are artificial sweeteners bad for you




Manufacturers of artificial sweeteners would like us to think that they’ve discovered the perfect loophole for enjoying the sweetness of sugar without any of its health risks. As we’ve covered in previous articles, though, nothing could be further from the truth.

The first commercially available artificial sweetener, saccharin, was shown to cause cancer in rats.[1] It was banned as a food additive in 1981, but then deemed not hazardous to humans and unbanned in 2001.[2] It’s worth noting that in these later vindicating studies, researchers do not rule out the carcinogenicity of saccharin; they merely claim that large quantities need to be consumed in order to cause cancer in humans.

Aspartame hit the market next, but it was found to be so toxic that it’s commercial release was delayed for over a decade. Despite its current widespread distribution and use as an artificial sweetener, studies continue to demonstrate that aspartame induces oxidative stress, damages cell membrane integrity, deregulates cellular function, and leads to systemic inflammation.[3]

You’d think that over time, manufacturers would get better at making safer sweeteners, but sucralose seems to be even worse than its predecessors. Studies have linked its consumption to leukemia,[4] severe bowel and kidney issues,[5] cancer and other toxicity-induced cell disorders,[6] neurotoxicity,[7] thyroid dysfunction,[8] and many other health problems.

But at least artificial sweeteners are safe for diabetics and help you lose weight, right? On the contrary, studies have demonstrated that consuming artificial sweeteners can be just as harmful as sugar (if not worse) in these scenarios. One study even found that people who consume artificial sweeteners are up to 67% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.[9]

Why artificial sweeteners are so disruptive

Researchers are fascinated by what makes artificial sweeteners such risky substances. The states that they trigger—systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, cellular dysfunction—are primary indicators of disruption on a fundamental level. Perhaps one of the only reasons they’re still deemed “not hazardous to human health” is because it can take a long time for these fundamental markers of imbalance to tip over into full-blown disease—so manufacturers can still get away with calling their products “non-toxic.”

Ever since they first began studying artificial sweeteners, researchers have searched for a specific metric for discussing their disruptive effect—some sort of mechanism that could underly all the markers of imbalance mentioned above. A new study has provided a suitable answer by demonstrating that artificial sweeteners are toxic to beneficial gut microbes.

Microbiome dysregulation can easily lead to primary imbalances like inflammation and excessive oxidative stress. By viewing it as a mechanism through which artificial sweeteners exert harmful effects on the body, we can more precisely understand the toxicity of these substances.

The study in question used a modified form of bioluminescent bacteria that literally glows when exposed to substances above a certain level of toxicity. They exposed the bacteria to aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k, as well as ten different sport supplements containing these artificial sweeteners. In all cases, the bacteria “became toxic” with a mere 1 mg/ml concentration of artificial sweetener.[10]

The researchers believe their results provide “further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity, which can cause a wide range of health issues.” They hope these findings help us understand “the relative toxicity of artificial sweeteners and the potential of negative effects on the gut microbial community as well as the environment.”[11]

There’s no good reason to use artificial sweeteners

The action steps for protecting yourself and your microbiome should be pretty clear in this case: just stop consuming artificial sweeteners. They are toxic substances with well-documented risks and no advantages whatsoever over conventional sugar.

Even if conservative estimates about their toxicity are correct (meaning that you’d have to consume a very large quantity to be at risk of negative health effects like cancer), the bioaccumulation of toxins over time can still pose a danger. Why take the risk? The study cited above demonstrates that consuming these sweeteners can compromise the integrity of the microbiome long before the development of more severe associated diseases.

There are far healthier sweetener choices anyway. Honey is a perfect example, and just might be nature’s perfect sweetener. Stevia is another safe alternative, though evidence suggests that it should still be used in moderation.

The best approach, however, is to break your addiction to sweet substances altogether—using any sugar substitute doesn’t address this inherent dependency issue. Remember that finding overall balance with your dietary habits is as important as the specific foods and substances that make up your diet.

Regardless of how you choose to find balance, though, do your best to minimize artificial sweetener consumption; your gut flora will thank you.



[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637197/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185898

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28938797

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27078173

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2210518

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10882819

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24699280

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28040879

[9] https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q3/prof-diet-drinks-are-not-the-sweet-solution-to-fight-obesity,-health-problems.html

[10] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181001101932.htm

[11] Ibid.

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Approximately one fifth of the American population consumes diet soda on a daily basis.[1] The majority of individuals do so under the assumption that diet soda is significantly healthier than its sugary counterparts.

This is certainly the story that soft drink manufacturers have fed to us—but a growing body of research demonstrates that it’s a bald-faced lie.

