Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Artificial sweeteners… Do they harm the microbiome?
Recent animal and human studies show that artificial sweeteners can indeed unfavourably impact the microbiome and in the process impair glucose tolerance.
In a rodent study, researchers fed artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose & aspartame) to mice and measured changes to the gut microbiome and glucose tolerance. Glucose tolerance was impaired and the microbiome significantly altered with an increased abundance of several species common to metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Researchers then transplanted this microbiome into germ free mice, which resulted in immediate glucose intolerance displaying a causative role of the microbiome in impaired glucose tolerance.
This same effect was observed in a human clinical trial which observed impaired glucose tolerance after only one week of artificial sweetener consumption. This human microbiome was then transplanted into germ free mice, again resulting in impaired glucose tolerance in the rodent model.
So, what are some great alternatives to artificial sweeteners if you're trying to limit intake of refined sugars?
· Fibre rich colourful fruits such as blueberries, kiwi fruit, bananas, apples and pears!
· Honey which contains fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), a type of fibre which can benefit the gut microbiome by stimulating proliferation of beneficial strains such as Bifidobacterium.
· Natural sweeteners such as stevia and xylitol are preferential to artificial sweeteners (but look out for sneaky additives or inclusion of artificial sweeteners in these products). As a student naturopath I'm inclined to choose whole-food sources first, but natural sweeteners can be consumed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.