Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Insulin Secretion?

Question:

Dr Clay,

Do artificial sweeteners cause insulin spikes? Like those found in sugar free energy drinks?

Thanks!

Matt

Answer:

That’s a very good question, Matt.

First let’s clarify that when we say artificial sweetener we’re talking about:

  • sucralose (brand name Splenda)
  • saccharin (brand name Sweet ‘n Low)
  • aspartame (brand name Equal or NutraSweet)
  • acesulfame K (brand names Sunett & Sweet One)

Nitty Gritty Answer

To cut to the chase, if artificial sweeteners do cause insulin secretion, it’s not a very significant amount.

They don’t seem to spike insulin enough to lower blood glucose levels.

A Little More Detail

To answer this artificial sweetener/insulin question more accurately, we must consider each sweetener separately, as they are all very different.

Sucralose

Overall, studies show that sucralose does not affect insulin much at all.

To quote one study, “We conclude that sucralose, delivered by intragastric infusion, does not stimulate insulin.” (1)  Odd thing about this study is the “intragastric infusion.”  They bypassed the mouth and injected the Splenda in the stomach.

Splenda & Insulin Secretion: should we be concerned?

But another study said, “sucralose stimulated insulin secretion in the presence of a low concentration of glucose.” (2)  In other words, when sucralose was added to a small dose of glucose, it did boost insulin levels a bit more than just taking the glucose by itself.

This may indicate the sweet receptors in the mouth may have something to do with insulin secretion.  But then again ingesting sucralose by itself doesn’t cause insulin secretion, so it’s certainly not a cause-effect relationship.

Saccharin

Some studies have shown insulin secretion after consuming saccharin, but others have shown no effect.  So I’d say we need more information to say for certain.

Aspartame

It seems pretty safe to say that aspartame does not affect insulin levels.

Acesulfame K (aka ace k)

Of all the low-calories sweeteners, acesulfame K is the one that seems to have an effect on insulin secretion.

According to one study, “In conclusion, Acesulfame K not only acts as a sweetener, but in higher doses, can also induce insulin secretion in vivo.” (3)

And it seems the insulin-secreting effects of acesulfame K are dose-dependent, meaning the more you ingest, the more insulin levels will rise.

However, this study was done on rats.  So take the results with a grain of salt (as you should ALL study results, in my opinion).

In Summary

I’ll let Andrew Renwick and Samuel Molinary summarize their review article published in the British Journal of Nutrition:

“Overall, the available data show that there is no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects.” (4)

Although I don’t disagree with their statement, I find it interesting/frustrating that Renwick consults for the International Sweeteners Association.  And if that’s not enough, Molinary consults for Tate & Lyle who just so happens to make Splenda.  (read in Andy Griffith voice) Well I’ll be.

“Overall, the available data show that there is no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects.” (4)

Well I'll be...

Here’s my final take: I don’t think insulin secretion as a result of consuming artificial sweeteners is an issue we should be concerned with.  However, it’s safe to say that it’s still best to NOT consume artificial sweeteners due to other potential deleterious effects.

Or, perhaps more realistically, try to minimize your intake of artificial sweeteners and only use them when you really need to.  For me that means I’m still gonna put some Splenda in my oatmeal.  ;)

Your friend in fitness,

Dr Clay

 

References

(1) Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2009 Apr;296(4):G735-9. Epub 2009 Feb 12.
(2) PLoS ONE 4(4): e5106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005106
(3) Horm Metab Res 1987; 19(6): 233-238
(4) British Journal of Nutrition (2010), 104, 1415–1420