By Dr. Caroline Cederquist and Joy Lynn Post –
We’ve all heard it. You need to choose diet soda to lose weight. Pick low-calorie foods, and choose low-carb drinks. Food marketers have responded to public demand, and to maintain taste acceptance, producers have begun cramming artificial sweeteners in every bar, shake, or beverage variety on the shelf. It’s simple; they reduce calories while maintaining a sweet taste. With our nation’s epidemic of obesity, how could that be so bad? Well, it isn’t necessarily bad. Except for the rumors we’ve all heard. About how artificial sweeteners can cause cancer, and have been linked to reproductive problems in animal studies.
But artificial sweeteners are low-calorie—of paramount importance when you are trying to lose weight—so it seems like artificial sweeteners are almost a must when you are trying to lose weight. But if you want to do it the ‘healthy way’ and minimize your exposure to artificial sweeteners, you may find yourself in quite a conundrum. The constant push-pull of information keeps us on edge, wondering if we are actually doing the right thing.
Collective research investigating the effects of artificial sweeteners on metabolism up to this point has been very unsatisfying. But a recent study published in May of 2013 from researchers at the Washington School of Medicine has boldly demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can have a powerful effect on insulin levels, and unfortunately, glucose levels as well.
The first of its kind, this study looked at 17 obese people with an average BMI of 42 who didn’t consume any artificial sweeteners and were free from diabetes. Volunteers were given one on of two things prior to a glucose challenge test, either a glass of water, or a drink made with sucralose (Splenda).
The researchers wanted to discover if drinking sucralose before a glucose challenge test would affect insulin or blood sugar levels. Each volunteer was tested twice, first just by drinking just water, and then a week later they underwent the same test, and instead drank the sucralose beverage first before the glucose challenge test.
What the researchers found was indeed surprising. Compared to drinking water only, the sucralose drink caused approximately a 20% increase in peak insulin levels, and a higher peak plasma glucose concentration. This higher insulin and higher glucose becomes detrimental, because when people constantly secrete high levels of insulin it almost always eventually leads to type 2 diabetes. This is problematic for people who are overweight because being obese already dramatically increases their risk of developing diabetes.
So how does it happen? Well the researchers suspected that our taste buds may be responsible. Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose interact with receptor on the tongue to tell people they are consuming something sweet, and doesn’t necessarily know it’s calorie –free. However, digestive hormones can be released just by seeing food—like how looking a piece of cake or a juicy steak can cause the even the most self-controlled of us to salivate a little. And the same thing can happen with tasting something sweet. Signals from our tongue communicate and send signals digestive organs about what we just consumed. And then our digestive organs react.
The gastrointestinal tract as well as the pancreas (where insulin is produced) is capable of detecting foods or beverages that are sweet, and begin to release hormones as a result. This happens even when the artificial sweeteners are administered in a very lose dose. This study used 48mg, which is about about 4% of a yellow 1-gram packet of Splenda.
So the bottom line is that whether or not you choose to use artificial sweeteners, it’s important to know that consuming them, even in small amounts can play tricks on your body, causing it to “over-respond” to signals from your taste buds. Interestingly, other studies that have investigated artificial sweeteners’ ability to help consumers limit their calories each day and –quite ironically—they found that consume artificial sweeteners could actually make people gain weight. Laboratory studies in animals show that animals who eat foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners actually consumed more total calories through the day than animals whose food was sweetened with normal sugar.
At Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, our patients often desire to avoid or eliminate artificial sweeteners while they are losing weight. This easy to do, and with the resources our center can provide, you’ll find it surprisingly easy to do as well. We partner with patients for a total health transformation, and can cater to each individuals’ needs with regards to artificial sweeteners.