners.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • Leah

    |

    Thank you for this valuable information, Dr. Chaney.
    I use stevia to sweeten my drinks for lemonade, hot chocolate, etc. I am assuming that because it is a natural ingredient by a good company, that it is not included in the category of artificial sweeteners and would be a good choice for people who have high blood sugars issues. Do you have any thoughts on that?. Also, I was wondering if you thought that Agave nectar can be used as well to substitute for sugar, if used within reason. Thank you.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Leah,
      We are not really sure why artificial sweeteners in sodas are not particularly helpful for losing weight or causing diabetes. One theory is that the intense sweetness creates food cravings. If that is true, it really wouldn’t matter whether you sweetened your soda with artificial sweeteners, natural sugar, or a natural sweetener like stevia. It is much better to focus on foods. Sugars and natural sweeteners are much better tolerated in foods that have ample amounts of protein and fiber.
      The chemical composition of agave nectar and honey are not much different from sugar or high fructose corn syrup (see my video “The Truth About Sugar”). I have never used agave nectar personally, but my wife occasionally uses honey in cooking. It’s only advantage is that it has a stronger flavor so one tends to use a little less.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Joan

    |

    One must be VERY careful when choosing a Stevia product because many of them are filled with other ingredients you don’t want to ingest. Read the label before you choose your Stevia product.

    Thank you Dr. Chaney for this excellent explanation of what you and others have been saying for years!

    To your health!

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Joan,

      You are so right. I’ve seen products that advertise they use stevia, but also use artificial sweeteners. It’s always good advice to actually read the label.

      Steve

      Reply

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Latest Article

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

Posted November 6, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Microbiome Mysteries

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

is our microbiome affected by exerciseIn a recent post,  What is Your Microbiome and Why is it Important,  of “Health Tips From The Professor” I outlined how our microbiome, especially the bacteria that reside in our intestine, influences our health. That influence can be either good or bad depending on which species of bacteria populate our gut. I also discussed how the species of bacteria that populate our gut are influenced by what we eat and, in turn, influence how the foods we eat are metabolized.

I shared that there is an association between obesity and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. At present, this is a “chicken and egg” conundrum. We don’t know whether obesity influences the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut, or whether certain species of gut bacteria cause us to become obese.

Previous studies have shown that there is also an association between exercise and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. In particular, exercise is associated with an increase in bacteria that metabolize fiber in our diets to short chain fatty acids such as butyrate. That is potentially important because butyrate is a primary food source for intestinal mucosal cells (the cells that line the intestine). Butyrate helps those cells maintain the integrity of the gut barrier (which helps prevent things like leaky gut syndrome). It also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune cells that reside in the gut.

However, associations don’t prove cause and effect. We don’t know whether the differences in gut bacteria were caused by differences in diet or leanness in populations who exercised regularly and those who did not. This is what the present study (JM Allen et al, Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 50: 747-757, 2018 ) was designed to clarify.  Is our microbiome affected by exercise?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

is our microbiome affected by exercise studyThis study was performed at the University of Illinois. Thirty-two previously sedentary subjects (average age = 28) were recruited for the study. Twenty of them were women and 12 were men. Prior to starting the study, the participants filled out a 7-day dietary record. They were asked to follow the same diet throughout the 12-week study. In addition, a dietitian designed a 3-day food menu based on their 7-day recall for the participants to follow prior to each fecal collection to determine species of gut bacteria.

The study included a two-week baseline when their baseline gut bacteria population was measured, and participants were tested for fitness. This was followed by a 6-week exercise intervention consisting of three supervised 30 to 60-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week. The exercise was adapted to the participant’s initial fitness level, and both the intensity and duration of exercise increased over the 6-week exercise intervention. Following the exercise intervention, all participants were instructed to maintain their diet and refrain from exercise for another 6 weeks. This was referred to as the “washout period.”

VO2max (a measure of fitness) was determined at baseline and at the end of the exercise intervention. Stool samples for determination of gut bacteria and concentrations of short-chain fatty acids were taken at baseline, at the end of the exercise intervention, and again after the washout period.

In short, this study divided participants into lean and obese categories and held diet constant. The only variable was the exercise component.

 

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

is our microbiome affected by exercise fitnessThe results of the study were as follows:

  • Fitness, as assessed by VO2max, increased for all the participants, and the increase in fitness was comparable for both lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise induced a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise increased fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in the lean subjects, but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were largely reversed once exercise training ceased.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.” [Note: To be clear, the exercise-induced changes in both gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise. However, only the production of short-chain fatty acids was dependent on obesity status.]

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

is our microbiome affected by exercise gut bacteriaThere are two important take home lessons from this study.

  • With respect to our gut bacteria, I have consistently told you that microbiome research is an emerging science. This is a small study, so you should regard it as the beginning of our understanding of the effect of exercise on our microbiome rather than conclusive by itself. It is consistent with previous studies showing an association between exercise and a potentially beneficial shift in the population of gut bacteria.

The strength of the study is that it shows that exercise-induced changes in beneficial gut bacteria are probably independent of diet. However, it is the first study to look at the interaction between obesity, exercise and gut bacteria, so I would interpret those results with caution until they have been replicated in subsequent studies.

  • With respect to exercise, this may be yet another reason to add regular physical activity to your healthy lifestyle program. We already know that exercise is important for cardiovascular health. We also know that exercise increases lean muscle mass which increases metabolic rate and helps prevent obesity. There is also excellent evidence that exercise improves mood and helps prevent cognitive decline as we age.

Exercise is also associated with decreased risk of colon cancer and irritable bowel disease. This effect of exercise has not received much attention because the mechanism of this effect is unclear. This study shows that exercise increases the fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. Perhaps, this provides the mechanism for the interaction between exercise and intestinal health.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study has reported that:

  • Exercise induces a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise causes an increase in the number of gut bacteria that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial for gut health.
  • These effects are independent of diet, but do not appear to be independent of obesity because they were seen in lean subjects but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production are largely reversed once exercise training ceases.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent on diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”

For more details and my interpretation of the data, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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