Are artificial sweeteners ruining your gut?

Plus: Dehydration headaches and how to deal with them.

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Artificial Sweeteners And Gut Health

White sugar on a spoon.

Did you know that the sweeteners you use could affect your gut health? It's a topic that's been making some buzz lately—and for a good reason. 

Gut health is a big deal. Impacting more than just your digestion, it affects our overall well-being in ways we're still trying to fully understand. But things get a little complicated when it comes to artificial sweeteners and their impact on our gut. So, let's break it down into simpler terms.

First off, not all sweeteners are created equal. There are different kinds, like no-calorie artificial ones (think saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame), no-calorie natural ones (like stevia), and low-calorie natural ones (such as sugar alcohols). These are all very different, so it’s important that we don’t just lump them into a single category. 

And here's where it gets even more interesting—these different sweeteners don't all have the same effects on our bodies. Some studies will show one thing with a particular sweetener, while another study says something else about a different one. This makes it difficult (and counterproductive) to make broad, sweeping generalizations, like saying, “Artificial sweeteners are bad for your gut health.”

Now, when it comes to studies on these sweeteners and gut health, there's even more of a caveat. There simply hasn’t been that much research done on this topic. We're talking about a handful of clinical trials, and even then, only a few are the gold standard—randomized and controlled trials. 

And let's not even start on the sample sizes in some of these studies. Most of this research had less than 20 people trying out the sweetener. With so few participants, it's hard to say for sure if what researchers observed is really what happens for most people or if it is just a fluke.

Another thing to consider is how these studies were conducted. The amount of sweetener varied widely and, in some cases, didn’t seem realistic. For example, one study examined the impact of consuming the equivalent of 22 packets of Sweet n' Low daily. Who is realistically using 22 packets of Sweet n’ Low a day? 

And here's where it gets even more puzzling. Some studies found that a sweetener like saccharin could mess with the mix of microbes in our gut, which sounds bad, right? But then, it also seemed to increase butyrate, a substance that's good for gut health and even helps with things like insulin sensitivity. 

So, what we are left with is more questions than answers. What is real deal with saccharin and our health? That one study leaves it very much up for interpretation. 

After looking at all the research, the big picture seems to be that sweeteners, in general, don't really change the gut microbiome that much. Sure, a couple of studies hinted at artificial sweeteners messing with our gut microbes, but most of the research doesn't support that idea. 

And when you zoom in on different types of sweeteners, it's mainly saccharin that's been flagged for potentially altering the gut microbiome. But even then, the evidence isn't rock solid since the findings aren't consistent across all studies.

The key takeaway? So, what does all this mean for us and our gut health? Well, we're still in the early stages of figuring out how sweeteners affect our guts and, by extension, our overall health. But before anyone gets upset in the comments, we are NOT saying artificial sweeteners are good for your health. We are simply saying that we don’t know. 

We live in a world now where a good-looking, compelling TikTok influencer can say artificial sweeteners are harmful to your health, and many people take that as an indisputable fact. Sweeping generalizations that bucket foods into “good” and “bad” aren’t helpful, especially when the research doesn’t back up the claim. 

Should you add Sweet n’ Low to everything you eat and drink? Probably not. But should you obsess and avoid all foods with these sweeteners listed as an ingredient? That probably isn’t helpful either.


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Dehydration Headaches And How To Deal With Them

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You might think that drinking a bunch of water is the immediate cure when a dehydration headache strikes. But before you start chugging out of your 40oz Stanley, know that the symptoms of dehydration are more complicated than they look.

Believe it or not, too much water can cause headaches, too. Imagine you’re an endurance athlete, gulping water mile after mile. You might end up with a condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia, where your blood sodium levels drop dangerously low. Not ideal.

To strike the right balance, electrolytes are key. Think drinks like Gatorade but without all the added, unnecessary sugar. Mixing sodium into your water can keep your body’s hydration in harmony, whether you’re dehydrated or overhydrated.

But let’s not oversimplify headaches; they’re tricky. First, how do you even know you’re dehydrated? Signs like dark urine, fatigue, and dry lips are your body’s SOS. But these indicators might differ for seniors, who are often dehydrated due to medications or reduced mobility, making it harder to always have a glass of water in reach.

But the list of headache triggers doesn’t end at dehydration. Stress, lack of sleep, certain medications, and low blood sugar, to name just a few, can all cause headaches. The point is we need to play detective with our symptoms first to identify a headache as a dehydration headache.

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