Artificial sweeteners are non-nutritive, manufactured chemicals with few or no calories. In the UK permitted sweeteners include; aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium (known as acesulfame K), cyclamate and sucralose. We are addicted to the taste of sweetness and the widespread use of sweetener substitutes in food and drink has made our sweet tooth even worse.
Unsurprisingly, sweeteners have been found to be responsible for weight gain rather than weight loss. This is applicable even if Aspartame is taken at levels recommended by the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Research carried out in young hamsters found that those on Aspartame tended to eat more and there was also evidence of damage to brain and liver cells. Other studies carried out in rats have also shown that compared to sugar, sweeteners saccharin and aspartame cause weight gain which is unrelated to caloric intake.
Researchers have speculated the cause of weight gain to be either reduced energy expenditure or an increase in fluid retention. Breakdown of aspartame produces phenylalanine which is a known inhibitor of a gut enzyme IAP (intestinal alkaline phosphatase). IAP in mice has been shown to prevent metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In another study aspartame was linked to reduced insulin sensitivity therefore affecting blood sugar regulation.
The act of eating requires a feeling of satiety and satisfaction. A pilot review suggests that sweeteners only offer partial activation of the food reward pathways in the brain. This may also be responsible for the consequent increase in appetite as an attempt to complete the satiety cycle. Such impaired activation has been observed in obese adolescent girls after drinking milkshake.
Intake of artificial sweeteners has a huge contributory effect of our weight gain and obesity problem. Although not immediately apparent, over the longer term it significantly increases the risk of health problems. Convinced that they are doing the right thing many people choose a diet option. Their aim is to try to lose or maintain their weight but ironically it is causing just the opposite.
The dangers of sweeteners need to be acknowledged by the public health sector and the food industry. Introducing manufactured substances into our body in the form of artificial sweeteners, additives, preservatives and in many other commercial products has a major influence on our body’s chemistry, creating a chemical disaster equivalent to a tsunami. The human body is not made to digest artificial foods that may look and taste similar and nutritionally they can never replace fresh natural foods.