Study finds ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers lead to weight gain, but ex­perts dis­agree

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY LAURA KELLY

A new study finds that su­cralose is linked to weight gain, but ex­perts say that such ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers are a safe al­ter­na­tive to sugar and help weight loss and man­age­ment.

Dur­ing the an­nual En­docrine So­ci­ety meet­ing in Florida, re­searchers at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity last week said pre­lim­i­nary find­ings of a study sug­gest a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween su­cralose and weight gain.

“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,” Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, who led the study, said in a press state­ment.

More re­search is needed in large numbers of peo­ple with di­a­betes and obe­sity to con­firm the find­ings, said Dr. Sen, a pro­fes­sor of medicine and en­docrinol­ogy at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity.

His team tested su­cralose on stem cells and found that — for an amount equiv­a­lent to four cans of diet soda — it in­creased markers of fat pro­duc­tion and in­flam­ma­tion in genes.

“Many health-conscious in­di­vid­u­als like to con­sume low-calo­rie sweet­en­ers as an al­ter­na­tive to sugar. How­ever, there is in­creas­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that these sweet­en­ers pro­mote meta­bolic dys­func­tion,” Dr. Sen said.

The pop­u­la­tion most at risk from these find­ings are those who are obese and di­a­bet­ics.

Su­cralose, which is de­rived from sugar, was first dis­cov­ered in Eng­land in 1976. It’s known as a “non-nu­tri­tive sweet­ener” (NNS), with no caloric value, and is supposed to pass through the body.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved su­cralose as an ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener in 1999 af­ter at least 110 stud­ies to en­sure its safety. The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion ad­vo­cate for its use in weight loss and in man­ag­ing di­a­betes.

Con­sid­er­ing that 21.9 mil­lion Amer­i­cans were known to have di­a­betes in 2012 and one-third of Amer­i­cans are obese, the ben­e­fits of ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers in weight loss could out­weigh the po­ten­tial dam­ages.

“Re­plac­ing sug­ary foods and drinks with sugar-free op­tions con­tain­ing NNSs is one way to limit calo­ries and achieve or main­tain a healthy weight. Also, when used to re­place food and drinks with added sug­ars, it can help peo­ple with di­a­betes manage blood glu­cose lev­els,” the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion says on its web­site.

FDA guide­lines for con­sump­tion of sweet­en­ers are not con­ser­va­tive. The “ac­cept­able daily in­take” of su­cralose is 23 pack­ets of the com­mer­cial brand Splenda. As­par­tame, or Equal, is also 23 pack­ets. For Tru­via, a sweet­ener de­rived from the ste­via leaf, the FDA rec­om­mends no more than nine pack­ets.

Lauri Wright, a spokes­woman for the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics, says that by re­plac­ing sugar or sug­ary drinks with ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers, a per­son can save 300 calo­ries per day and lose around a pound a week.

“Based on the ev­i­dence of the role of sugar in in­flam­ma­tion and chronic dis­ease and obe­sity, we rec­om­mend lim­it­ing added sug­ars as what is found in sug­ary bev­er­ages, candy, etc. Sugar sub­sti­tutes can be a safe al­ter­na­tive,” Ms. Wright said.

Stud­ies in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Obe­sity in 2015 and 2017 found that the use of sweet­en­ers leads to re­duced body weight and any in­creases in glu­cose or in­sulin lev­els com­pared to sugar con­sump­tion are min­i­mal.

But Dr. Sen’s find­ings and other stud­ies like it seek to chal­lenge the ac­cepted no­tion that the body doesn’t com­mu­ni­cate with the sweet­ener.

A study pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary in the An­nals of Nu­tri­tion and Me­tab­o­lism found sup­port­ive ev­i­dence that ha­bit­ual in­ges­tion of sweet­en­ers was as­so­ci­ated with a risk for Type 2 di­a­betes.

“A pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple should be ap­plied to the pro­mo­tion of these prod­ucts that are still largely rec­om­mended as healthy sugar sub­sti­tutes,” the re­searchers wrote in their con­clu­sion.

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