Using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar could increase the risk of diabetes in just two weeks, new research suggests.
The study shows that the supplements can change the body’s response to glucose, heightening the risk of the condition which is suffered by almost 4 million Britons.
Previous studies have linked high intake of sweeteners to a greater risk of diabetes,
The new research, presented at a conference in Lisbon, investigated the mechanisms behind the association.
This study, led by the Adelaide Medical School in Australia, involved 27 healthy people who were either given sweeteners – the equivalent of 1.5 liters of diet drink, or an inactive placebo.
At the end of two weeks, tests were carried out examining levels of glucose absorption, blood glucose, insulin and gut peptides.
The team found that those given supplements such as sucralose – which is commonly marketed as Splenda – saw a heightened response across all fronts.
None of these measures were altered in the volunteers who were given a placebo.
The study determined that just two weeks of sweeteners was enough to make a difference.
Lead author Prof Richard Young said: “This study supports the concept that artificial sweeteners could reduce the body’s control of blood sugar levels and highlights the potential for exaggerated post-meal glucose levels in high habitual NAS [noncaloric artificial sweeteners] users, which could predispose them to develop type 2 diabetes.”
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Lisbon, Portugal.
Previous research has suggested that other artificial sweeteners, particularly saccharin, change the bacteria that normally live in the gut and help to digest nutrients.
These changes could reduce the body’s ability to deal with sugar, leading to glucose intolerance, which can be an early warning sign of type two diabetes.
But human studies have been limited, with many of the trials carried out in mice.
A separate study presented at the same conference found that female diabetics consuming more caffeine were far less likely to die prematurely.
The research on women with diabetes found those who consumed up to two cups of coffee a day had a 57 per cent lower risk of death compared with non-consumers, and for those consuming more than two cups the reduced risk of death was 66 per cent.
But no beneficial effect of caffeine consumption was noted in men with diabetes.
The study tracked more than 3,000 men and women with diabetes for 11 years, during which time 618 participants died. The observational study led by the University of Porto could not explain why caffeine appeared to have a protective effect.
Emma Elvin, the clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, said: “This is a small study with interesting results, but it doesn’t provide strong evidence that artificial sweeteners increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. We need to see the results of larger trials testing in settings more true to real life before we’ll know more.
“Consuming lots of sugary foods and drinks is very damaging to overall health and can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. We would advise people to reduce their intakes of sugar, and artificial sweeteners could be an option to help some people achieve this.”