Artificial sweetener consumption is associated with an increased risk of type-2 diabetes in women

There are currently around 1.9 billion adults worldwide who are overweight, 600 million of whom are obese. In response to the rising rates of obesity, diets and diet foods have become common place in our society. One of the most common and popular diet alternatives is artificial sweeteners. Common artificial sweeteners include: aspartame, sucralose (Splenda ©), saccharin (Sweet’n Low ©), and stevia. They are popular because they provide a strong sweet taste while containing little to no calories. Often considered harmless, research has begun to show links between artificial sweetener consumption and various chronic diseases. A group of researchers recently published a report in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism that identifies artificial sweetener consumption as a risk factor for type-2 diabetes in women.

Data from 61,440 women in Europe was collected from 1993 to 2011 and contained information about duration of artificial sweetener use as well as BMI. Type-2 diabetes status was determined throughout the study in follow-up questionnaires. Of 61,000+ participants, 47,250 of them never or rarely consumed artificial sweeteners, 4,240 of them consumed them half of the time, and 9,950 of them consumed them always or almost always. The results are summarized below:

  • Women who consumed artificial sweeteners half of the time were 42% more likely to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes during the study period.
    • When the BMI of each participant was considered this difference was lost. This suggests that overweight individuals who consume artificial sweeteners half the time are more likely to get type-2 diabetes than those who are not overweight.
  • Among women who consumed artificial sweeteners all the time or almost all the time, they were 117% more likely to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes during the study than those who never consumed them.
    • This effect was still seen when a persons BMI was considered. In this case, with BMI as a factor, people who consumed artificial sweeteners all the time were 33% more likely to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.
    • Again, this suggests that an overweight person consuming artificial sweeteners is at greater risk than a non-overweight person for developing type-2 diabetes. Although, a non-overweight person is still at risk.
  • There was an increasing incidence of type-2 diabetes seen in the population as the length of time a person has consumed artificial sweeteners increased. That is to say, the longer you have eaten artificial sweeteners the more likely you are to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes regardless of your weight.

This data suggests that the use of artificial sweeteners, especially by overweight or obese individuals, increases a person’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes. This is obviously not good news to those people who look to artificial sweeteners as a way to lose weight. There are many things this study still hasn’t answered. First, does it matter what type of artificial sweetener? Second, how is artificial sweetener consumption linked to type-2 diabetes? Third, does this effect translate to men and children? It would also be good to have a more controlled study where a person’s artificial sweetener consumption is tracked more accurately (i.e. not a survey). Still, this study is yet another in a list of growing reports suggesting that artificial sweeteners are not as harmless as we once thought.

Image Credit: Flickr Frankieleon

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