Are artificial sweeteners really that bad?

Kelsey Heckaman


Being a healthy consumer in America can be quite tricky these days. The grocery store can feel overwhelming. Reading through labels and deciphering ingredients might make one feel as if they need a degree in chemistry to understand what they are ingesting. Products marketed with zero sugar, zero calories can be eye catching and make us feel as if we are making the better choice compared to the alternative. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetically made sugar substitutes. Common artificial sweeteners include Aspartame, Sucralose, Acesulfame K, Cyclamate, Neotame and Saccharin.

Further research into artificial sweeteners has been taken. Mather et al. found that the use of artificial sweeteners causes the pancreas to release insulin which contributes to insulin resistance which then contributes to glucose elevations and diabetes. Our body releases insulin in response to what we eat and drink. When you drink a diet soda it does not directly raise your blood glucose level, but it does trick your body and make it believe a glucose rise is coming given the sweet substance you are drinking so your body releases insulin. As insulin levels rise this causes insulin resistance which then can lead to diabetes.

Another alarming association with artificial sweeteners is routine consumption of these products can increase your risk for cancer. A decade long research study in the UK analyzed the eating/ drinking habits of over 100,000 participants and found that those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners (main source was diet sodas) had an increased risk of breast cancer and obesity related cancers compared to those who did not.

Lastly, artificial sweeteners can disrupt your gut microbiome. Our microbiome should be in perfect harmony with a combination of good and bad bacteria all doing their jobs succinctly to promote digestion and a healthy metabolism. A healthy gut microbe is often overlooked but incredibly important for our overall health. Many chronic diseases have been linked to gut inflammation. It is hard for our gut to be in tip top shape if we are drinking artificial sweeteners on a regular basis.

I would encourage you, give a bit more thought to that diet soda, or that sugar free lemonade, crystal light, Gatorade zero, flavored water. Turn it around before you drink it and look at the ingredients, if you see an artificial sweetener listed take a second thought about the health risks before you consume it.

To schedule an appointment with Kelsey, call (574) 223-2020.

Editor's Note

Kelsey is a nurse practitioner at Woodlawn Health.
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