Category: Brain Maker


Artificial Sweeteners Threaten Your Health

It seems self evident that consumption of sugar sweetened beverages would be associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes (T2D). And in fact, this has been demonstrated in multiple studies. This is understandable when you consider what a powerful slug of fructose is delivered by each can or bottle of this stuff.

So it is that the term, “sugar free” is being exploited to death by soft drink manufacturers because of the mistaken public perception that choosing artificially sweetened drinks would be a healthier choice. It is a mistaken perception as now we’re seeing studies that have demonstrated that the risk for T2D is also dramatically increased in individuals who choose not to drink sugar sweetened beverages, but opt for those that contain artificial sweeteners.

In a recent report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, French researchers evaluated more than 66,000 women over a 14 year period and found that those who favored sugar sweetened beverages did in fact have an increased risk of T2D, by about 34%. Incredibly, those choosing artificially sweetened drinks had a risk increase for T2D that was more than twice what that amount.

In trying to explain this seemingly paradoxical finding, the authors speculated that artificially sweetened beverages, because they don’t cause the body to secrete insulin, may therefore not stimulate the satiety response. This lack of appetite suppression may ultimately lead to increased calorie consumption in the form of other foods.

But now, other researchers may have identified a different mechanism relating consumption of artificial sweeteners and diabetes. Israeli researchers recently demonstrated that in both laboratory animals as well as humans, glucose intolerance (which sets the stage for full blown diabetes) is related to changes in the gut bacteria induced by artificial sweeteners. Consumption of these chemicals induces changes to the microbiome, the collection of microbes and their genetic material that live within our bodies.

Keep in mind that it is the microbiome that helps regulate all manner of metabolism within the human body having a key role in determining how we handle sugar and carbs, how many calories are extracted from our foods, and even whether we feel hungry or satisfied. Beyond these functions, our gut bacteria even play a pivotal role in the regulation of chemicals that affect our mood from one moment to the next – the neurotransmitters.

So in this context, my advice is to refrain from artificial sweeteners as they represent a clear and present threat to your delicate and life supporting gut bacteria.

In my new book, Brain Maker – The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, chlorinated water, method of birth, and even food choices are some of the many factors that I explore in terms of their effects on the microbiome and how these changes affect general health as well as brain health, for better or worse.

  • Emmalee

    What about Stevia with no erythritol added?

  • niobia

    does this apply to stevia as well?
    thank you.

    • Rachel Narramore Rounds

      Sunrider, Int. makes a stevia product that is actually a nutritional supplement and enhances the flavor of food, and even tastes good in water. It feeds the pancreas, and so it helps to balance the blood sugar. It helped me to quit sweets naturally!

      • Jon

        I’ve been using Sunrider’s Stevia for years – the original dark colored version. It is the best stevia BY FAR that I’ve ever tried. It works best, IMHO, when it can enhance the natural flavor that is present, but is not very sweet on it’s own. For example, a few drops of lemon and lime juice in water with one drop of this stevia is sweet and delicious without that strange, bitter taste many other brands of stevia have.

        • Emmalee

          Sounds great – do you have a website for the product Jon?

      • Emmalee

        Hi Rachel – is there a website for this?

    • David Perlmutter

      If someone must have a sweetener, Stevia is the option I recommend.

      • I’m OFF sugar, it’s cocaine to the brain. Use stevia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia AND Xylitol http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylitol – blood sugar, normal range. I’m a sugar addict. I did it!!! Char

        • Emmalee

          Good for you Char!!

      • Emmalee

        Thank you Dr. Perlmutter. Again – looking for it without erythritol makes a big difference (at least in me) because I have no heartburn.

      • Jan

        Hi David
        I was at the Research Symposium in Sydney and so enjoyed hearing you speak. So much information to help my patients, thank you.
        On this topic of sweeteners, what is your take on xylitol and erythritol?

        • David Perlmutter

          If someone must have a sweetener, I suggest Stevia.

