Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain ?

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Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain ?

Article from July 31, 2013 by Andrew Foehrkolb

In a recent article written by Susan E. Swithers PhD, and published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, Dr. Swither’s proposed that the consumption of artificial  sugar substitutes may contribute to increased weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Swithers is a researcher with the Department of Psychological Sciences and Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University. Dr. Swither’s proposes the idea that consuming no-calorie; sweet-tasting foods and drinks interfere with learned human metabolic responses that help maintain our normal weight and glucose (blood sugar) balance. This interference may have the counterintuitive effect leading to weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.(1)

The consumption of artificial sweeteners in the USA has been dramatically increasing in the last 10 years.  30% of adults and 15% of children reported weekly consumption of low calorie sweeteners in a 2007-2008 survey. Consumption of artificial sweeteners also parallels with changes in the occurrence of obesity and overweight rates over the same time. The San Antonio Heart Study documented weight changes in men and women over a 7-8 year period. Participants who were normal weight or overweight at the start of the study had the greatest risk of weight gain and obesity when they consumed artificial sweeteners. Numerous other studies sighted linked the use of artificial sweeteners to type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. When taken together these studies suggest a direct link between consumption of artificial sweeteners and a greater risk of becoming overweight, obese, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. (2)

Possible reasons for this response are related to how the body physiologically responds to high-intensity sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners stimulate different brain responses when compared to naturally occurring sugars. Artificial sweeteners by themselves do not stimulate an insulin response as sugar would and unlike sugars, artificial sweeteners do not help the body’s natural insulin response to meals. Artificial sweeteners may in fact weaken the body’s learned response to subsequent ingestion of natural sugars having negative consequences.

The negative consequences of eating artificial sweeteners should not be interpreted as a reason to substitute sugar as a replacement. Current data suggests the total reduction of sugar in the diet as a safe means of maintaining overall health. Healthy substitutes for soft drinks are spring water and carbonated water flavored with lemon or lime juice. To get your caffeine dose in the morning coffee and tea (both black and green) are good replacements for soft drinks.                

 Drew Foehrkolb MS NASM-CPT/CES    

(1) Swithers, Susan E., (2013) Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism xx (2013) 1-11

(2) Fowler, S.P. et al, (2008) Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificial sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity 16, 1894-1900

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