Artificial Sweeteners May Be Worse than Sugar for Diabetics

Story at-a-glance -

  • Diet foods and drinks are widely promoted to help you lose weight but mounting evidence shows aspartame actually makes you fatter, increases dangerous visceral fat deposits, and adversely affects your blood glucose levels and worsens insulin sensitivity
  • The classic study conducted by the American Cancer Society 25 years ago of 80,000 women, which showed those who consumed diet sodas gained more weight than those that consumed regular sodas, is routinely ignored. Newer studies have also supported this early finding.
  • Recent animal research also shows exposure to aspartame in utero has a detrimental effect on learning and memory. Excitotoxins like aspartate and MSG have also been implicated in worsening fibromyalgia and irritable bowel symptoms
  • If you suspect an artificial sweetener might be to blame for a symptom you're having, a good way to help you weed out the culprit is to do an elimination challenge. Guidelines are included.

By Dr. Mercola

Diet foods and drinks are promoted to help you lose weight but compelling evidence shows that artificial sweeteners like aspartame cause weight gain rather than weight loss. That's right, aspartame―which was once hailed as a wonder chemical because it tastes like sugar without the calories―actually makes you fatter, and adversely affects your blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.

Studies Repeatedly Find Aspartame Causes Weight Gain

The fact that aspartame is NOT a dieter's best friend has been known by scientists for some time. The problem is this news has not received the necessary traction in the media. For example, a study from 19861, which included nearly 80,000 women, found that those who used artificial sweeteners were significantly more likely than non-users to gain weight over time, regardless of initial weight. According to the authors, the results "were not explicable by differences in food consumption patterns," and concluded that:

" The data do not support the hypothesis that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain."

Another more recent study with the telling title of Gain Weight by "Going Diet?" Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings, published in 20102, found that epidemiologic data suggest artificially sweetened foods and beverages do not reduce weight. Quite the contrary:


"Several large scale prospective cohort studies found positive correlation between artificial sweetener use and weight gain. The San Antonio Heart Study examined 3,682 adults over a seven- to eight-year period in the 1980s.

When matched for initial body mass index (BMI), gender, ethnicity, and diet, drinkers of artificially sweetened beverages consistently had higher BMIs at the follow-up, with dose dependence on the amount of consumption... Saccharin use was also associated with eight-year weight gain in 31,940 women from the Nurses' Health Study conducted in the 1970s.

Similar observations have been reported in children.

A two-year prospective study involving 166 school children found that increased diet soda consumption was associated with higher BMI Z-scores at follow-up, indicating weight gain. The Growing Up Today Study, involving 11,654 children aged 9 to 14 also reported positive association between diet soda and weight gain for boys. For each daily serving of diet beverage, BMI increased by 0.16 kg/m2... A cross-sectional study looking at 3,111 children and youth found diet soda drinkers had significantly elevated BMI."

Study Finds Aspartame Worsens Insulin Sensitivity

A recent study published in PLoS One3 found that chronic lifetime exposure to aspartame, commencing in utero, produces changes in blood glucose parameters and adversely impacts spatial learning and memory in mice.

The study, which was published in April, is a blow against claims that aspartame is an ideal sugar substitute for diabetics. The researchers used a dosage of aspartame that approximates the ADI for aspartame in the US (approx. 50 mg/kg body weight), and not only was aspartame found to decrease insulin sensitivity compared to controls, it also wrought havoc on brain function.

As I've mentioned on countless occasions, optimizing your insulin sensitivity is key for optimal health, as insulin resistance is a hallmark of virtually every chronic disease you can think of, but especially type 2 diabetes. Now, contrary to popular belief, aspartame is being revealed as a substance that actually decreases or worsens insulin sensitivity, which is the complete opposite of what you want—especially if you're already pre-diabetic or diabetic!

According to the authors:

"At 17 weeks of age, male aspartame-fed mice exhibited weight gain, elevated fasting glucose levels and decreased insulin sensitivity compared to controls. Females were less affected, but had significantly raised fasting glucose levels.

During spatial learning trials in the MWM (acquisition training), the escape latencies of male aspartame-fed mice were consistently higher than controls, indicative of learning impairment... Interestingly, the extent of visceral fat deposition correlated positively with non-spatial search strategies such as floating and thigmotaxis, and negatively with time spent in the target quadrant and swimming across the location of the escape platform.

