A new small study on the popular artificial sweetener sucralose -- sold internationally as Splenda, Aqualoz, and Canderel -- can actually modify the way your body handles sugar.
"Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert -- it does have an effect," said study lead Dr. M. Yanina Pepino, of Washington University's Center for Human Nutrition. "And we need to do more studies to determine whether this observation means long-term use could be harmful."
The research team analyzed sucralose's effect on 17 severely obese people who do not have diabetes and don't use artificial sweeteners regularly. Subjects consumed either water or a sucralose-sweetened drink before performing a glucose challenge test to see what impact the sweetener had on insulin and blood sugar levels.
"We wanted to study this population because these sweeteners frequently are recommended to them as a way to make their diets healthier by limiting calorie intake," Pepino said.
Every participant was tested twice. Those who drank water followed by glucose in one visit consumed the sucralose drink followed by glucose in the next. In this way, each subject served as his or her own control group, the researchers said.
"When study participants drank sucralose, their blood sugar peaked at a higher level than when they drank only water before consuming glucose," Pepino explained. "Insulin levels also rose about 20 percent higher. So the artificial sweetener was related to an enhanced blood insulin and glucose response."
The elevated insulin response could be a good thing, she pointed out, because it shows the person is able to make enough insulin to deal with spiking glucose levels. But it also might be bad because when people routinely secrete more insulin, they can become resistant to its effects, a path that leads to type 2 diabetes.
The findings, announced Wednesday, are available online in the journal Diabetes Care.