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Artificial sweetners may lead to weight gain

17 July 2017, 04:23 | Rodolfo Wallace

Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Justin Sullivan  Getty Images

Opting for a diet fizzy drink may seem like the healthier option, but artificial sweeteners used in the beverages may actually be making you gain weight. Seven of them were randomized trials, covering about 1,000 people, and the rest were observational studies that tracked the health and habits of nearly 406,000 people over time.

If you are trying to lose weight, it might be better to avoid artificial sweeteners.

A new University of Manitoba study says artificial sweeteners are linked to the risk of long-term weight gain, heart disease and other health issues.

Previous research explored an association among artificial sweeteners, obesity, and diabetes.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Manitoba's George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation and the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba. "This research has made me appreciate that there's more to it than calories alone".

But new Canadian research published Monday suggests that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, may be doing more harm than good. "And we found at least some evidence that they do the opposite".

It's not yet clear whether artificial sweeteners actually cause harm, however.

At her lab, Azad is now studying what happens when people are given artificially sweetened beverages for several weeks.

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Azad's study didn't look into what it is about artificial sweeteners that could be triggering increased risk of so many issues, it simply points to a link.

"Different bacteria are selected and that change may influence how much weight you gain on a long-term basis", Azad said.

And contrary to expectation based on the belief cutting out sugar would prevent weight gain, evidence that taking artificial sweeteners reduces weight was mixed.

"Sweeteners may have adverse effects on glucose metabolism, gut microbiota and appetite control". Regularly eating or drinking sugar substitutes may also cause people to crave sweeter foods more often. "They're shifting calories to other foods", Azad explained.

Another possibility is that our bodies have evolved to metabolize sugars in a way that's triggered not by calories or the sugar molecule but by the perception of sweet taste.

So far, research has not yielded definitive answers. For instance, the effects of synthetic versus natural low calorie sweeteners have not been thoroughly explored. "Individualized strategies are critical for successful body weight management and should address not only dietary preferences, but also physical activity, and medical considerations to help each person achieve their health goals, including those related to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension". "People need to be reducing their overall intake of sweeteners whether they have calories or not", says Swithers.

Five artificial sweeteners are permitted for use in the United Kingdom: aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium (known as acesulfame K), cyclamate and sucralose. "It really affects everybody", she said.



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