Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity

Artificial Sweeteners Making You Fatter

Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity african american man and woman

Artificial sweeteners, aka low-calorie sweeteners, promote metabolic syndrome by increasing abdominal fat in people with obesity. Research from Sabyasachi Sen, M.D. from George Washington University in the U.S. shows sucralose promotes fat formation and inflammation.

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This 2018 experimental study showed that obese subjects who took sucralose had more glucose in their blood and increased fat formation. Now that you know artificial sweeteners promote weight gain in obese people, what are some common types of artificial sweeteners?

Types of Artificial Sweeteners

Many “sugar-free” or “diet” foods and drinks contain artificial sweeteners. According to the Mayo Clinic, artificial sweeteners are a type of sugar (sucrose) substitute. The following is a list of artificial “high-intensity” sweeteners permitted by FDA in the United States:

  • Saccharin – brand names include Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Sweet’N Low, and Necta Sweet. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Aspartame – brand names include NutraSweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin. It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K) – brand names include Sunett and Sweet One. It is also 200 times sweeter than sucrose. 
  • Sucralose – brand name Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sucrose.
Artificial Sweetener and Obesity spenda pouring into cup of coffee
Pouring Splenda, aka sucralose, into a cup of coffee
  • Neotame – brand name Newtame is about 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Advantame – is about 20,000 times sweeter than sucrose.

Artificial Sweeteners Promote Metabolic Syndrome

While the artificial sweetener sucralose puts over 100 million obese Americans at risk for metabolic syndrome, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the sweetener is “approved for use in food” and “safe for consumption.” The following research shows artificial sweeteners are not safe for people with obesity because it causes metabolic dysfunction.

Dr. Sen and his colleagues tested sucralose on 18 human subjects’ abdomen fat. The fourteen subjects with overweight or obesity showed a significant increase in fat formation (adipogenic genes) and glucose transporter genes (GLUT4). In contrast, the other four test subjects with normal weight showed no statistical difference.

Furthermore, a cell culture study found sucralose promotes “oxygen radical accumulation – highly reactive particles that can cause disease and inflammation inside cells.” Moreover, “these oxygen radicals interfere with cell activity and slow down metabolism, which promotes accumulation of fat in the cell.” Dr. Sen says, “This provides another explanation of how sucralose may interfere with metabolism.”

White man abdomen fat

In conclusion, since the study found sucralose to be detrimental in a “larger sample size” of eight obese subjects, Dr. Sen’s team has “more confidence that low-calorie sweeteners are causing metabolic dysfunction.” Thus, the effects of sucralose are particularly more harmful in people with obesity.

Other than abdominal obesity, what are the other risk factors of metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors

Research shows artificial sweeteners promote metabolic syndrome, and according to NIH, “you must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.” The five conditions listed below are metabolic risk factors:

  • Abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Having excess fat around your abdomen puts you at greater risk for heart disease. 
  • High triglyceride levels – a type of fat found in the blood.
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels – raises your risk for heart disease.
  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting blood sugar – may be an early sign of diabetes.

If you have three or more of the above risk factors, you have metabolic syndrome. According to Heart.org, people with metabolic syndrome have a “higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.” You can decrease your risk of metabolic syndrome by stopping your consumption of artificial sweeteners.

Man and Woman apple shape

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