STUDY: artificial sweeteners can raise blood sugar levels more than sugar



TWIS 481: artificial sweeteners screw with your gut biome

The grain of salt, maybe?

MAYBE saccharin based on a 7 person study, but mostly this is for mice. Real sugar already has a known connection, far greater than these, with high consumption to type II diabetes. These sweeteners don’t, yet.

Be careful of falling into the Naturalistic fallacy.


C’mon, let’s not have such a sensationalistic headline here. It may cause glucose intolerance for according to this one study. There’s a mountain of other evidence showing that they are safe.

I’m going to review the actual paper and not this very poorly written (over sensationalistic and very weasel-wordy) verge article and make my opinion on that; especially to see if they provide specifics to what gut bacteria is affected and the mechanisms, sample sizes, etc.


Table sugar is sucrose, and it contains a mix of fructose and glucose. They’re separated in the stomach. Glucose is then processed by the pancreas through the production of insulin. Fructose is processed in the liver. Most sugar substitutes are simple sugars based on fructose - not glucose.

Sugar substitutes are all kinds of bad for you. Here’s a major reason why:

(From Biochemistry, 5th ed. Jeremy M Berg, John L Tymoczko, and Lubert Stryer.)

Brain. Glucose is virtually the sole fuel of the human brain, except during prolonged starvation. The brain lacks fuel stores and hence requires a continuous supply of glucose. It consumes about 120 g daily, which corresponds to an energy input of about 420 kcal (1760 kJ), accounting for some 60% of the utilization of glucose by the whole body in the resting state. Much of the energy, estimates suggest from 60% to 70%, is used to power transport mechanisms that maintain the Na±K+ membrane potential required for the transmission of the nerve impulses. The brain must also synthesize neurotransmitters and their receptors to propagate nerve impulses. Overall, glucose metabolism remains unchanged during mental activity, although local increases are detected when a subject performs certain tasks.

Your brain uses glucose all day long. It has no way to store energy, and so it desires some sugar all day long to function. Glucose also feeds your muscles. Without that monosaccharide, you won’t be able to think or work as well as you should. Don’t forget - your heart is a muscle, too!

Fructose is far better at producing fat stores, and it doesn’t cause production of leptin, a hormone that signals energy uptake and production. If you eat whole sugar, leptin is produced, so the fructose doesn’t get a chance to convert into fat stores. If you eat it as a separated monosaccharide, your body has no signal that a sugar has been consumed, and you’ll have to work harder to avoid creating fat stores.


I’m not sure we shouldn’t treat just sweeteners the same as heroin or morphine… seems like they are inherently destructive when used to excess.


The liver stores glucose and dispenses it as a reaction to the hormone glucagon, sort of the anti-insulin.

The brain certainly is affected by blood sugar levels, as anyone with diabetes knows. If glucose falls too low due to treatment (usually combined with physical stresses) one often feels confused, frightened, shaky and irritable. But too much glucose for too long will cause nerve damage, including to the brain.

Anyway. I really want to see more human studies on this, and for once I want to see actual studies on people who have type 2 diabetes. It seems like every damned study talks about the risk of developing type 2, but falls short of studying people who have it already and want to know the best ways to keep it under control.

I also want to see studies where stevia, monkfruit and the like are compared alongside the “scary” artificial ones. It would not surprise me if some or all of these are also problematic in some way but get a free pass for being “natural.”


Yeah, but that’s kind of irrelevant. You don’t have to constantly eat sugar (or any sugar at all ever) for for your brain and muscles to be supplied with ample quantities of glucose. Assuming your pancreas is working, that is.


Fun fact: saccharin is banned in Canada (or at least it was until very recently), where products normally based on saccharin instead use sodium cyclamate – which is banned in the US (for some strange reason).

[quote=“Medievalist, post:5, topic:41377”]seems like they are inherently destructive when used to excess.[/quote]Uh… Isn’t excessive use of just about anything defined by being destructive?


What?! The only commonly used non-caloric artificial sweetener used that’s based on sucrose is sucralose, the rest are purely artificially derived. None of the non-caloric sweeteners are metabolized or are in such low concentrations that any metabolization won’t matter (there’s a reason these things are 600+ times the sweeness of sugar, so you have to use very, very little of the substance).

If you’re talking caloric substitues, like HFCS, they are not as good as sucrose (but sucrose is sill not good for you in the first place), but only slightly so. HFCS sugar content 55% fructose, while sucrose is 50%. Natural filtered fruit juices contain more fructose as a percentage of sugars than HFCS does.


Is this the 1980s? Who hasn’t been avoiding those artificial sweeteners for the past few decades? Stevia is what we need to know about now.


Stevia is easy to avoid, that stuff is nasty tasting to me anyway. The same overlybitterkindasortasweet flavor that saccharine has.


“Alle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift, allein die Dosis macht es, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist.” [Wikipedia]

–Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim


@crashproof I didn’t recommend a high sugar diet, I warned against diets formed around fructose-based sugars.

In truth, your liver only gets called into play if you’re running high on glucose. It stores extra. Otherwise glucose should just be in your blood. Also, as I wrote: your liver isn’t what processes glucose - that’s your pancreas. It also isn’t what creates leptin - that’s just adipose tissue, fat cells. So your liver really shouldn’t be involved in the processing of glucose at all.

I also wasn’t giving stevia or monkfruit a “pass”. I was doing the opposite. They’re both fructose-based. While “natural”, they’re plant-based monosaccharides, so they contain no glucose. They have no food benefit and are purely a sweetener. I was recommending against their use.

