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Artificial sweeteners fail dieters; cause health risks

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If you use artificial sweeteners to avoid gaining weight, you’re not only wasting your time but also possibly causing future health problems, according to a new study.

The study found that not only do aspartame and sucralose not prevent weight gain, they also raise the risk of disease in people who use them regularly.

Some research even shows long term use of artificial sweeteners leads to weight gain.

Recent research shows about a quarter of children and more than 40 percent of adults in the United States consume artificial sweeteners daily.

Some people eat them purposefully in the mistaken belief that is better for their health. Many others, however, are unwittingly consuming them in everyday food products.

Artificial sweeteners hiding in many foods

Artificial sweeteners are hiding in many foods unbeknownst to most people. These products are not always clearly labeled and some are even labeled with misleading claims such as “natural ingredients.”

While we expect to find artificial sweeteners in foods labeled “light,” “reduced sugars,” “diet,” and “sugar-free,” they also show up in “smart” popcorn, granola bars, yogurt, and even a popular pediatric electrolyte drink.

Artificial sweeteners linked to obesity; disease

Studies also suggest long term use of artificial sweeteners leads to weight gain and chronic diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease.

Participants in a randomized trial who used artificial sweeteners as part of their weight loss program were shown to have a slight increase in their body mass index, a 14 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, and a 32 percent higher chance of developing heart disease.

Lobbyists for the artificial sweetener industry and researchers agree other variables need to be considered and more research needs to be done.

Why artificial sweeteners cause weight gain

One reason it’s believed these fake sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity-related health risks is because they trigger sugar cravings that a person eventually gives into.

Another theory suggests that consuming foods with artificial sweeteners leads a person to feel “virtuous” and thus justified in overindulging later.

Animal studies show artificial sweeteners trick the brain into thinking you’ve eaten sugar, which can trigger inflammatory cascades and disease.

Artificial sweeteners also alter the gut microbiomein a way that promotes obesity and diabetes.

Functional medicine approach to sweeteners

In functional medicine, we see time and time again that people naturally lose their cravings for sugar and starchy carbs when they eat a whole foods diet that stabilizes blood sugar, lowers inflammation, and promotes brain health. You won’t feel drawn to regular use of artificial sweeteners when you have no cravings for sweets in the first place. Ask my office how we can help.


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Diet sodas can make you fat and pre-diabetic

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If you regularly drink diet soda and use artificial sweeteners because you think it will help you lose weight, you’re unwittingly sabotaging your efforts. Sure, artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharine, and aspartame save on calories, but a recent Israeli study shows they can skew the composition of gut bacteria, or our microbiome  in a way that promotes obesity and diabetes. 

We’re increasingly learning about the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut, weighing in at 3 to 4 pounds, and the profound influence they have on human health and behavior. In addition to providing nutrients and aiding in the digestive process, gut bacteria also influence moods, behavior and mental health; immune function; energy levels; and how well we burn or store fat.

Our microbiome consists of beneficial and harmful bacteria. We carry a diverse array of bacteria –- hundreds of varieties –- and the proportions of these bacteria can play a role in how our body, brain, and even personality function. 

Unfortunately, as promising as the idea of calorie-free drinks sound, they skew the balance of bacteria in the gut toward high blood sugar. This in turn promotes insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), fat storage, and chronic inflammation. In the study this phenomenon was referred to as glucose intolerance. 

Artificial sweeteners promote high blood sugar

The study began by looking at groups of mice that were given plain water, water with sugar added, or water with an artificial sweetener added. After 10 weeks the groups given the artificial sweeteners consistently showed high blood sugar, regardless of whether the sweetener used was saccharine, aspartame, or sucralose. Even a group of mice given a high-fat diet and sugar water maintained healthy blood glucose levels while the group given a high-fat diet and artificial sweeteners did not.

To further validate the findings, researchers transplanted fecal matter from the mice given artificial sweeteners into germ-free mice. The germ-free, too, developed glucose intolerance. When scientists gave the affected mice antibiotics to kill the overgrowth of fat-promoting bacteria, their blood sugar normalized.

Studying artificial sweeteners in humans

Of course, not everyone is going to be sold on the results of a study using mice. After all, we’re not mice. So the researchers ran the study on a small group of human volunteers, all of whom showed elevated blood sugar and alterations in their gut bacteria composition after just one week.

How to cultivate healthy gut bacteria 

In addition to avoiding artificial sweeteners, there are other ways to cultivate your inner garden of gut flora to promote fat burning instead of weight gain. One of the best ways is to make vegetables the primary part of your diet, including cultured vegetables. Not only are they loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they promote and maintain good gut bacteria. At the same time, avoiding processed foods, sugars and sweeteners, and artificial additives will prevent the bad bacteria from taking over and giving you health problems.

Ask my office for probiotic supplement recommendations to further enhance your good gut bacteria.