Replacing sugar with aspartame could increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a Canadian study.
Scientists at York University found that while switching to artificial sweeteners can help obese people lose weight, the gut can break down sweeteners and this leads to negative health effects.
The study involved an analysis of data from 2,856 adults who took part in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Participants were asked to report their diet over the past 24 hours and had their type 2 diabetes risk measured using an oral glucose tolerance test. None of the participants were taking any medication for diabetes at the beginning of the study.
They were then classified either as consumers of artificial sweeteners (saccharin or aspartame), or high or low consumers of natural sugars (fructose or sugar).
The researchers found that intake of aspartame significantly steepened the association between Body Mass Index (BMI) and glucose tolerance. Being obese can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, which develops when blood sugar levels are too high.
Lead author Professor Jennifer Kuk explained: “Our study shows that individuals with obesity who consume artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartamen, may have worse glucose management than those who don’t take sugar substitutes. We didn’t find this adverse effect in those consuming saccharin or natural sugars.”
Kuk added that more research is required to better understand how artificial sweeteners affect the diabetes risk of people with obesity.
“We will need to do future studies to determine whether any potentially negative health effects of artificial sweeteners outweigh the benefits for obesity reductio,” said Kuk.
The findings appear in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

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