  • Lynn Dell

    I have decided to go off of all artificial sweeteners, including stevia, for a while. It appears natural stevia has no known side effects. But it reminds me of eating sweet things, and I hope to change how I feel about eating, so that I crave sweetness less than I have. For breakfast I had about a 1/4 c. blueberries, in addition to some eggs and such. I was shocked at how sweet they tasted. It was almost decadent. That Israeli study you spoke of several posts back was quite impressive, when you track every step of what they did.

    • Nancy

      I agree. Before I cut out sugar, it took a LOT more sugar laden foods to satisfy my sweet tooth. Now, it only takes having a bite or two, and I feel like I’ve had plenty. My family laughs (not in a rude way) at how occasionally I might want a “taste” of some dessert. They ask “Don’t you want a whole piece?” I just tell them that “No, a taste is really enough.” As long as I limit my sugar intake to just a little periodically, it makes other foods taste better and I notice the sweetness in many other foods, when before I didn’t. Used to I could NEVER eat grapefruit without a generous sprinkling of sugar on top. Now, eating it plain is actually enjoyable!

      • Lynn Dell

        I made one exception for organic stevia today – 3 drops. My husband and I wanted to try a shake we heard Dr. Hyman recommend. It called for 1/2 of a whole lemon, including rind, frozen cranberries, and blueberries, in addition to some other healthful ingredients. It looked great, smelled great, but YEESH!!! It was SOUR! But drinkable, so we drank to our health. This morning, we only put in a quarter of a whole lemon per serving, and I added 3 drops of the stevia. Still a little sour, but much more tolerable! I don’t think that will set me on a binge for sweet things. Yikes, that first experience made the 85 per cent square of chocolate I had afterward taste sweet.

  • TechnoTriticale

    My first questions on seeing headlines of this sort are:
    What is considered an “artificial” sweetener?
    Which sweeteners correlated to which outcomes?

    As I’ve said before, perhaps in comments on this blog, the fattest people I know always have a diet pop in tow.

    What are they thinking?
    And I mean that flat out literally.

    Do they think a diet pop cancels out the donut they just ate?
    Do they think it’s the only thing they need to do for weight control?
    Is it part of a doomed effort to follow USDA guidelines?
    Is it merely their last symbolic tie to their old diet before they went LCHF grain free? (seriously doubtful)

    This study admitted that they considered none of this.

    The speculation about gut biome is interesting, and needs further research, but that’s at least 15 separate trials (which require extremely careful design), because the low GI natural, alternative and flat out artificial alternatives to glucose, sucrose and fructose are all VERY different.

    Avoiding diet pop (and real pop) is definitely wise until the answers are in. These beverages have other hazards even if the sweetener is stevia (as in Zevia).

    • Emmalee

      I have been a big stevia researcher. Zevia has erythritol so it is not sweetened just with stevia – I don’t drink it for that reason.

    • JustSaying

      You must be thin, probably without a lot of effort. You assume all fat people eat more donuts than thin people. They may or they may not. I have known a lot of slim people that are total junk food junkies. As for diet soda, I am sure that slim people drink them, too. It is like anything that anyone consumes, “the taste”, all people(fat or thin) tend to consume what tastes good to them. So, I believe that choosing to drink a diet soda has nothing to do with the lack of calories (although heavy drinkers may consider that a bonus), but more because the taste is preferred. I allow myself a soda 1-2 times a month, it is usually a diet Mt. Dew, because I like it the best of all sodas. And no, I am not obese.

      • TechnoTriticale

        > You must be thin, probably without a lot of effort.

        You assume too much. If I eat carbs, I gain weight. On LCHF grain-free, my weight has fallen to about what it was at age 21, and settled there. Eating carefully is all the effort it takes for me (and for most people, but not necessarily everyone).

        > You assume all fat people eat more donuts than thin people.

        You assume too much. I was asking, and not diagnosing. I have witnessed an obese co-worker chowing down on meeting room donuts while drinking a diet pop. What is he thinking, really?

        > So, I believe that choosing to drink a diet soda has nothing to do with the lack of calories …

        I don’t have any particular belief about why people drink it, that’s why I listed a number of conjectures as a series of questions. Any one of them might apply to different people, as might your “taste” observation. However, with our clueless Administration harping on calories, people who haven’t looked into nutrition are likely to assign too much importance to calories (and the FDA is about to make it even more prominent on packages, which is an unhelpful message).

