Many people turn to artificial sweeteners in an attempt to cut back on the sugar and calories in their diets. Unfortunately, these sugar substitutes have been associated with a number of health concerns. Here’s a closer look at the growing body of evidence attesting to the dangers of including artificial sweeteners in your diet.
Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Management
Artificial sweeteners are popular with people who are trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, several studies suggest they may not lead to the desired effect. For example, research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine indicates that artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain because they don’t activate the same food reward pathways activated by natural sweeteners. As such, they may trigger an increase in “food-seeking behavior” among dieters which may ultimately contribute to obesity.
Even worse? Because artificial sweeteners are sweet they still facilitate sugar cravings and sugar dependence. The takeaway, according to researchers? Rather than merely swapping out one sweetener for another, “Unsweetening the world’s diet may be the key to reversing the obesity epidemic.”
Artificial Sweeteners, Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
Artificial sweeteners are often recommended for people with diabetes because they deliver the sweet taste people are looking for without the dangerous rise in blood sugar levels. However, some research indicates that drinking artificially sweetened diet soda can increase the risk of developing both metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Specifically, a study published in Diabetes Care associated daily consumption of diet soda with a 36 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent risk of diabetes.
Artificial Sweeteners and Gut Bacteria
Compromised gut health can cause weight gain, blood sugar control issues, metabolic syndrome, poor sleep, and a weakened immune system. Therefore, supporting optimal gut health is of critical importance. Research published in Nature shows that artificial sweeteners disrupt gut health in the majority of otherwise healthy participants.
Furthermore, a study published in the academic journal, Molecules, indicates that six FDA-approved artificial sweeteners (and the 10 sport supplements that contain them) have a toxic effect on digestive gut microbes in mice. Said biotechnology engineering professor Ariel Kushmaro of the potential implications for humans, “This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues.”
These studies are just a small sampling of findings indicating artificial sweeteners’ harmful capabilities. Research over the years has linked artificial sweeteners with everything from carcinogenic properties to increased risk of vascular events like stroke to heightened depressive symptoms in people with mood disorders.
One last thing to keep in mind? While some studies have called into question the conclusiveness of these and other findings, a study released earlier this year not only casts doubt on claims that artificial sweeteners are safe due to conflicting commercial interests, but also underscores the long-term dangers of swapping out one sweetener for another. Concludes Professor of Food Policy Tim Lang of this troubling phenomenon, “The healthy strategy is surely to tackle the cultural reinforcement of sweetness and to encourage less sweet foods and drinks, full stop. Surely we now argue: reduce both sugar and artificial alternatives.”