This property of sucralose, according to manufacturers, offers several advantages. Besides having no impact on carbohydrate metabolism, sucralose also has no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels. This is why it is marketed as a suitable sweetener for diabetics.
But despite sucralose's promises of safety, researchers at Yale School of Medicine and Paris Diderot University found that consuming sucralose together with carbohydrates leads to dire metabolic consequences. Besides impairing glucose metabolism, this combo also reduces insulin sensitivity, which leads to elevated blood sugar levels and Type 2 diabetes.
The researchers discussed these findings in an article published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Sucralose is a synthetic molecule found in popular sweeteners like Splenda, SucraPlus and Zerocal. These products are widely used in beverages marketed as "no-calorie" or "low-calorie" diet drinks. To determine how sucralose affects metabolic health, the researchers recruited 60 individuals -- all with healthy body weights -- and divided them into three groups.
The first group consumed a regular-sized drink that contained the equivalent of two packets of sucralose. The second group received a beverage containing table sugar with the same level of sweetness as the first drink. The third group received a drink that contained sucralose and a carbohydrate called maltodextrin. Commonly used as a food additive, maltodextrin doesn't bind to taste receptors and is impossible to detect.
After more than 10 days of drinking these beverages, the researchers found that only the participants in the third group experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity. This correlated with reductions in their brain responses to sweet foods, but not to salty, savory or sour foods. The participants remained oblivious to the presence of maltodextrin and their taste perception remained unaltered. The first and second group showed no significant adverse health effects.
These findings suggest that while carbohydrates and sucralose don't cause metabolic changes when consumed separately, their combination rapidly impairs insulin sensitivity. Together, they also decrease neural responses to sugar without affecting perceptual sensitivity to sweetness. The researchers believe that dysregulation of gut-brain control over glucose metabolism is responsible for these negative effects. (Related: Detrimental to gut health, metabolism, blood sugar: Research reveals the toxic effects of sucralose.)
Countless studies have repeatedly linked excessive consumption of sugar-laden foods and beverages to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. While the former is characterized by abnormal fat accumulation, the latter is marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. These two events are closely interlinked, with insulin resistance being a consequence of obesity and a trigger for Type 2 diabetes.
In obese individuals, fat cells, which are used by the body as storage for excess sugar, eventually become overwhelmed with the amount of nutrients they need to process. This causes enough cellular stress to trigger inflammation. During inflammation, proteins called cytokines are released by immune cells; while these molecules are needed to regulate inflammation, they also block the signals produced by insulin receptors, which gradually desensitizes cells to insulin. This makes them less likely to absorb glucose, causing blood sugar levels to rise.
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose were developed because of this. According to manufacturers, sugar substitutes that don't add to your calorie count won't make you fat or give you diabetes. In the case of sucralose, research says it's not broken down for energy or absorbed by fat cells, making it infinitely better for your health than table sugar. But researchers at George Washington University found this to be untrue. In fact, they reported that artificial sweeteners actually increase a person's risk of obesity.
The cells that make up the body's fat stores rely on a surface protein called GLUT4 to absorb glucose from the blood. The researchers found that consumption of sucralose increases GLUT4 in these cells, allowing them to take up more glucose and promoting fat accumulation in the process. These changes elevates the risk of obesity.
The researchers also found that in a small number of obese individuals, those who use artificial sweeteners have more of these fat cells, as well as higher expression levels of genes involved in fat production, than those who don't. These findings clearly show that sucralose is far from the safe and healthy sugar alternative manufacturers make it seem.
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