These data suggest that lifetime exposure to aspartame, commencing in utero, may affect spatial cognition and glucose homeostasis in C57BL/6J mice, particularly in males."

Male mice fed aspartame experienced significantly higher weight gain compared to the control group, whereas female weight gain was unaffected by the aspartame diet compared to controls. Still, deposits of visceral fat—those dangerous fat deposits around internal organs, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease in humans—increased in aspartame-fed mice of both sexes.

Aspartame-fed mice of both sexes also had elevated fasting blood glucose levels compared to non-consumers of aspartame, although the male mice experienced higher elevations than the females.

According to the authors:

"A random-fed insulin tolerance test administered at 19 weeks of age showed that glucose levels in male aspartame-fed mice were 120.2 percent higher than control mice following insulin challenge and remained significantly elevated above controls for up to 30 minutes, suggesting impairment of glucose and insulin regulation. The mean Area Under the Curve (AUC) in male aspartame-fed mice was significantly higher than control, suggesting deregulation of glucose homeostasis.

... Collectively these data indicate that aspartame treatment affects... weight gain... visceral fat deposition and glucose homeostasis particularly in males..." [Emphasis mine]

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Surprise: Aspartame Raises Insulin Levels as Much as Sugar

Another study published in 2007 in the journal Diabetes Care4 found similar results. Here, the researchers investigated the effect of different macronutrient compositions on plasma glucose and insulin levels during an acute bout of exercise in men with type 2 diabetes. They compared the subjects in five different conditions:

  1. high–glycemic index sucrose meal (455 kcal)
  2. low–glycemic index fructose meal (455 kcal)
  3. aspartame meal (358 kcal)
  4. high-fat/low-carbohydrate meal (455 kcal)
  5. fasting

They hypothesized that using fructose or aspartame would have a lower impact on insulin release and glucose response than a sucrose-sweetened meal. Those of you who have been reading my articles featuring experts on sugar and fructose like Dr. Richard Johnson and Dr. Robert Lustig will immediately recognize this as a fatally flawed hypothesis. And indeed, that is what they discovered as well. According to the authors:

"Contrary to all expectation, the aspartame breakfast induced a similar rise in glucose and insulin levels at baseline than the sucrose meal, even if the aspartame meal had the same taste, and was 22 percent lower in calories and 10 percent lower in carbohydrates, with an inferior glycemic index.

... Considering the lack of evidence on the aspartame utilization in patients with type 2 diabetes, we consider that these clinical observations, in an exercise setting, raise important concerns regarding the safety of aspartame as suggested by international guidelines."

European Food Safety Authority to Re-Evaluate Aspartame

In related news, the European Commission (EC) has asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to speed up the full re-evaluation of aspartame (approved in Europe under the designation E951)5. Previously planned to be re-evaluated by 2020, the EC is now asking for the review of aspartame to be initiated this year.

According to a notice by EFSA:

"In the course of its scientific deliberations, the Panel found that there were too little data available on 5-benzyl-3,6-dioxo-2-piperazine acetic acid (DKP) and other potential degradation products that can be formed from aspartame in food and beverages when stored under certain conditions. EFSA is therefore launching an additional call for data on DKP and other degradation products of aspartame."

Aspartame's three components are phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent), and methanol (10 percent). When aspartame is exposed to heat or prolonged storage, it breaks down into metabolites. One of these breakdown products is Diketopiperazine (DKP), a toxic metabolite that is not usually found in our diet. The effects of these different metabolites are unknown.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the EFSA re-evaluation will find out about these metabolites, but regardless, it stands to reason that anything not normally found in actual food is probably not suitable to eat if you're interested in maintaining optimal health... After all, the human body is designed to run on nutrients, not foreign chemicals.

Good News, Aspartame Sales Going DOWN

Fortunately, awareness of the dangers of aspartame is beginning to spread. According to a recent report by, global sales of aspartame decreased significantly during the first quarter of Ajinomoto's financial year6.


