Q&A: Artificial Sweetener Safety

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Food and Nutrition, Nutrients and Additives, Q&As
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

I'm diabetic and have to stay away from sugar. What's the scoop on artificial sweeteners?

 

The scoop is negative, as far as I'm concerned. My mother was a brittle diabetic with wide swings in her blood sugar, and I remember watching her sprinkle artificial sweeteners on her cereal. She felt a degree of comfort with these substances, even though I didn't.

My mother also had a chronic tremor. Her doctor attributed it to the diabetes, but I always wondered if the sweeteners she constantly used were over stimulating her nervous system. Research has since shown that artificial sweeteners can cause excitability in the nervous system.

Additionally, the sweet taste on your tongue triggers the release of insulin in the body to offset the expected sugar. However, since there isn't actually any sugar in what's consumed, the insulin goes to work on whatever little sugar is actually in the body—resulting in hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, in turn, makes a person feel hungry—so he or she ends up eating more and may actually gain weight. It all becomes a vicious cycle.

On top of all of this, research has shown that drinking diet soda can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. So, I definitely advise against drinking diet sodas. If you must sweeten your food, my recommendation is to use the natural sweetener xylitol or the nutritional supplement stevia. Both are available in health food stores.

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