Today’s Headlines: Artificial Sweeteners, Cervical Cancer and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Artificial sweeteners may be messing with your blood sugar. Zero-calorie alternatives to sugar have become the mainstay of those looking to lose weight while maintaining sweetness. But a new study in mice has found that “artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes.” The researchers looked at blood sugar measurements and the microbes in the intestinal tract of the mice to see if the sweetener versus regular sugar would affect either of them. “The group of mice getting artificial sweeteners developed marked intolerance to glucose,” with their blood glucose spiking early and falling slowly. “When the researchers treated the mice with antibiotics, killing much of the bacteria in the digestive system, the glucose intolerance went away.” In further experiments, the researchers found that bacteria from humans who regularly consume artificial sweeteners create the same glucose intolerance in the mice. It is unknown at this time how bacteria influence glucose tolerance. (NYT)

There may soon be a urine test for cervical cancer. Currently, women at risk for cervical cancer have to undergo periodic Pap smears to test for possible cervical cancer. This is often accompanied with a test for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer and now prevented with the HPV vaccine. New research is now showing that “testing urine for HPV has good accuracy when compared to testing samples taken from the cervix for HPV.” A major advantage of the test is that “it could be done at home, and then interpreted by medical professionals.” As screening rates have declined, researchers are looking for new ways to try and make it easier for women to be screened. While the test wouldn’t replace the Pap smear or HPV test in many cases, “it could also be a boon in settings where more traditional means of screening for cervical cancer are difficult due to cultural resistance to gynecologic exams.” (CBS)

Smoking and salty foods may both contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking is a long-known risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a debilitating and painful degenerative joint disease that affects more than a million Americans. But a new study has found that the amount of salt a person consumes may play a role, too. “Researchers set out to see if a salty diet might be linked to the onset of RA, but found a connection only among smokers–who were more than twice as likely as anyone with a low-salt diet to develop the condition.” They found that those smokers with the lowest salt consumption had similar rates of RA to nonsmokers. “More research is also needed to identify the biological pathways through which sodium intake can affect smoking as a risk factor. The study provides the first evidence in rheumatoid arthritis that sodium intake may influence risk for onset of the disease.” (Reuters)