Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause an Insulin Spike?

The notion that artificial sweeteners (and sweet tastes in general) might produce an insulin response is one of those murky memes that winds itself around the blogs, but it’s never stated one way or the other with any sort of confidence. I briefly mentioned the possibility of non-caloric sweeteners influencing satiety hormones in last week’s diet soda post , and a number of you guys mentioned the same thing. Still, I’ve never seen unequivocal evidence that this is the case.

This whole idea first came to my attention some time ago when my dog Buddha got into a bottle of “alternative sleep assists” which contained, among other things, 5 HTP (version of l-tryptophan) and xylitol (sugar alcohol). Long story short, dogs can’t take xylitol because it causes a spike in insulin , which then severely depletes blood glucose. Buddha got past this with a trip to the vet’s at 10:30 Sunday night (thanks, Dr. Dean). But it occurred to me that the same effect might be seen in humans, which is why I pose the question today…

Do artificial sweeteners induce insulin secretion (perhaps via cephalic phase insulin release, which is sort of the body’s preemptive strike against foods that will require insulin to deal with)?

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One of the reasons a definitive answer is rarely given is that the question is improperly framed. Artificial sweeteners is not a monolithic entity. There are multiple types of sweeteners, all of them chemically distinct from each other. A more useful question would be “What effect does [specific artificial sweetener goes here] have on insulin?” So let’s go around the circle and ask.

Does aspartame (aka Equal and Nutrasweet) affect insulin?

Aspartame is pretty gross stuff, what with its awful taste and hordes of people who get terrible reactions from consuming it, but that’s not what we’re interested in today. Luckily, there is a good amount of research explaining what, if any, effect aspartame has on insulin secretion.

One study found that protein produced a significant insulin response, while aspartame had no effect on insulin levels .

Another also found that aspartame had no effect on the insulin response in humans, whether alone or combined with carbohydrates .

Another earlier study ( full PDF ) examined the effects of aspartame on prolactin, cortisol , growth hormone , insulin, and blood glucose levels and found it had none. The authors used the same amount of aspartame you’d find in a standard artificially-sweetened drink but were unable to record any significant hormonal alterations.

A study of forty-eight healthy volunteers found no evidence that aspartame has an effect on insulin levels .

Overall, the evidence seems to suggest little, if any, effect on insulin secretion as a result of tasting or consuming aspartame.

Does saccharin (aka Sweet’N Low) affect insulin?

Although saccharin has lingered in obscurity and consumer banishment (who ever really picks Sweet ‘n’ Low, anyway?) for most of the last couple decades (until recently when the EPA dubbed it safe for human consumption ), there is some research on its effects on insulin.

In one study, fasted human subjects swished around eight different taste solutions for 45 seconds, and then spat them out. No swallowing. Only the sucrose and saccharin solutions activated a cephalic phase insulin release .

On the other hand, another study using humans found the opposite: swishing and spitting sweet solutions (even caloric ones using sucrose) … Continue reading Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause an Insulin Spike?