Study suggests low-calorie sweeteners can make you fat

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Cans of soda are displayed in a case at Kwik Stops Liquor in San Diego, California, February 13, 2014. Reuters/Sam Hodgson

A new study suggests that low-calorie sweeteners may promote fat formation, especially to individuals who are already obese. When consumed in high amounts, these types of sweeteners may not be a "healthful" alternative to sugar.

Dr Sabyasachi Sen of George Washington University in Washington, DC, the principal study investigator, and his colleagues analysed the effects of sucralose, a zero-calorie artificial sweetener, on abdominal fat samples and on stem cells derived from human fat tissue. Sucralose is 650 times sweeter than sugar and is being used as a substitute in several products such as diet sodas, table-top sweeteners, gum, breakfast cereals, baking mixes and salad dressings.

Amid documented health implications of sugar, an increasing number of people turn to sucralose with the perception that it is a healthier option. But more proof indicates that these sweeteners may result to metabolic dysfunction.

Researchers have seen indicators of fat production and inflammation from the stem cells used in the study. The stem cells also displayed an increase in the build up of fat droplets, particularly when exposed to a higher sucralose dose of 1 millimolar.

“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 noted. Researchers have also learned that those who consume artificial sweeteners on a regular basis had 2.5-fold higher sweet taste receptor than those who don’t eat the stuff.

Sen, a professor of medicine and endocrinology, said he and his colleagues believe that low-calorie sweeteners may actually result to additional fat formation by allowing more glucose into the cells and promote inflammation, which may be more detrimental to people battling with obesity. He admitted that more research is needed to validate the findings. The latest findings, posted at Endocrine.org, were presented at ENDO 2017, the 99th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, which took place in Orlando, FL.

In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved sucralose as an artificial sweetener. The American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association both agree that it is beneficial in weight loss and in managing diabetes. “When used to replace food and drinks with added sugars, it can help people with diabetes manage blood glucose levels,” the American Heart Association says on its website. Lauri Wright, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said an individual can save 300 calories per day by opting for artificial sweeteners instead of sugar or sugary drinks.

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