The dark side of artificial sweeteners

July 10, 2013

More and more Americans are consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, but whether this translates into better health has been heavily debated. An opinion article published by Cell Press on July 10th in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism reviews surprising evidence on the negative impact of artificial sweeteners on health, raising red flags about all sweeteners—even those that don't have any calories.

"It is not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy, will help them lose weight or will help prevent weight gain," says author Susan E. Swithers of Purdue University. "The data to support those claims are not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right."

Consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome—a group of risk factors that raises the risk for heart disease and stroke. As a result, many Americans have turned to , which are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar but contain few, if any, calories. However, studies in humans have shown that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as well as cardiovascular disease. As few as one of these drinks per day is enough to significantly increase the risk for health problems.

Moreover, people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners show altered activation patterns in the brain's pleasure centers in response to sweet taste, suggesting that these products may not satisfy the desire for sweets. Similarly, studies in mice and rats have shown that consumption of noncaloric sweeteners dampens physiological responses to sweet taste, causing the animals to overindulge in calorie-rich, sweet-tasting food and pack on extra pounds.

Taken together, the findings suggest that artificial sweeteners increase the risk for health problems to an extent similar to that of sugar and may also exacerbate the negative effects of sugar. "These studies suggest that telling people to drink diet sodas could backfire as a public health message," Swithers says. "So the current public health message to limit the intake of sugars needs to be expanded to limit intake of all sweeteners, not just sugars."

Explore further: Major medical groups back sweeteners as diet aid

More information: Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Swithers et al.: "Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements."

Related Stories

Major medical groups back sweeteners as diet aid

July 9, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Non-nutritive sweeteners like Splenda, Equal and Sweet'N Low may have a role to play in maintaining or even losing weight, as long as people don't use them as an excuse to treat themselves later with high-calorie ...

Artificial sweeteners may do more than sweeten

May 29, 2013
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a popular artificial sweetener can modify how the body handles sugar.

Christopher Gardner on non-nutritive sweeteners

July 10, 2012
It sounds like a no-brainer: To cut your sugar intake, just switch to foods and drinks with no-calorie, artificial sweeteners. That way, you’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth without packing on the extra pounds, right? ...

Fat substitutes linked to weight gain

June 20, 2011
Synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips and other foods could backfire and contribute to weight gain and obesity, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

FDA should work to cut sugar levels in sodas, experts say

February 13, 2013
(HealthDay)—A leading consumer advocacy group, along with nutrition experts and health agencies from a number of U.S. cities, are calling for lowering the amount of sugars added to soft drinks.

Recommended for you

Motorcycle crashes cause five times as many deaths as car accidents, six times the health costs

November 20, 2017
Motorcycle accidents are costly in terms of lives and health care costs. Compared with car accidents, motorcycle accidents cause 3 times the injuries, 6 times the medical costs and 5 times the deaths, found new research in ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.