Fake Sweetness, Real Effects

cases of Diet PepsiA new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal offers the latest confirmation of an irony: “Diet” soda won’t help you keep weight off.

But wait. It gets worse.

As the Washington Post reported, “The study found that not only were artificial sweeteners dodgy when it came to weight management, but people who drank them routinely had an increased body mass index and risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”

Really.

For the new CMAJ paper, researchers reviewed 7 trials involving just over 1000 participants and 30 cohort studies involving more than 400,000. While the trials showed that “nonnutritive sweeteners had no significant effect on BMI,” the cohort studies showed a “modest increase in BMI.” They noted other impacts, as well.

In the cohort studies, consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners was associated with increases in weight and waist circumference, and higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.

Sugar, of course, does those things – and plenty more – as well.

Meanwhile, research continues to shed light on the other ways in which artificial sweeteners may affect health, beyond weight and metabolic effects. We’ve looked at some of this science before. Just last month, new research in PLoS ONE highlighted the effects of Ace-K on gut flora in mice.

We found that Ace-K consumption perturbed the gut microbiome of CD-1 mice after a 4-week treatment. The observed body weight gain, shifts in the gut bacterial community composition, enrichment of functional bacterial genes related to energy metabolism, and fecal metabolomic changes were highly gender-specific, with differential effects observed for males and females. In particular, ace-K increased body weight gain of male but not female mice. Collectively, our results may provide a novel understanding of the interaction between artificial sweeteners and the gut microbiome, as well as the potential role of this interaction in the development of obesity and the associated chronic inflammation.

A study published earlier this year in PLoS Medicine recognizes that while more unbiased, long-term studies are needed, we should proceed with caution with artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs).

The promotion of ASBs must be discussed in a broader context of the additional potential impacts on health and the environment. In addition, a more robust evidence base, free of conflicts of interest, is needed. Far from helping to solve the global obesity crisis, characteristics related to ASB composition (low nutrient density and food additives), consumption patterns (potential promotion of sweet taste preference), and environmental impact (misuse of natural resources, pollution, or ecotoxicity) make them a potential risk factor for highly prevalent chronic diseases.

Certainly, your body has no need for them. And that should be the focus when it comes to diet and nutrition: giving your body what it needs.


Image by Mike Mozart

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