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A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: No-Calorie Artificial Sweetener

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Non-calorie, Artificial sweeteners (AS) are thought to help those who want to lose weight by cutting calories and allow those with blood sugar issues to expand on food options because there is a negligible effect on blood sugar, therefore aiding in health promotion.
However, on the same line as the calorie theory (a calorie deficit consumed equals weight loss), AS are building a track record of doing just the opposite.
Research suggests that AS have multiple negative effects on body systems that include changing taste receptors (increasing expectation for a greater sweetness  in food), altering brain signals and responses (by providing sweetness without accompanying fuel or calories) and changing good gut bacteria (effecting immune system digestive issues). None of which falls into the “this is good because it has zero calories” theory.
While it is true AS do not provide calories or carbs, once ingested the metabolic effects have a much greater consequence on weight and health than chomping down on some bacon or, for that matter, any other food with calories or carbs like olives, berries or nuts.
Burke and Small explain this in the 2015 issue of Physiological Behavior, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938415003303. Their paper, “Physiological mechanisms by which non-nutritive sweeteners may impact body weight and metabolism”, explains that  AS “are not physiologically inert compounds and consider the potential biological mechanisms by which NNS (AS) consumption may impact energy balance and metabolic function, including actions on oral and extra-oral sweet taste receptors, and effects on metabolic hormone secretion, cognitive processes (e.g. reward learning, memory, and taste perception), and gut microbiota”.
A powerful and very important message don’t ya think?
This may even explain how we spend $2-4 billion dollars/ year on non-calorie artificial sweeteners and yet continue to watch the diabesity (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=33948) epidemic grow. After all these years of throwing our money down the drain (paying more for calorie-free products) and acting as human guinea pigs we now find out this food ingredient causes the very same problems it is trying to correct.
In 2014, Eran Elinav et. al., from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, conducted and published consecutive trials in the scientific journal Nature, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7521/abs/nature13793.html.  The study found that AS changed gut bacteria causing fluctuations in sugar metabolism that mimic diabetes. Admittedly the study sample size is small but regardless of size, if you are the one person that the results apply then it is very relevant to you. Here is what they found:

  1. Mice were fed plain water, water with Sweet’ N Low, Splenda or Equal, water with sugar or glucose. The mice who drank water with artificial sweeteners “developed marked glucose intolerance” as a result of changes in the natural gut flora. The mice with glucose intolerance were then given antibiotics that killed the gut flora and the glucose intolerance went away.
  2. Researchers also took a sample of the gut bacteria in the mice that were glucose intolerant and then injected the bacteria in mice that had never consumed artificial sweetener. The injected mice then developed glucose intolerance. “DNA sequencing showed the artificial sweetener changed the variety of bacteria in the guts of the mice that consumed it.”
  3. Then the researchers compiled data on 381 non diabetic individuals and found a connection  between “the reported use of any kind of artificial sweeteners and signs of glucose intolerance. In addition, the gut bacteria of those who used artificial sweeteners were different from those who did not.”
  4. For one week, seven human volunteers (who normally did not use artificial sweeteners) “consumed the maximum amount of saccharin recommended by the United States Food and Drug Administration. In four of the seven, blood-sugar levels were disrupted in the same way as in mice.” Then they used bacteria from the four volunteers who developed glucose intolerance and injected it into the gut of mice. The mice, then also developed glucose intolerance.

Seems pretty straight forward right?  Yes but there is more to take from this if you read between the lines:

  1. Gut bacteria seems to be another point of interest in understanding blood sugar disorders.
  2. This research seems to suggest that there may be a variety of ways blood sugar abnormalities occur and some may at least originally be independent of insulin abnormalities.

While this information is compelling, is it really shocking? We know there is no magic bullet for weight loss or blood sugar control. We also know of similar situations  like the creation of trans fats (to make foods healthier by removing naturally occurring fat) and how that turned out (they proved to promote heart disease and negatively effect blood sugar and health).
Eat smart. Make REAL food choices. Understand how what you eat effects you.

About the author

Valerie Goldstein

Valerie raises the bar for health and nutrition know how with unconventional expertise and unconditional support for wellness.

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  • I know lots of people who have lost weight and maintained it while using artificial sweeteners. I think one of the problems with the studies that show that those who use them don’t lose weight is that they are just epidemiological and only show that two things happen together. What does the average person do when they begin to gain weight? They switch to sugar substitutes and go on a low fat and low calorie diet. It is probably the diet that makes them continue to gain weight.
    Like Bill Lagakos, I have no agenda and don’t want to defend artificial sweeteners, some of which are probably not good for you, but I haven’t found the case against them to be convincing. He examined the study about their effect on gut microbes and concluded that it looks like junk science. Read his post here: .http://caloriesproper.com/sweetn-low/.

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