In 2014, a Weizmann Institute study in mice had shown that some non-nutritive sweeteners might actually be contributing to changes in sugar metabolism that they are meant to prevent. In the new trial, Prof. Eran Elinav (Weizmann’s Systems Immunology Department) and a team of researchers screened nearly 1,400 potential participants, selecting 120 who were found to strictly avoid any artificially sweetened foods or drinks.
The volunteers were then divided into six groups. Participants in four of the groups were handed sachets of common non-nutritive sweeteners, containing amounts that were lower than the acceptable daily intake, one sweetener per group: saccharin, sucralose, aspartame or stevia. The two other groups served as controls.
“Our trial has shown that non-nutritive sweeteners may impair glucose responses by altering our microbiome, and they do so in a highly personalized manner, that is, by affecting each person in a unique way,” Elinav says. “In fact, this variability was to be expected, because of the unique composition of each person’s microbiome.”
Adds Elinav: “The health implications of the changes that non-nutritive sweeteners may elicit in humans remain to be determined, and they merit new, long-term studies. In the meantime, it’s important to stress that our findings do not imply in any way that sugar consumption, shown to be deleterious to human health in many studies, is superior to non-nutritive sweeteners.”