I was at one point engaged to and living with a type-one diabetic, and learned quite a bit about how the system works because of that involvement. Now I have my own medical issues, and I have to watch what I eat.

@jhbadger: I also didn’t say you have to constantly “eat sugar”. I explained that your brain won’t store sugar, but it will need it and crave it all day long. As I just explained, when you eat it - what doesn’t get used will be stored short term in your blood or liver, and you don’t need large amounts. However, “glucose” (or glucose derivatives) IS sugar, and it’s pretty much all your brain runs on (unless you’re starving and then ketone bodies take over). What I was mainly pointing out is that most sugar substitutes are based on fructose which has no food benefit at all for humans, and in fact may actually contribute to weight gain and other negative conditions.

@mewyn: I was writing about the current trend for “all natural” and “safe” substitutes. Sucralose is based on sucrose, but is a molecule that is designed to not break apart into simple sugars (this is done through the addition of chlorine to a sugar molecule). You’ll get no glucose or fructose from sucralose. So, the problems that exist with a fructose-based substitute still exist. Stevia is one popular example of a fructose-based artificial sweetener.


Sounds like a good enough definition to me, as long as we can agree on what “destructive” is!

My mother’s generation (Depression era) said “If you’re picking up weight, no sweets for you.” Of course mom’s people were all teetotallers, so alcohol didn’t enter the picture, and they were dirt farmers, so they couldn’t actually get fat without gorging themselves 24/7 anyway.

Prior generations (ever read any Johnny Gruelle?) seem to have assumed you could eat as many sweets as you could jam down your gullet, because nobody sat on their butt for hours at a time, and nobody could afford sweets at every meal. Cars and computers and cheap sugar changed everything…


many artificial sweeteners have certain side effects in a percentage of the population or past a certain dose, which is to be expected, and that is certainly one of the issues, just not the one being discussed in the article.

the issue is that when the body encounters an artificial sweeter, or even a natural one such as stevia, that tastes sweet, the mouth sends signals to the body to prep for an influx of sugar, and many of these compounds are hyper sweet sending signals 10x that of actual sugar. high levels of blood sugar are toxic which, which is part of the issue with diabetes, so the body takes immediate action to ensure that this influx of sugar is handled properly. instead it receives a chemical compound that it doesn’t know what to do with, which is how these sweeteners work, so it has to compensate for all the things it had released in anticipation of receiving sugar, which creates a pretty harsh yoyo rebound period metabolically.

the real problem as i see it is human nature :slight_smile: we think we can take crap food and replace the parts that are “bad for us” with these new chemical compounds without adding any nutrition and somehow the food will be better for us. we want to keep eating crap food because it tastes good, instead of just eating healthy. while that is a simplification, it is also the root of the problem.


Actually, Wubby, I’m not sure you’re on solid ground when you say that high consumption of sugar is liked to Type II diabetes. Being overweight seems to lead to insulin insensitivity and risk of diabetes, but eating a lot of crap might not. ALTHOUGH once you become diabetic, high consumption of sugars and starches lead to persistently elevated blood sugars. The American Diabetes Organization says

“Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: The answer is not so simple. Type 1 diabetes
is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger the onset of the
disease; type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors.
Being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2
diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to
weight gain. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to
type 2 diabetes. - See more at:”


I am afraid this is somewhat in disagreement with the structural formulas of the stevia glycosides. The sugar moiety does not contain the telltale five-member fructose ring. Can you please elaborate how it can be fructose-based?
Formula here. Formula of fructose here.

Same comes for the monkfruit-derived extract, the mogroside. While monkfruit itself contains significant amount of fructose, the sweetener is a purified mogroside extract. Mogroside, while being a glycoside, also does not contain fructose. Formula here.

Both are glycosides, something entirely different than monosaccharides.

The primary aglycones of both the main glycosides of stevia extract are bound to glucose, so it actually contains glucose. Too little, though - the sweetener itself can be used in 300 times less than the equivalent amount of sugar, plus it is only a fraction of the molecule, I am too lazy to calculate it by molecular weight but you can count atoms.

As of mogroside, the sugar part is some hexose; not sure from the stereochemistry if it is glucose or something else, if the hydroxyls go up and down in the right way or if it is just some isomer.

I took a look at some sweeteners from this list, and, from those that are not something like honey or other full-sugar thing, did not find any that would be fructose-based. Even the polyols are reduced forms of other-than-fructose sugars.


@shaddack you are correct the sweet compound in stevia is not fructose based.

i’d add to the conversation though, that most of the packets of powdered stevia are a mix of fructose (or a non-digestible sugar) and stevia though because, it is very difficult to crystallize and powder stevia’s glycosides on their own, and even if the did they are so potent at such a small volume that the dose would be difficult to regulate for desired sweetness, and people are used to adding one packet of a certain size to their coffee etc. Most of the powdered forms are bastardized products, not pure stevia.


Thanks. Makes more sense, then.

When all looks good according to the formulas, it’s always some additive that gets you.


Some of my post wasn’t directed at your comments (re: stevia/monkfruit) but at the article and peoples’ attitudes in general, where “natural” substances are treated with much less suspicion.

And I’m also quite aware of the role of the pancreas. The liver is not entirely out of the picture though.

Read up on the “dawn pheonomenon” and on the effects of alcohol consumption on blood glucose.

For that matter, I stopped playing competetitve FPSs because it raised my blood sugar. Cortisol and catecholamines wind up triggering glycogenolysis.