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Artificial sweeteners used in food and drinks could increase the risk of type two diabetes developing, research suggests.

Scientists found that consuming the low-calorie additives – increasingly found in diet drinks, breakfast cereals and many other foods – changes the way the body responds to sugar.

In a healthy person, the body regulates the rate at which sugar, or glucose, is absorbed into the blood after a meal. But scientists found that people who consumed high quantities of artificial sweeteners had a significantly reduced ability to do this – a main feature of diabetes.

Having spikes and troughs in blood glucose levels can be extremely dangerous and, over time, this can lead to the development of type two diabetes.

More than 3.5million people in the UK are thought to have the condition, and the rates have soared 60 per cent in a decade largely due to obesity and poor diet.

The Australian research team, led by Professor Richard Young of the University of Adelaide, tracked 27 healthy volunteers who were given either a placebo or one of two different sweeteners – sucralose or acesulfame-K – in the same levels as would be found in 1.5 litres of diet drink.

The team found that among test subjects who had the sweeteners, glucose absorption and blood sugar levels were higher, while their gut peptides, which limit the rise in blood glucose after meals, was reduced.

None of these measures were altered in the test volunteers who had been given a placebo.

The researchers said: ‘Artificial sweeteners reduce the body's control of blood sugar levels and highlights the potential for exaggerated post-meal glucose levels in high non-caloric artificial sweeteners users, which could predispose them to developing type two diabetes.'

Dr Ines Cebola of Imperial College London, said: ‘This study addresses a very important issue, as artificial sweeteners are commonly used not only by patients with diabetes, but also by healthy individuals aiming to manage their sugar intake.'

But other British experts said the results were not definitive, and said artificial sweeteners are probably better than sugar.

Emma Elvin, clinical adviser at the charity Diabetes UK, said: ‘We need to see the results of larger trials in settings more true to real life before we'll know more.

‘We would advise people to reduce their intakes of sugar, and artificial sweeteners could be an option to help some people achieve this.'