The rise in popularity of artificial sweeteners can be traced back to an accidental discovery of the intense sweetness of aspartame by an anti-cancer scientist in the 1960s. This compound and other artificial sweeteners began to be heavily promoted as healthy alternatives to sugar, and so-called ‘sugar-free’ foods were designed with artificial sweeteners to help people lower their sugar intake.
Although it was presumed that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin, and sucralose helped people avoid blood sugar and insulin spikes, research now suggests that things are a little more complicated, especially for those with, or at risk of, diabetes.
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect Blood Sugar Regulation
Many artificial sweeteners taste hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. While this means that less of them can be used to sweeten food, studies now suggest that artificial sweeteners still trigger a response by the pancreas to secrete insulin. As this excess of insulin is not needed in response to artificial sweeteners there is concern that repeated exposure reduces our insulin sensitivity and predisposes us to diabetes.
In addition, as artificial sweeteners raise insulin levels often without a simultaneous increase in actual blood sugar, insulin’s effect of removing sugar from the bloodstream could trigger a hypoglycemic attack and increased appetite.
The use of artificial sweeteners alongside regular foods is also thought to spike blood sugar levels.
The use of artificial sweeteners alongside regular foods is also thought to spike blood sugar levels. While aspartame and sucralose may reduce overall energy intake, they may still increase weight gain, body fat, insulin resistance and diabetes or complications from the disease.
Other Health Concerns with Artificial Sweeteners
A number of artificial sweeteners have been subject to complaints or bans over the past few decades, including concerns of an increased risk of:
- Bladder cancer in animals fed cyclamate (banned in the US) and saccharin
- Psychiatric and cognitive abnormalities linked to aspartame and acesulfame-K use
- Respiratory complaints connected to acesulfame-K
A number of artificial sweeteners have been subject to complaints or bans
Those using artificial sweeteners regularly, and children whose mothers used acesulfame-K in pregnancy or while breastfeeding may develop an increased preference for sweet foods, which could make weight management difficult and increase the risk of diabetes.
A number of supplements also make use of artificial sweeteners so it is important to check labels, especially for chewable products and those that claim to be ‘sugar-free.’ Alternative natural sweeteners such as the sugar alcohols xylitol and sorbitol are used in Diabetex Sleep Support as these appear to have little, if any, negative effects on blood sugar. Xylitol has the added benefit of strengthening tooth enamel for improved dental health.
The potential negative effects of artificial sweeteners on blood sugar control suggest that it is wiser to use natural sweeteners such as stevia, xylitol, coconut sugar or honey in small amounts to sweeten food.