Artificial sweeteners are used in many foods and drinks to provide the taste of sugar, but what do they really do? This article will explore how artificial sweeteners affect the human body.
It also discusses the different types of artificial sweeteners, their benefits and risks, and whether or not it is worth using them.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are a food additive used to provide the taste of sugar but without the accompanying calories. There are various artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia.
What Are Natural Sweeteners?
Natural sweeteners are 'healthier' sugar substitutes that occur naturally in foods. The most common natural sweetener is called honey. There are also other types of natural sweeteners, including agave nectar and maple syrup.
However, the FDA only recognizes the following as natural sweeteners:
- Maple syrup
- Fruit juices and nectars
Is It Worth Using Artificial Sweeteners?
That depends on your individual circumstances. If you are trying to lose weight or manage your diabetes, artificial sweeteners can be helpful.
However, if you are pregnant or have migraines, you may want to avoid them. And if you are generally healthy, there is no need to consume artificial sweeteners as they offer no health benefits that sugar doesn't.
What Do Artificial Sweeteners Do to The Body?
Artificial sweeteners have many benefits, including weight loss, blood sugar control, and preventing tooth decay.
However, there are also risks associated with their use. Some people experience side effects like headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Additionally, some research has linked artificial sweeteners to health problems like cancer and heart disease.
Here is how artificial sweeteners can do to your body:
The gut has microorganisms that help break down the food we eat.
Artificial sweeteners have been shown to affect these organisms differentially. That makes them less able to work with real sugars as their exposure continues on an exponential curve.
It is like how people's tolerance for drugs increases after taking only small amounts or experiencing long-term use.
Research has shown that consuming artificial sweeteners can change the gut microbiota of mice, decreasing their ability to digest sugars.
Overeating and Having a Sweet Tooth
Artificial sweeteners may be helpful in people with diabetes who need to keep their blood sugar at a certain level, but they don't provide the calories or glucose that our bodies crave.
They also fail in activating insulin production, which can lead people to eat more food than necessary to feel full all day long.
The brain is wired to prefer sweetness. That said, sweetness of any kind increases the brain's tolerance and desire for sweetness. The more sugar you eat, the easier it will be to crave later on.
A recent study shows that when rats are given artificial sweeteners, they become more likely to indulge in high-calorie foods.
The experiment involved giving adult male rats one flavor associated with low-calorie food (saccharin) and another for healthy options like sugar or glucose syrup, respectively, over two weeks.
During this time, it became apparent how much preference these creatures had developed even before starting the training.
Weight Gain and Obesity
Dieters often use artificial sweeteners to cut calories. But studies have shown that these artificial sugars can actually cause you to gain weight, not maintain or lose it!
There is a lot of evidence that suggests artificial sweeteners can promote weight gain and obesity.
The San Antonio Heart Study studied more than 5,000 adults for seven to eight years. They found that people who drink both sugar-sweetened and diet sodas were at risk of gaining weight.
However, people drinking only diet beverages were at more risk of being obese.
The problem is that artificially sweetened food could trigger weight gain if you don't limit your intake.
Affect Gut Health
Artificial sweeteners have been shown to affect the normal gut microbiota. Studies show that artificial sugars, such as saccharin and Splenda, can alter your microbes in a significant way.
Depending on which type, they do this by altering their numbers or activity levels.
These findings also suggest that altering gut microbiota is linked with different health problems like diabetes and obesity.
But more research needs do before drawing conclusions.
Headaches and Migraines
As to whether artificial sweeteners trigger migraines is still up for debate.
A 2017 research review published in Nutrition Journal found no significant link between noncaloric sweeteners and headaches. But it also cannot say for certain if there is a link.
However, some people have a few case reports linking aspartame with migraines. Aspartame is a possible trigger for migraines.
It's been shown to affect sufferers and should be avoided at all costs if you suffer from these debilitating headaches. MayoClinic also lists aspartame as a possible cause of headaches and migraines.
In 2006, a patient was reported to experience migraines that were constantly triggered by sucralose in the Journal of Head and Face Pain. After much research into this unusual case.
The medical community has become more aware of how artificial sweeteners can trigger headaches in recent years.
But it is important to consult a doctor if you experience these symptoms, as they can occur due to other things like low blood sugar or dehydration.
Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?
There is a lot of concern about whether artificial sweeteners cause cancer. Most of this worry surrounds aspartame, one of the most commonly used sugar substitutes in the world.
But to date, there is no substantial scientific evidence that shows any link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. Italian researchers found that aspartame could trigger blood-related cancers, such as leukemia.
However, FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) refuted these claims.
EFSA completed the research in 2013 and found no link between artificial sweeteners and lymphoma, leukemia, and other blood cancers. The government agency concluded that "Aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure."
Artificial Sweeteners Are Not for Everyone
Artificial sweeteners are not for everyone. Some people find that they make them feel sick or give them headaches or migraines.
If you experience any adverse effects after consuming artificial sweeteners, stop using them and consult your doctor.
People who find artificial sweeteners helpful can be an excellent way to cut calories if consumed in moderation.
They will not help everyone, and they aren't meant for long-term weight loss purposes.
Artificial sweeteners should only be used as a tool for short-term weight management or where you need an option other than sugar during meal times.