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Could Artificial Sweeteners And Diet Soda Also Lead To Diabetes?

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Does zero calories necessarily mean zero increase in diabetes risk? (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Artificial sweeteners may&nbsp;have&nbsp;zero calories, but do they offer zero additional risk for developing diabetes? Well,&nbsp;if you attended a presentation at the Experimental Biology 2018 conference in San Diego, you may say, rats, the risk may be far from zero.

To be fair, nothing has zero health risk. Even though eating broccoli in general is quite healthy, you could still bludgeon yourself with broccoli, and eating huge amounts of broccoli could lead to obesity as well as some serious gas and loss of friends. However, the main advertised benefit of artificial sweeteners, such as those in diet soda, is that&nbsp;they don’t contain the calories and the accompanying obesity, diabetes, and other health-related risks of&nbsp;sugar.

The study presented by Brian Hoffmann, George Ronan, and&nbsp;Dhanush Haspula&nbsp;from&nbsp;the Medical College of Wisconsin suggested that things may not be that sweet for artificial sweeteners. They did a combination of in vitro (which essential means inside a test tube or similar equipment) and in vivo (meaning in a live animal) experiments using&nbsp;rats that were specially designed to be more&nbsp;susceptible to developing diabetes. For the in vitro experiments, the research team placed cells from the inside lining of the rats’ small blood vessels into test tubes and exposed these cells to either sugar or a common artificial sweetener. Why the inside lining of blood vessels? Well, one of the effects of diabetes is to cause damage to small blood vessels, which then results in many of the complications of diabetes such as loss of eyesight, kidney function, and blood circulation to various parts of the body.

The in vitro experiments found that both sugars and artificial sweeteners interfered with glycosylation, a key step in which sugars are added to proteins that then affects how the proteins function. Therefore, messing up glycosylation could affect a number of functions that&nbsp;various proteins perform in the cells. The&nbsp;research team did find that sugar and artificial sweeteners seemed to affect the expression different genes differently, which implies that the way that they affect glycosylation may be different. Nonetheless, the fact that both disrupt this key biochemical process&nbsp;raises concerns.

The second in vivo part of the study involved dividing rats into&nbsp;separate groups and feeding each group high doses of either a sugar (glucose or fructose)&nbsp;or an artificial sweetener (aspartame or acesulfame potassium)&nbsp;for 3 weeks. They then took blood samples from the rats and found that both sugar and artificial sweeteners affected the concentrations of fat, amino acids, and other biochemicals in their blood. In other words, in just 3 weeks, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seemed to be disrupting the way fats and proteins were being processed.

In a press release, Hoffmann said, “Despite the addition of these non-caloric artificial sweeteners to our everyday diets, there has still been a drastic rise in obesity and diabetes. In our studies, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seem to exhibit negative effects linked to obesity and diabetes, albeit through very different mechanisms from each other.”

Of course, this was a presentation at a scientific meeting rather than a peer-reviewed publication in a scientific journal. So we’ll have to wait until&nbsp;a subsequent&nbsp;publication (assuming that it makes it through the scientific peer-review process for a respectable journal) provides more details about the experiments and results before more rigorously evaluating how well the study was done. Also, as I have said before, there are humans&nbsp;who are rats. But rats are not humans. What happens in a rat may stay in a rat. Meaning that humans may handle artificial sweeteners differently. Moreover, the study showed changes that may be related to eventually developing diabetes but did not yet prove that the rats would develop diabetes. Running the experiment for longer periods of time&nbsp;may help offer better proof.

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Does zero calories necessarily mean zero increase in diabetes risk? (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Artificial sweeteners may have zero calories, but do they offer zero additional risk for developing diabetes? Well, if you attended a presentation at the Experimental Biology 2018 conference in San Diego, you may say, rats, the risk may be far from zero.

To be fair, nothing has zero health risk. Even though eating broccoli in general is quite healthy, you could still bludgeon yourself with broccoli, and eating huge amounts of broccoli could lead to obesity as well as some serious gas and loss of friends. However, the main advertised benefit of artificial sweeteners, such as those in diet soda, is that they don’t contain the calories and the accompanying obesity, diabetes, and other health-related risks of sugar.

The study presented by Brian Hoffmann, George Ronan, and Dhanush Haspula from the Medical College of Wisconsin suggested that things may not be that sweet for artificial sweeteners. They did a combination of in vitro (which essential means inside a test tube or similar equipment) and in vivo (meaning in a live animal) experiments using rats that were specially designed to be more susceptible to developing diabetes. For the in vitro experiments, the research team placed cells from the inside lining of the rats’ small blood vessels into test tubes and exposed these cells to either sugar or a common artificial sweetener. Why the inside lining of blood vessels? Well, one of the effects of diabetes is to cause damage to small blood vessels, which then results in many of the complications of diabetes such as loss of eyesight, kidney function, and blood circulation to various parts of the body.

The in vitro experiments found that both sugars and artificial sweeteners interfered with glycosylation, a key step in which sugars are added to proteins that then affects how the proteins function. Therefore, messing up glycosylation could affect a number of functions that various proteins perform in the cells. The research team did find that sugar and artificial sweeteners seemed to affect the expression different genes differently, which implies that the way that they affect glycosylation may be different. Nonetheless, the fact that both disrupt this key biochemical process raises concerns.

The second in vivo part of the study involved dividing rats into separate groups and feeding each group high doses of either a sugar (glucose or fructose) or an artificial sweetener (aspartame or acesulfame potassium) for 3 weeks. They then took blood samples from the rats and found that both sugar and artificial sweeteners affected the concentrations of fat, amino acids, and other biochemicals in their blood. In other words, in just 3 weeks, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seemed to be disrupting the way fats and proteins were being processed.

In a press release, Hoffmann said, “Despite the addition of these non-caloric artificial sweeteners to our everyday diets, there has still been a drastic rise in obesity and diabetes. In our studies, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seem to exhibit negative effects linked to obesity and diabetes, albeit through very different mechanisms from each other.”

Of course, this was a presentation at a scientific meeting rather than a peer-reviewed publication in a scientific journal. So we’ll have to wait until a subsequent publication (assuming that it makes it through the scientific peer-review process for a respectable journal) provides more details about the experiments and results before more rigorously evaluating how well the study was done. Also, as I have said before, there are humans who are rats. But rats are not humans. What happens in a rat may stay in a rat. Meaning that humans may handle artificial sweeteners differently. Moreover, the study showed changes that may be related to eventually developing diabetes but did not yet prove that the rats would develop diabetes. Running the experiment for longer periods of time may help offer better proof.

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