Zero-calorie sweeteners: stimulating diabetes and obesity by altering the intestinal flora


25691379_mArtificial sweeteners, those with no calories and for years advertised as healthy and wholesome, can directly induce diabetes and profoundly alter the metabolism towards the opposite direction for which they are usually recommended.

An important study, recently published in Nature, clearly outlines how the diabetogenic and weight-gaining action of these products occurs because the intestinal flora gets profoundly modified.

Indeed, it was shown that the intestinal bacteria (aka the microbiome) of animals fed with low-calorie sweeteners, when transferred to healthy and slim animals, were able to cause the same type of reactions (Suez J et al, Nature. Sep 17 2014. doi: 10.1038/nature13793. [Epub ahead of print]) leading to weight gain.

Therefore, the main indication coming from the study is that a “gut” problem is at the bottom of all this, together with a series of wrong signals sent to the body.

In our clinical practice, for years we have been following people affected by weight problems, by adopting well-defined clinical and therapeutic pathways, by first looking among intestinal reactions for the potential trigger(s) to weight gaining.

Since 2007 we presented detailed articles around such topic, talking about the scam of artificial sweeteners and the fact that these lead to an increase in weight.

In addition, long since we have presented the results of studies correlating the alteration in intestinal flora with weight gaining signals.

For us, then, nothing new, since we are aware of the fact that, to reach true weight loss, it is essential to modify the signals that are sent to the body. We know that by reducing inflammation and the alarm signals sent to the body it is possible to lose weight and to improve insulin sensitivity.

Today we have the certainty that the “sweetening” signal represents a warning message sent to the body (in the Palaeolithic, our ancestors responded to a “sweet” signal by trying to eat the greatest possible amounts of food) to promote fat accumulation.

In our experience, we never ask patients to remove sweet food: instead, they should enjoy, in less frequent occasions, excellent homemade cakes, properly prepared in a balanced and especially tasty way, while completely eliminating the useless and wasteful habit of sweetening the cup of coffee (even if saying “I am just going to add a small pinch…”) or of drinking products that may gratify the taste but definitely cause very “heavy” problems.

Instead, a new observation arises around the timetable of such message.

While in the past years we felt very lonely in reporting these studies, as if only a few “crazy” people were able to notice these pieces of scientific evidence, it is surprising how the news has been reported today by every press agency, just as one of the largest world-wide companies launched on the international market a drink without artificial sweeteners, instead sweetened with stevia.

This is an interesting commercial manoeuvre that should not mislead. Sweet taste induces an evolutionary response towards fattening. Sometimes, even fruit can induce the same type of response in susceptible individuals.

So, in the end, it does not really matter if the sweet signal comes from an excess of fresh fruit, from stevia or sugar cane (just to mention a few natural substances) or from those despicable artificial sweeteners, the response that humans have learned to generate over the course of almost a million years will always be the same: weight gaining. Of course, all this applies also to the new drink…

The solution is to enjoy a sweet traditional dessert at the right time, trying to deserve it a bit and choosing ingredients with a low glycaemic index (flour, grains, oil seeds, whole milk, and fruit with its fibre) that can produce a countersignal against the negative existing signal, to help maintaining our shape.

The human body has specific hormones triggering the search for sweet stuff, which indicates the usefulness of sweet taste. However today, every person should take full responsibility around the true role of sweet especially in the real society and healthcare, where obesity and diabetes are killing more than any war.