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An artificial sweetener or sugar substitute is a chemical which sweetens foods just like sugar or corn syrup, but with little to no calories. There are a number of commercially available artificial sweeteners, each varying in chemical structure and degree of sweetness, including aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame, and acesulfame potassium.

 

Most artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and a very small amount can entirely replace sugar in foods with negligible calories. Because of this, sugar substitutes are generally positioned as healthier options and are commonly used in health foods across categories.

 

While artificial sweeteners have the dual benefit of reducing calorie consumption and sugar intake, two factors that are known to improve health outcomes, research has shown that they can have systemic effects that are less than ideal, such as:

 

 

  1. Surprisingly people who consume diet sodas regularly have a high body mass index and increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. While this is merely a correlation based on observational studies and not a clear link, it is important to consider studies which show that people consuming diet sodas are more prone to a number of lifestyle diseases.1, 2

 

  1. Numerous human and animal studies have reported an appetite-stimulating effect of consuming artificial sweeteners. A study found that when the brain perceives sweetness without calories the brain activates a fasting state and triggers a response which increases our appetite.3

 

  1. Artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas and other soft drinks could damage your gut bacteria. While the human body does not metabolize sugar substitutes, the bacteria found in our digestive system do, leading to the release of potentially harmful metabolites which can disrupt our gut’s bacterial communities.4 Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to reduce glucose tolerance, which is associated with diabetes and weight gain, and have also been shown to reduce the hunger-inhibiting hormone Leptin.5, 6

 

  1. Diet drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia. In this study, when compared with people who said they didn’t consume diet drinks, those who had at least one per day suffered three times more strokes and were three times more likely to develop dementia. Consumption of regular (non-diet) soft drinks was not linked to a higher risk of these brain problems.7

 

If these effects on our health weren’t enough, artificial sweeteners have been recently recognized as an emerging environmental contaminant of the aquatic environment as many of them are resistant to wastewater treatment processes.4

 

 

Take Away

 

Objectively, sugar substitutes have lower calories than actual sugar, and in that respect can reduce calorie consumption. However, most of the research on artificial sweeteners has not shown a consistent impact on weight loss, but have shown a link between consumption of artificial sweeteners and relatively higher risks of weight gain and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.8, 9

 

While more research in the area is needed to fully understand the risks of artificial sweeteners, current findings suggest that artificial sweeteners increase the risk of health issues at least as much as sugar and may even amplify the negative effects of sugar consumption.10

 

 

(The information contained on this article is intended solely to provide scientific studies and information on matters of interest for the readers. The links of the studies referred to for this article are mentioned below for reference.)

 

 

References:

 

  1. Link between diet sodas and lifestyle diseases-diabetes and cardiovascular disease: Gardener H., et al. Curr Dev Nutr 2018 May; 2(5): nzy008.
  2. Link between diet sodas and lifestyle diseases-diabetes and cardiovascular disease: Fowler SPG, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc 2015 Apr; 63(4): 708-715.
  3. Link between artificial sweeteners and appetite: Wang QP, et al. Cell Metab 2016; 24(1): 75-90.
  4. Link between artificial sweeteners and gut bacteria: Harpaz D, et al. Molecules 2018; 23(10): 2454.
  5. Link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain and diabetes: Wang Q-P, et al. PLoS ONE 2018; 13(7); e0199080.
  6. Link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain and diabetes: Suez J, et al. Nature 2014; 514(7521): 181.
  7. Link between artificial sweeteners and stroke and dementia. Pase MP, et al. Stroke 2017; 48(5): 1139-1146.
  8. Link between artificial sweeteners and lifestyle diseases: Borges MC, et al. PLoS Medicine 2017; 14(1): e1002195.
  9. Link between studies on artificial sweeteners and lifestyle diseases: Azad MB, et al. Canadian Medical Association J, 2017; 189(28): E929-E939.
  10. Link between artificial sweeteners and dietary recommendation: Swithers ES. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep; 24(9): 431-441.
  11. Link between diet sodas and lifestyle diseases-diabetes and cardiovascular disease: Fowler SPG, et al. J Am Geriatr Soc 2015 Apr; 63(4): 708-715.
  12. Link between artificial sweeteners and appetite: Wang QP, et al. Cell Metab 2016; 24(1): 75-90.
  13. Link between artificial sweeteners and gut bacteria: Harpaz D, et al. Molecules 2018; 23(10): 2454.
  14. Link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain and diabetes: Wang Q-P, et al. PLoS ONE 2018; 13(7); e0199080.
  15. Link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain and diabetes: Suez J, et al. Nature 2014; 514(7521): 181.
  16. Link between artificial sweeteners and stroke and dementia. Pase MP, et al. Stroke 2017; 48(5): 1139-1146.
  17. Link between artificial sweeteners and lifestyle diseases: Borges MC, et al. PLoS Medicine 2017; 14(1): e1002195.
  18. Link between studies on artificial sweeteners and lifestyle diseases: Azad MB, et al. Canadian Medical Association J, 2017; 189(28): E929-E939.
  19. Link between artificial sweeteners and dietary recommendation: Swithers ES. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep; 24(9): 431-441.

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