Retraining Your Taste Buds is Necessary if You Want Good Health

The idea that you can have your sweets without paying the price of excess weight and related health problems is a persistent one, but it's not one we're likely to solve anytime soon. Still, beverage manufacturers like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are hard at work searching for the magic ingredient that will quench your thirst for sugary sweetness without the extra calories.


As reported by SeattlePi.com7, increasing awareness of the harmful effects of both high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners has soda makers searching high and low for new naturally occurring sweeteners. Some extracts currently under consideration include stevia, monk fruit, and miracle fruit.

Whether or not any of them will actually be able to let you have your soda without suffering negative consequences remains to be seen. I highly doubt it. But one thing is for certain, and that is that artificial sweeteners have completely failed in this regard. The evidence showing that artificial sweeteners actually worsen the conditions it's supposed to ameliorate—primarily obesity and diabetes—is quite overwhelming, and since its approval aspartame has been linked to all sorts of health problems. The following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame:

Brain tumors Multiple sclerosis Epilepsy
Chronic fatigue syndrome Parkinson's disease Alzheimer's disease
Lymphoma Fibromyalgia Diabetes

Aspartame and MSG Implicated in Worsening Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Symptoms

Another recent study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology8 reveals a potential link between aspartame and conditions such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Both monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartate—one of the main ingredients in aspartame—are considered "excitotoxic," meaning they can excite brain neurons to the point of death.

According to the authors:

"Fifty-seven fibromyalgia patients who also had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were placed on a 4-week diet that excluded dietary additive excitotoxins including MSG and aspartame. Thirty-seven people completed the diet and 84 percent of those reported that >30% of their symptoms resolved, thus making them eligible to proceed to challenges. Subjects who improved on the diet were then randomised to a 2-week double-blind placebo-controlled crossover challenge with MSG or placebo for 3 consecutive days each week.

... The MSG challenge, as compared to placebo, resulted in a significant return of symptoms; a worsening of fibromyalgia severity... decreased quality of life in regards to IBS symptoms... and a non-significant trend toward worsening fibromyalgia pain based on visual analogue scale.  These findings suggest that dietary glutamate may be contributing to fibromyalgia symptoms in some patients. Future research on the role of dietary excitotoxins in fibromyalgia is warranted."

Are Your Health Problems Related to Artificial Sweeteners?

Many people belatedly realize they've been suffering reactions to one artificial sweetener or another. If you suspect an artificial sweetener might be to blame for a symptom you're having, a good way to help you weed out the culprit is to do an elimination challenge. It's easy to do, but you must read the ingredient labels for everything you put in your mouth to make sure you're avoiding ALL artificial sweeteners.

To determine if you're having a reaction to artificial sweeteners, take the following steps:

  • Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
  • After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce your artificial sweetener of choice in a significant quantity (about three servings daily). Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
  • Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
  • If you don't notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it's a safe bet you're able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run.
  • If you've been consuming more than one type of artificial sweetener, you can repeat steps 2 through 4 with the next one on your list.

Let me make it abundantly clear that even though you may not show immediate signs of any noticeable reaction after consuming artificial sweeteners, please don't make the mistake of telling yourself "they must be OK for me". I strongly urge you to avoid them at all costs. They are toxic to all humans and will not help you in any way, shape, or form. 

Also, if you do experience side effects from aspartame, please report it to the FDA (if you live in the United States) without delay. It's easy to make a report—just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call reporting your reaction. There's no telling just how many reports they might need to receive before taking another look at aspartame's safety and reconsidering their stance. But I CAN tell you, the more reports they get, the more likely that is to happen. So if you suspect you have experienced an adverse reaction from aspartame (or any other drug or food additive), please take a moment to make this important call.

Are there ANY Safe and Healthy Alternatives to Sugar?

The best strategy is to lower your use of sugar and eat right for your nutritional type  and use the right fuel for your genetics and biochemistry making sure you have enough high quality fats. Once your body has the proper fuel, your sweet cravings will radically diminish and you will be satisfied without them.  If you still have cravings it is a strong suggestion you need to further refine your attempt to identify the right fuel for your body.

If you need a sweetener you could use stevia or Lo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. Remember, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.

If you're having trouble weaning yourself off soda, try Turbo Tapping. Turbo Tapping is a clever use of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), specifically designed to resolve many aspects of an addiction in a concentrated period of time.