Artificial sweeteners appear to wreak havoc with the body's metabolism, and high consumption may promote fat accumulation, especially in people who are already obese, per study results to be presented at the Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting this month.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners contain minute quantities of energy and have the potential to reduce energy intake while maintaining the palatability of food, but previous research has greatly questioned their true usefulness for body composition improvements.
How sweet are they?
Primary options approved by the FDA include acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose – which range from 300x to 8,000x the sweetness of regular sugar! "Many health-conscious individuals like to consume low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar. However, there is increasing scientific evidence that these sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction," said Sabyasachi Sen, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at George Washington University.
What happens when you combine sucralose with human fat?
Sen and his colleagues tested sucralose on stem cells taken from human fat tissue. These cells remained in Petri dishes for 12 days with elements that promote fat production. Using a sucralose dose similar to the concentration found in the blood of people who consume at least four cans of diet soda per day, the researchers observed increased expression of genes associated with fat production and inflammation.
Do sweeteners increase expression of fat-producing genes?
With this evidence, they conducted a separate experiment by analyzing biopsy samples of abdominal fat obtained from four normal weight and four obese who said they consumed low-calorie sweeteners. According to Sen, they saw evidence of increased sugar transport into cells and overexpression of known fat-producing genes. Additionally, the subjects showed an overexpression of fat tissue receptors that allow glucose to enter cells with greater expediency. All effects were most apparent in the obese subjects.
Conclusion – Metabolic Dysregulation
All of Sen’s findings are signs of metabolic dysregulation in which the cellular mechanisms are changing to make more fat. More studies are necessary in larger numbers of people with diabetes and obesity to confirm these findings, he stressed. Sen concluded, "…we believe that low-calorie sweeteners promote additional fat formation by allowing more glucose to enter the cells, and promotes inflammation, which may be more detrimental in obese individuals."