As the lie of sugar’s healthfulness became more and more difficult to maintain, manufacturers turned to artificial sweeteners (despite early research that revealed the dangers of this laboratory chemicals from the very beginning).

The calorie-free nature of these chemicals is also a powerful leverage point, which allows companies to advertise diet soda as an ideal way to lose weight while protecting yourself against the dangers of conventional sugar.

This claim holds less and less water with every new study that’s published, but diet soda makers continue to whitewash their products nonetheless. Meanwhile, an increasing number of leading health experts warn that limiting artificial sweetener consumption may be just as important for your health as limiting sugar consumption.

Saccharin (the first artificial sweetener to hit the market) was found to cause cancer in animals not long after its commercial release

Diet soda myths

There’s a number of persistent myths out there about diet soda…let’s put them to rest.

Artificial sweeteners are safe and non-toxic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Saccharin (the first artificial sweetener to hit the market) was found to cause cancer in animals not long after its commercial release, aspartame was found to be so toxic that its release was delayed by nearly a decade, and sucralose (the newest artificial sweetener on the block) can lead to leukemia,[2] severe bowel and kidney issues,[3] cancer and systemic toxicity,[4] neurotoxicity,[5] inhibited thyroid function,[6] and many other conditions.

Yet more research has shown that daily consumption of diet soda is linked with an increased risk of depression (even more so than drinking regular soda),[7] that long-term diet soda consumption is linked with kidney dysfunction, that diet soda drinkers are more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke,[8] and that drinking diet soda increases the risk of developing asthma and other respiratory problems (the more you drink, the higher the risk).[9]

Daily consumption of diet soda is linked with an increased risk of depression

And shockingly, that still only scratches the surface of the dangers these chemicals carry. While they’re all pretty nasty, aspartame in particular has been linked with a dizzying list of side effects and health conditions, including memory loss, hearing loss, visual problems, fibromyalgia, weight gain (more on that in a bit), multiple sclerosis, fatigue, birth defects, lymphoma and other cancers, ADHD, Parkinson’s, and more (in addition to the health issues mentioned above).[10]

Diet soda DON’T help you lose weight. Artificial sweeteners may carry the dangers presented above, but at least they’re more waistline-friendly than sugar, right? Wrong.

According to researchers, the intense sweetness of artificial sweeteners profoundly confuses the body and drives metabolic systems haywire. Hormone responses that normally signal hunger and satiety are upset, and thus diet soda drinkers tend to overeat.

It’s clear that the way to lose weight is to change the fundamental habits that led to the excess weight to begin with, not simply to replace sugar with something equally sweet, addictive, and unhealthful.

Diet soda is NOT safe for diabetics. Artificial sweeteners in diet soda may not spike blood sugar levels, but this absolutely does not mean that they’re safe for diabetics. As mentioned above, these chemicals wreck just as much havoc on metabolism as sugar (if not more).

Artificial sweeteners still trigger insulin in a way that causes your body to switch into fat storage mode, which leads to weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

One study actually found that people who consume artificial sweeteners are 36% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome (the precursor to diabetes) and 67% more likely to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes.[11]

Just say no

You’d think that, with all of the overwhelming evidence against diet soda and artificial sweeteners in general, people would stopped consuming it by now. In fact, there’s more than enough data to warrant banning them from commercial distribution (more than one team of lawyers has certainly tried to do so).

There’s more than enough data to warrant banning artificial sweeteners from commercial distribution

But the propaganda of soft drink manufacturing giants is strong—Coca-Cola is arguably one of the most widely distributed and universally recognized brands in the world. And the legal teams behind these companies appear to be just as entrenched; an artificial sweetener ban doesn’t seem like it will happen anytime soon.

The responsibility therefore falls on us to remove these toxic beverages from our lives. As is probably obvious from the discussion above, they’re just not worth whatever enjoyment they provide—and they’re certainly not a weight loss or diabetes-friendly solution.

If the thought of exiling fizzy, sweet beverages from your diet is unbearable, know that there are other options. Making your own sparkling water (with a Soda Stream or similar device) and then adding plant-derived flavorings is a great alternative, and kombucha is even better (thanks to its probiotic content).



[1] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db109.htm

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27078173

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2210518

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10882819

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24699280

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28040879

[7] http://www.newswise.com/ee/blog/entry/diet-soda-linked-to-depression-coffee-tied-to-lower-risk/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22282311

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22142454

[10] http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/03/jan03/012203/02p-0317_emc-000199.txt

[11] https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q3/prof-diet-drinks-are-not-the-sweet-solution-to-fight-obesity,-health-problems.html

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