Artificially Sweet Seductions – Saccharin

sugar lipsIn the last post we looked at sucralose and it’s effect (or lack of) on insulin. It also has an effect on gut microbes. But sucralose isn’t the only artificial sweetener. Today lets look at saccharin and see what it can do.

Saccharin was discovered in 1878 by a chemist who when sitting down for dinner and noticed a sweet taste after a day at the lab. After tasting the substance he went back to the lab and began tasting everything to find the source. Serendipity led to the “discovery” of saccharin. And it was sweet.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out the implications and soon it began to be added to make things sweet. So the question is how does it affect blood sugar or insulin.

In one study participants, while fasting “sipped, and washed out their mouths with eight taste solutions (sucrose, saccharin, acetic acid, sodium chloride, quinine hydrochloride, distilled water, starch, and sodium glutamate) for 45 s and spat them out again”. 1 Insulin levels raised significantly with the sucrose and the saccharin solutions, but not the others. Blood glucose was not affected during any of the solutions. This study says that there is a potential to raise insulin with saccharin.

In another study different drinks were given to participants with either saccharin, aspartame or non-sweetened drinks and researchers looked at insulin levels.2 No significant difference in insulin levels were seen.

In another study similar to the first one listed, no differences were seen in any case with insulin. 3

In another study researchers gave sucrose or starch sweetened with saccharin in equal caloric amounts and measured insulin levels, glucose levels, triglycerides and glucose excretion. After 6 weeks and crossover for the two groups of another 6 weeks there was no difference. 4

It doesn’t look as though saccharin has a lot of influence on insulin, at least in these human studies. Again it would be good to have a long term study to really look at the impact on insulin and blood sugar. What about weight?

In a study with rats, when added to the diet, saccharin and aspartame increased weight gain. 6 But what about in humans?

To be honest I can’t find randomized controlled trials that show saccharin ingestion and weight increase. There are epidemiological studies that show associations but we all know these do not equal causation. There are many studies in rats that seem to show weight gain like the one I just mentioned above but I don’t always transpose what happens in rats to what happens in humans.

What has saccharin been found to do? In rats it appears to inhibit some digestive enzymes. 6 It also makes stomachs hemorrhage and causes iron deficiency anemia in rodents. 7 It should be noted these affects are in high doses, levels we humans probably wouldn’t get. Another study shows that saccharin reduces good bacteria in rats. 8 This is similar to what was reported with sucralose. This could be very problematic. While I haven’t seen any experiments in humans for this phenomenon I don’t doubt this is something that could translate over into humans.

The problem with most of these studies is that they’re short term. Long term nutritional studies are hard to do. A significant decrease in good gut bacteria probably won’t show up as anything over a 6 week period. Over a 6 year period or longer though that could be problematic. The gut is definitely a crucial part of overall health and disrupting good bacteria may lead to many problems from digestive to autoimmunity.

People have reported nausea and other gut dysfunction and have anecdotally correlated that with saccharin ingestion. It’s important to note that saccharin has a sulfa component to it, which is a major cause of drug allergies in many people. This could be part of the reason why nausea seems to be a problem. It could be a low level intolerance or allergy to this sulfa component. If you have a known sulfa allergy it would be good to avoid saccharin.

The FDA almost got a ban on saccharin back in the 70’s but it got defeated. They were concerned with bladder cancer in rodents. While a little saccharin here and there probably isn’t at all a problem for many, many others might feel its effects quickly. Ultimately the only way to know is to experiment with yourself but my advice is overall stay away from artificial sweeteners. Saccharin has a nasty aftertaste anyway.


1.Just, Tino, et al. “Cephalic phase insulin release in healthy humans after taste stimulation?.” Appetite 51.3 (2008): 622-627.

2.Horwitz, David L., Michael McLane, and Peter Kobe. “Response to single dose of aspartame or saccharin by NIDDM patients.” Diabetes Care 11.3 (1988): 230-234.

3.Teff, Karen L., John Devine, and Karl Engelman. “Sweet taste: effect on cephalic phase insulin release in men.” Physiology & behavior 57.6 (1995): 1089-1095.

4.Cooper, P. L., M. L. Wahlqvist, and R. W. Simpson. “Sucrose Versus Saccharin as an Added Sweetener in Non‐insulin‐dependent Diabetes: Short‐and Medium‐term Metabolic Effects.” Diabetic medicine 5.7 (1988): 676-680.

5.Feijó, Fernanda de Matos, et al. “Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels.” Appetite (2012).

6.Lok, Eric, Frank Iverson, and David B. Clayson. “The inhibition of urease and proteases by sodium saccharin.” Cancer letters 16.2 (1982): 163-169.

7.Okamura, T., E. M. Garland, and S. M. Cohen. “Glandular stomach hemorrhage induced by high dose saccharin in young rodents.” Toxicology letters 74.2 (1994): 129-140.

8.Mallett, Anthony K., Ian R. Rowland, and Carol A. Bearne. “Modification of rat caecal microbial biotransformation activities by dietary saccharin.” Toxicology 36.2 (1985): 253-262.

Disclaimer: All info on this website is for education purposes only. Any dietary or lifestyle changes that readers want to make should be done with the guidance of a competent medical practitioner. The author assumes no responsibility nor liability  for the use or dissemination of this information. Anyone who chooses to apply this information for their own personal use does so at their own risk.


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