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Women's Health

Artificial Sweeteners Work Against Weight Loss

Why the Fake Stuff Increases Calorie Intake and Increases Risk of Diabetes

November 01, 2010
Thinking that changing from sugar to an artificial sweetener like NutraSweet or Splenda will help with weight loss? Well, think again. Recent studies have shown that the use of artificial sweeteners actually blunt satiety signals in the brain, triggering more calorie intake. Researchers found that the risk of type 2 diabetes was elevated in soda drinkers, regardless of whether it was regular or diet soda. Though some argued that soda drinking could be considered a hallmark of a poor diet, other research has shown that artificial sweeteners may actually trigger an increase in the level of insulin within the body.

Higher insulin levels are associated with weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, and leads to the development of diabetes and increases inflammation that can lead to other chronic diseases. Hundreds of times more sweet than regular sugar, the sweetener fools the body into thinking a large glucose load is coming in. The body releases a priming dose of insulin, but when the calories aren't there to counter the insulin, the body sends out more hunger signals to avoid hypoglycemia and causes increased hunger. Artificial sweeteners have also been implicated in the development of migraines, fatigue, muscle pain and other symptoms.

If you're thinking of just sticking to regular sugar, think again. Sugar attaches itself to proteins in the body, a process called glycation, and diminishes their function. This leads to accelerated aging due to disrupted cellular signaling and inflammation. Calories aside, sugar has been associated with the development of many diseases, not just diabetes and obesity.

Read labels. Flavored waters, drink powders and many processed foods contain artificial sweeteners. Be wary of anything that advertises itself to be low calorie or less sugar, and look at all of the ingredients. NutraSweet and Splenda are often listed as aspartame and sucralose or other trade names. Stevia, an herb used for its sweetening properties, has not been well studied, and it isn't known whether or not it has similar effects in the body, so the overall recommendation is to limit using sugars and sweeteners of all kinds. Whether natural or synthetic, what matters is how the body's chemistry responds to it. Sweeteners may reduce calories but higher insulin levels can lead you down a path toward disease and weight gain, and that's the real bottom line.

Angela LaSalle, MD is board certified in family medicine and practices integrative medicine with Indiana Health Group in Carmel, IN. 317-843-9922. www.angelalasallemd.com

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