Sweeteners, that were supposed to be the replacement of sugar, have evoked emotions ever since they were introduced to the market. On the one hand, their defenders claim that sweeteners give the possibility of having pleasant taste with impunity, on the other, the sceptics warn that calories-free sweetness is nothing good. They also add, that regular intake of such products may cause lowering physical fitness and... worsening body aesthetics! I have written about this matter in other articles at afterworkout.com, nevertheless, I would like to come back to this subject because of new information that seem to be intriguing.
A sweetener - meaning what?
We call sweeteners the substances that are artificially created to replace sugar. They are usually calorioes-free, and they are quite often cheaper than sugar (in reality natural substances can also be called sweeteners). You can include following substances to the sweeteners:
aspartame (the intake of this compound is the most controversial, yet it has been the best examined artificial sweetening substance when it comes to the influence on health),
Acesulfame potassium (comparing to aspartame one can have more objections, nevertheless, FDA and EFSA claim this sweetener is safe after thorough research),
cyclamates (under the influence of intestine bacteria a harmful substance, cyclohexylamine can be made - that is why the safe limit of its intake is set on a low level comparing to e.g. aspartame),
saccharins (research on rats has proved that this compound is definitely harmful, however research on humans did not confirm the negative influence on the human body),
sucralose (commonly known as "the safe aspartame replacement", has not been checked better than other sweeteners, and there has been controversy connected with its use, which is caused by the fact that it releases some amount of chloro-fructose and chloro-glucose).
Polyols, alcohols containing multiple hydroxyl groups, can also be considered as sweeteners. They have sweet taste, lower calorific content and other metabolism than saccharides such as saccharose, glucose or fructose. The above qualities cause that this compound is thought to be more "dietetic" than sugar. In the EU countries following polyols are used in the food industry:
The controversies connected with polyols mainly concern their influence on digestive track. Many people suffer from diarrhea, flatulence or stomach ache.
Steviosides, compounds of vegetable origin (from stevia), are also included into the sweeteners group. This substance is considered to be safe but not all the consumers accept the taste of products containing it.
There have been many discussions about unique qualities of tagatose. This sweetener is still not so popular. But it's possible that its popularity will increase in the nearest future. People who are interested in the matter of the influence of sweeteners on human body can read the following articles (some are in Polish):
The main idea of using calories-free and low-calorific sugar replacements is decreasing the amount of calories in eaten food and drinks. Practically speaking, there are many controversies connected with their influence on the body. The most common critical point of view states that the impression of sweet taste triggers a cascade of neurohormonal reactions in body similar to those occuring during eating sugar. Therefore, when we drink a glass of cola with aspartame, saccharinate, sucralose or Acesulfame potassium, the insulin (a hormone which is responsible for lowering the amount of sugar in blood by distributing it to tissues and organs) ejection is observed.
What is the process of insulin increase?
The stimulation of tastebuds is supposed to be its trigger. Following this way of thinking - when there is glucose in blood, insulin lowers its value to the physiological value, but when there is no additional sugar in the blood - insulin leads to hypoglycemia. The body has a problem and in order to even blood sugar there are compensation mechanisms, thanks to which we crave biscuits, chocolate or a chocolate bar. As a result, we eat more and... we put on weight.
The whole theory seems to be convincing and coherent. The problem is that there is no confirmation in research results. The influence of sugar replacements on the insulin system and appetite control has been checked many times. The research proves that the sweeteners neither cause insulin reaction, nor lead to hypoglycemia, nor cause appetite growth.
Knowing that it's easy to come to conclusion that artificial sweeteners do not influence negatively body mass and composition. However, not all the research is clear.
Is there a breakthrough in research?
The results of a research published in September 2014 in a prestigious science magazine - "Nature" throw interesting light on that matter. The scientists from the Weizmann Institute have fed mice with different sweeteners such as saccharine, aspartame and sucralose [Suez at all.]. It occurred that after 11 weeks there have been symptoms of lowering glucose tolerance (this effect was not noticed at mice which did not get the sweeteners). What's more interesting, when the animals were given not only artificial sweeteners but also an antibiotic influencing the condition of intestine microflora, the insulin-glucose system disruption did not develop. The situation changed when the animals after antibiotic therapy got the microflora of the lowered glucose tolerance animals - only then they started to show the symptoms of metabolic disorder. According to the authors of this research, it clearly shows the negative influence of the sweeteners on the intestine microflora and this way their disruption of the functioning of the insulin-glucose system.
The comment of the research results
The upper results seem to be intriguing, the research itself was designed in an interesting way, however its fault is that only animals took part in it. Therefore, it's hard to state conclusions and assume that the effect would be the same with people. But as an interesting fact, it has to be added that this dependency has been checked in a small clinical examination with seven healthy volunteers who did not use any sweeteners on the everyday basis. The volunteers got maximum safe daily dose (so-called ADI) of sweeteners. After this time it occurred that four people were diagnosed with the symptoms of glucose tolerance disorder. Three people have noticed no change. It suggests that the matter of a possible sensibility of intestine ecosystem on the artificial sweetening substances may be individual.
Although there has been a lot of research showing that the sweeteners intake does not influence negatively body mass and composition, it occurs that this aspect may be individual. The recently published data suggest that artificial sweeteners may influence negatively intestine microflora, what influences glucose tolerance. This aspect needs wider research, however it can be stated that being so enthusiastic about sweeteners may be premature.