        > I allow myself a soda 1-2 times a month, …

        I don’t. I figure I don’t really need:
        – whatever hazards the sweeteners present
        – the acid load
        – the caffeine (I get enough from coffee)
        – the artificial colors
        – the “natural flavoring” (an officially sanctioned weasel phrase for all sorts of nutritional mischief)
        – the Bpa in the can liner
        – perhaps some fluoride in the water used by the bottling plant
        – needless exposure to elemental aluminum if drinking directly from the can

  • Denise C

    I only use sweeteners (canderel, unfortunately I really don’t like stevia) 2-4 times per week on average. I’m not overweight and on a low carb diet. Does this still have negative effects on my health? Thanks!

    • Emmalee

      Denise – have you tried stevia without the erythritol? I got such horrible heartburn but did find a soda without – helpful to me.

  • Traci Wagner Griggs

    It’s unfortunate that people see “diet”and think it’s healthy! It’s best to drink water and add some flavor with cucumber and lemon or grapefruit and rosemary! Refreshing and good for you!

    • David Perlmutter

      Yes, being “diet” and being “healthful” are not one in the same.

  • Emmalee

    Of note – I did see a new Coke product out – sweetened with sugar and stevia. I am not endorsing Coke but they are moving out of the artificial sweeteners.

  • Terry

    What about using xylitol?

    • Eve-Loraine

      I use small amounts on xylitol occasionally.

  • rakboz

    What about monk fruit sweetener?

  • Mary

    Dr. Richard Bernstein says most artificial sweeteners also contain some sugar when sold in the small packets.
    Dr. Bernstein is an 80 year old Type 1 diabetic so he is very aware of the problem.
    How do they get away that? The FDA has made it possible.

  • Lawrence Prentiss

    what’s the deal with “Truvia”…?

  • Rita Garofano

    What do you use when you are allergic to Stevia? Any suggestions?

  • Spencer Owen

    It has to do with gaining weight. The extra weight/fat (especially abdominal fat) throws certain hormones out of balance, which can then lead to decreased or terminated insulin production because the pancreas is adversely affected by the imbalance of hormones. It has no direct correlation with sugar, fat, carbs, dairy, meat, grain, etc. that are consumed. If you eat too much and don’t exercise at all, you will most likely get fat… and fat contributes to heart disease and T2D… not artificial sweeteners, not sugar, not fatty foods.

    and please start differentiating between good fat and bad fat… there is a difference… vegetable oils are bad for you because they are not naturally created and usually contain trans fats, which are the worst kind, because they have to chemically alter forced extracts of vegetables (which do not naturally produce oils of any kind).

    While nut/seed oils (peanut, canola, safflower, coconut, etc) are better because they contain healthy amino acids and other fine nutrients… and are NATURAL, as opposed to needing to be chemically altered

  • MEG

    Dr. Perlmutter, Is this a factor in Type 1 or just T2D? My very lean, very active sister developed Type 1 at 60 after being a lifelong heavy user of artificial sweeteners.

  • susan henderson

    Never have used artificial sweetner, and knew, instinctively, they were poison to my body. The actual stevia plant steeped with tea is wonderful, but never liked it in the form of processed stevia. When I decided to adapt a ketogenic diet, a year ago, I threw all sugar products out and have not consumed them at all other than, the occasional, wild berries and that is only when I can find them. I stopped reading blogs that promote grain-free/paleo diets because of their skirting around the big issue with sugar. Honey is no better than table sugar because your pancreas knows no different. I am wondering what are they thinking. It’s harmful in any form to our brain/body. No halfway measures or compromising for me. I want to live a productive life, a life where I create my own destiny and turn off those harmful genes that I inherited.

  • Letha Fulmer

    Dr. Perlmutter, my name is Letha and I just recently saw you on television the 16th of August for the first time. I am amazed and in awe. I am grateful and have begun digging in to the knowledge and wisdom shared by you. It’s mind blowing. I believe I am learning this information for a reason. I and others are going to become healthy examples of your work put into motion. Praise God and I pray many blessings for you and your family.

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