One of the chief complaints lodged against low or no-calorie artificial sweeteners is that they don’t help you lose weight.
As a matter of fact, they seem to have the opposite effect: low-calorie sweeteners may actually lead you to gain weight, not lose it.1
How’s that for irony?
Plus, despite the fact that the food industry points to tests establishing the safety of artificial sweeteners, scientists point to independent research showing they can cause serious health problems. Here’s the latest news on the topic…
The research shows that when food manufacturers use artificial sweeteners to replace sugar in drinks and food, the chemicals trigger a dangerous process in the body that damages metabolism.
According to a recent study at York University in Canada, artificial sweeteners actually hinder the body’s ability to control blood sugar, especially if you’re already overweight.
Need to Lose Weight? Be Especially Wary of Aspartame
“Our study shows that individuals with obesity who consume artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, may have worse glucose management than those who don’t take sugar substitutes,” warns researcher Jennifer Kuk.
In this study, the researchers gathered data on more than 2,800 people taking part in the Third National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES III) who reported consuming the artificial sweeteners aspartame or saccharin, or taking in natural sugars. Then, they analyzed the people’s ability to manage blood sugar, as recorded in an oral glucose tolerance test. This measures how well your body’s cells absorb sugar.
Dr. Kuk’s research reveals the problem begins in the digestive tract, where bacteria break down these artificial sweeteners and trigger a change in sugar metabolism.
Her team’s finding means folks who consume aspartame may no longer process sugars effectively and as a result become more prone to higher blood sugar. Not surprisingly, this increases the risk for diabetes.
What was a surprise, at least to me anyway, is the finding on another artificial sweetener, saccharin.
Saccharin and Blood Sugar
As Dr. Kuk explains, “We didn’t find this adverse effect in those consuming saccharin (one of the artificial sweeteners tested) or natural sugars.”
While saccharin may not negatively impact your body’s ability to metabolize sugar and balance blood sugar, it was long implicated in causing cancer following laboratory tests in the late 70s. Recently, scientists did an about face on the cancer claim, saying later research shows the mechanism with which saccharin triggers cancer in lab animals does not apply in humans.
The official statement today is that there’s “no clear evidence” that saccharin causes cancer in humans. And in 2000, saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens.
This does NOT give me warm fuzzy feelings about saccharin. I don’t consume it, ever. In my opinion it’s always better to choose natural sugar substitutes over chemical ones.
Then There’s Splenda…
Another study, this one at George Washington University, shows that consuming sucralose, a sweetener produced by the chlorination of sugar and sold under the brand name Splenda, can make you more vulnerable to developing metabolic syndrome.
If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall that metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by having an over-abundance of inflammatory fat around your waistline, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and an excess of triglycerides in the blood. Obviously, none of this is good news. Metabolic syndrome can raise your risk of obesity, diabetes and cancer as well as double your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
In addition, the George Washington University researchers found that sucralose independently raises your risk of diabetes.
And there’s more bad news from this study. Their research also shows that sucralose has epigenetic effects—or effects on genes— that lead to extra fat infiltrating cells while promoting harmful oxidative inflammation inside cells. As a result, cancer can start to grow and spread.3
These Health Dangers are Only the Tip of the Iceberg
Of course, there are a number of other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners of any kind. Researchers have found these chemicals can:
- Restrict the body’s ability to heal: Research in Asia shows that artificial sweeteners interfere with cells called endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). EPCs have the important job of healing injuries in your blood vessels. In this study, researchers found artificial sweeteners impaired the repair of blood vessels in the brain, which causes a host of problems for your memory and puts you at higher risk of stroke.4
- Cause oxidative stress in blood cells: Lab tests in India, using blood cells from rats, found aspartame caused oxidative stress, which hampered the function of immune cells, especially white blood cells called neutrophils. As a result, aspartame reduced all immune cells’ ability to eradicate infections.5
- Increase your cravings for sugar: Researchers at Yale believe that artificial sweeteners affect your brain in ways that cause you to strongly desire sugar and make you more vulnerable to uncontrolled binges of sugary foods.6
Now, it’s important to realize that I’m not suggesting that instead of artificial sweeteners you consume lots of sugar. Sugar comes with its own unhealthy baggage – which I’m sure is not news to most people. The most dangerous risk from overconsumption of sugar is the development or growth of cancer.
The healthiest course of action is to limit your consumption of cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even natural sugar substitutes while avoiding artificial sweeteners altogether.