Low-Calorie Sweeteners Connected to Diabetes
Giving up sugar to rely on low-calorie sweeteners seems like a good idea for your diet. Those small packages often have 600 times the sweetness of sugar, ensuring your favorite food or beverage won’t be bland. But there’s a hidden danger connected to artificial sweeteners: Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, associate professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., authored a study that shows the use of low-calorie sweeteners may pre-dispose overweight individuals to diabetes.
If you are predisposed to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat — all things that lead to heart disease and strokes — then your risk of diabetes is also increased by three to five times. According to Sen, artificial sweeteners, especially in a person with metabolic syndrome, increase fat accumulation and can lead to diabetes.
Sen’s study looked at sucralose, the equivalent of three to four cans of diet soda per day, and found that transporters on the cell surface show more cell function when a person consumes artificial sweeteners. “Glucose rushes in when the gates are open,” he said. “And this causes inflammation.”
The study found that people who were already obese were the most likely to add fat cells. “If you are an athlete and normal weight, you can handle glucose,” Sen explained.
It is difficult to determine which chemical is causing the increased risk of diabetes, but Sen’s study used sucralose-based products, which are the newest on the market. He used a low-calorie, low-sweet mixture of sucralose in powder form that was diluted and added to cells. When quantities were increased, effects were even more pronounced.
In a separate experiment, biopsy samples of abdominal fat from people who said they consumed low-calorie sweeteners, primarily sucralose and a trace of aspartame and/or acesulfame potassium, were compared. The cells of the patients who were obese showed increased glucose transport compared to those who did not consume low-calorie sweeteners.
The FDA has approved five low-sugar products — saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. One low-calorie product, Stevia, has also been approved. One of the problems with artificial sweeteners is that a small portion of a low-sugar product is much more intense than sugar, and a person can begin to use it more and more or may find normally tasty foods less appealing.
So, what should you do? According to Sen, both sweetened beverages and low-sugar drinks are bad for you. “If you just drink sweetened beverages, you are taking in sugar itself, but if you drink beverages with artificial sweeteners you are taking in greater quantities of glucose. I’m not saying we should replace artificial sweeteners — that’s even worse,” Dr. Sen added. “But consider an option like fizzy water.”
In other words, weight gain and metabolic syndrome can be a vicious cycle for some. You use artificial sweeteners and become more and more reliant on these products. The more you use, the more glucose your body produces. Foods rich in natural sugars like fruit don’t taste as good.
The other problem is that people tend to think that artificial sweeteners don’t pack any extra calories and so they may over-indulge in other sweetened products.
Sen’s research took place in petri dishes in a laboratory, but the implications for people are serious. You don’t get a free pass with artificial sweeteners — even though the research model used smaller quantities of artificial sweeteners, the impact on cells was significant.
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