Insulin release and artificial sweeteners

November 18, 2019

References: Biomedical ResearchScience DailyNature CommunicationsDiabetes Poster Presentation 2017Medical News TodayTime MagazineJr Sci Food AgPLosOne,

Are artificial sweeteners safe for you? What effect do they have on weight? How do I sort all this out? 
The first and foremost point to understand is that insulin is not, repeat NOT your blood sugar controlling hormone. It is your calorie STORAGE hormone. It is the hormone you secrete when carbs are abundant (just before winter) when it is critical that you put on weight so that you have a margin of calories to make it through the winter. Insulin is the key driver to weight gain. Hence, it's absence is the key driver to weight loss. With adult-onset diabetes, folks become insulin resistant, have quite high insulin levels but ironically also high glucose levels. 
How is insulin released? This is important to understand. It is not just in response to blood glucose. It's first release occurs because of the flavor sweet on the tongue. That's called the cephalic phase. Then, the rate of rise of glucose in the blood has a direct impact. We call that the glycemic index of food. The higher the glycemic index, the faster the rate of rise. The faster the rate of rise, the more insulin is secreted.

This unpacks and explains the confusion over blood glucose levels and artificial sweeteners. If your blood sugar doesn't go up with the use of an artificial sweetener, does that occur because your insulin level went up faster and earlier? Did you have a burst of insulin that camouflages your metabolic response making it look like the artificial sweetener was just dandy and safe to use?

That's the confusion that you will see in the discussion about artificial sweeteners. Those folks who are trying to get you to buy the stuff will say "blood glucose didn't rise" as though that was a virtue. At first blush, you believe them and eagerly sign on to use the sweeteners. 
But cracks appear in the scientific edifice. Clear data shows that folks using artificial sweeteners gain weightDrinking a diet soda a day results in weight gain. Why is that? It's because the endocrine effect of insulin lasts longer than the glucose. When you stimulate insulin, your body is really thinking there are carbs arriving in the stomach and you will have glucose showing up in the blood for the next 4-12 hours. No surprise then that insulin lasts at least 6-8 hours. If you have insulin around for that long and didn't have any calories to actually show for it, what happens to your blood glucose 4-8 hours out? Bingo: it is lower than it would have been and you are hungrier to make up for it. You eat more before satisfied. You gain weight. 
Another way to look at it is the effect of insulin on ketones. Ketones are made when you are digesting and burning fat (weight loss). Ketones are present only when your insulin level is very low. I can't find any original research on ketones except my own repeated experiments on myself. Once I am in a ketogenic state, meaning beta-hydroxybutyrate above 2.0, the consumption of 70 calories of carbs in the form of a single small sweet potato will lower my ketones for up to 36 hours before they recover to the prior level. That happens even when I'm in a Fast Mimicking state of only 800 calories a day. You could make the argument that insulin has some residual endocrine effect for up to 36 hours. 

So what happens with artificial sweeteners? That's the rub. The most widely quoted study in Jr Sci Food Ag claims that stevia is great because it keeps blood sugar lower than anything else. But to your and my eyes, that should now shout out at you, "It means your insulin was higher than anything else!" This may be why Jason Fung claims in the Obesity Code that stevia raises insulin more than table sugar. And that is horrible. If artificial sweeteners control your blood sugar better, but really actually raise your insulin higher, then they are worse for you than we imagined. You will get fatter, faster. It's the very nature of the flavor sweet. And being 300 times more potent than sugar, as Stevia is, is actually a curse, not a blessing.

What's a person to do? We need to think of food as having an insulin index more importantly than a glycemic index. Our ability to flex our fuel source between carbs and ketones (sugars and fats) is completely dependent on the presence of insulin in a responsive, supple state. Artificial sweeteners screw that up.

WWW: What will work for me. We have discussed the disruption of your brain with artificial sweeteners but the concept that even stevia increases my insulin is sobering. I just can't say that stevia is benign. I'm weaning myself down off the flavor sweet. I'm using half a packet of Stevia in a cup of coffee as my current goal.

Pop Quiz:

  1. What determines the glycemic index? Answer: The rate of rise of blood glucose from any given food compared to pure glucose. Pure glucose is assigned 100 and other foods are percentages of that. The glycemic load combines the rate of rise with the total carb count, which also matters.
  2. Artificial sweeteners do what to insulin? Answer: The flavor sweet on the tongue set off insulin secretion as part of the cephalic phase of insulin response, just like the sight and smell of food.
  3. People who use diet sodas lose weight? T or F. Answer: False, they gain weight.
  4. Some of the artificial sweeteners were found during the course of looking for what environmental poisons? Answer: Pesticides. (Splenda or sucralose resulted.). But the analogy is there. They really are metabolic poisons, best avoided and weaned off.
  5. Some of the artificial sweeteners were found during the course of looking for what environmental poisons?     Answer: Pesticides.   (Splenda or sucralose resulted.). But the analogy is there.  They really are metabolic poisons, best avoided and weaned off.