New study suggests artificial sweeteners may cause weight gain

Research from MCW, Marquette
Posted at 10:27 PM, Apr 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-24 23:27:44-04

Drinking diet soda may actually lead to gaining weight, according to a new study from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University. 

Researchers presented the findings at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego over the weekend.

Because artificial sugars have become so prevalent in society, a lead author on the study said they wanted to find out more about how these substances affect the body. 

The study used rats and human cells and focused on a three week period of exposure to both aspartame and acesulfame potassium. 

"We chose those two because they're commonly blended together in diet sodas," said Dr. Brian Hoffmann, an assistant professor in the joint department of biomedical engineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University. 

He says his team found that the two artificial sweeteners they studied may change how the body gets energy and processes fats, and those changes could contribute to the onset of diabetes and weight gain. 

"There's some type of disruption going on with the balance of energy when the rat consumed these substances," he said. 

At weight loss organizations like TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly), they follow research like this closely in order to inform members. 

"It's something we're interested in learning more information about," said Alyssa McNamee, outreach liaison at TOPS. "As we're learning more and as more research comes out, we're really excited to send that information to our members so they can make better choices for themselves." 

Hoffmann says they are planning additional, longer form studies to look at these artificial sweeteners more closely, and also want to investigate a potential link to heart disease. 

He says with all types of sugars, real or fake, moderation is key. 

The Chief Scientific, Medical and Mission Officer at the American Diabetes Association responded to these findings in an email saying: 

"This study evaluated the tissues of rats who consumed artificial sweeteners and assessed the effects with laboratory-based techniques. While the study is of interest and comments on proposed mechanisms suggesting adverse events, such studies cannot be directly translated to produce the same outcomes in humans.

In addition, the ADA’s 2018 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes, the globally accepted guidance document detailing the care of people with and at risk for diabetes, currently recommends the following:

People with diabetes and those at risk should avoid sugar-sweetened beverages in order to control weight and reduce their risk for CVD and fatty liver, and should minimize the consumption of foods with added sugar that have the capacity to displace healthier, more nutrient-dense food choices. 

The use of nonnutritive sweeteners may have the potential to reduce overall calorie and carbohydrate intake if substituted for caloric (sugar) sweeteners and without compensation by intake of additional calories from other food sources. Nonnutritive sweeteners are generally safe to use within the defined acceptable daily intake levels. 

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed “low-fat” or “nonfat” food products with high amounts of refined grains and added sugars is strongly discouraged. 

For some people with diabetes who are accustomed to sugar-sweetened products, nonnutritive sweeteners (containing few or no calories) may be an acceptable substitute for nutritive sweeteners (those containing calories such as sugar, honey, agave syrup) when consumed in moderation.

While use of nonnutritive sweeteners does not appear to have a significant effect on glycemic control, they can reduce overall calorie and carbohydrate intake. Most systematic reviews and meta-analyses show benefits for nonnutritive sweetener use in weight loss; however, some research suggests an association with weight gain. Regulatory agencies set acceptable daily intake levels for each nonnutritive sweetener, defined as the amount that can be safely consumed over a person’s lifetime."