Are Artificial Sweeteners Actually Making Us Fat?

Do you use low-calorie artificial sweetener as a sugar substitute because you think it’s better for you? Well, you’re not alone. Earlier this year a study showed that American adults were consuming artificial sweeteners at an increasing rate of 54 percent and 200 percent for kids. You might think low calories mean less weight gain. Unfortunately, further recent research shows it could be quite the opposite.

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Turns out low-calorie artificial sweeteners may lead to increased fat accumulation, particularly among obese people. This is the findings of preliminary research recently presented at ENDO 2017, the Endocrine Society’s 99th annual meeting in Florida.

For the study, researchers placed sucralose, a common low-cal sweetener, on stem cells taken from human fat tissue. Using a concentration of sucralose equivalent to that of the blood of a person drinking around four cans of diet soda a day, the cells were then placed in a Petri dish for 12 days. The results showed that the cells all contained an increased activation of genes associated with fat production and inflammation.

The team conducted a second experiment using biopsy samples of abdominal fat from eight people who consumed low-calorie sweeteners. The researchers compared these samples against fat biopsy samples from a different group who didn’t consume low-cal sweeteners. Overall, they found evidence that the first group experienced “increased glucose (sugar) transport into cells and overexpression of known fat-producing genes,” compared to the other group.

The research further showed that this first group showed an “overexpression of sweet taste receptors in their fat tissue.” Sabyasachi Sen, an associate professor of medicine and endocrinology at George Washington University who led the study, explained that this factor could very well explain why the consumption of low-calorie sweeteners could lead to an increase in glucose absorption into the bloodstream (which was measured at a rate three times higher than in people who don’t consume the sugar substitutes).

“From our study,” Sen said in a statement to the press, “we believe that low-calorie sweeteners promote additional fat formation by allowing more glucose to enter the cells, and promotes inflammation, which may be more detrimental in obese individuals.”