It might not seem to make sense, but consuming a lot of low-calorie, artificial sweetener could cause your body to accumulate more fat.
It might even accelerate fat formation in people who are obese, who are using artificial sweeteners in an effort to lose weight. Researchers who reached that conclusion presented their findings this week at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.
“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 Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at George Washington University, and the study’s principal investigator.
Here's how Sen and his colleagues arrived at their conclusions: using sucralose, a widely-avaailable low-calorie sweetener, they introduced it to stem cells that could turn into fat, muscle, cartilage, or bone cells. The amount of sucralose was about equal to about four cans of diet soda per day. Then, they sat back at waited.
They observed an increase in the expression of genes that are markers of fat and inflammation. Sen says there was also an increase in fat droplets in the cells.
Artificial sweeteners, of course, are supposed to prevent you from getting fat. But the scientists say they found signs of metabolic dysregulation, a process in which cells actually changed to produce more fat.
Sen said he is most concerned because this was most evident in people who were already obese. They tended to produce more fat with artificial sweeteners than people who were of normal weight.
He's also concerned by the increase in glucose into the cells for consumers who have prediabetes, or who have already developed the disease.
Promoting fat formation
“From our study, 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,” Sen said.
There have been other studies that suggest artificial sweeteners can have the opposite effect than intended. Last year, researchers at York University reported that obese people who consumed lot of artificial sweeteners had a harder time managing their glucose production.
The research team said it did not find this adverse effect in people consuming saccharin – an early artificial sweetener – or natural sugars.
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