A recent study in lab mice indicated that artificial sweeteners might cause glucose intolerance. The uncomfortable implication from the research is that the use of artificial sweeteners– aimed at preventing diabetes– might actually be a contributing factor towards it's epidemic.
The authors of the study, Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, both of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, were concerned that some studies have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and a tendency towards weight gain and diabetes, and went probing for a causal link. The researchers had five groups of young mice who respectively had (1) saccarin, (2) sucralose, (3) aspartame, (4) glucose, and (5) nothing added to their drinking water. After 11 weeks, glucose tolerance tests clearly indicated that the mice drinking artificial sweeteners had glucose intolerance.
New Scientist magazine says:
"Segal says most artificial sweeteners pass through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested. This means that when they get to our intestine, they directly encounter our gut bacteria. Because what we eat can shift this bacterial make-up, the researchers wondered whether the glucose intolerance might be caused by a change in the bacterial composition.
A second test, with saccharin, confirmed this. Wiping out the rodents' gut bacteria using antibiotics abolished all the effects of glucose intolerance in the mice. In other words, no bacteria, no problem regulating glucose levels."
Before you drop artifical sweeteners altogether, note that several other quoted researchers–not to mention common sense–state that animal research does not always reflect what happens in people. That was the case in Elinav's and Segal's preliminary tests of the link between artifical sweetener and glucose intolerance in humans, which were inconclusive.
With those caveats in mind, it is certainly interesting work in the ongoing research, debate, and study of the diabetes epidemic. Given the potential public health ramifications, it seems clear more work in the area is needed.