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Sugars And Artificial Sweeteners Harmful
In The Same Manner

Recent studies have shown that artificial sweeteners need to be approached with caution and they may not be good and can cause conditions like diabetes and obesity.


 

 

Sugar is said to be bad for our body mainly because it has high calories and zero nutritional value. All the types of delicious, fun foods and beverages that have high added sugar can displace more nutrition packed complex carbohydrates (which provide vitamins, minerals and fibre). Sugary foods also don't provide the satiety that you get from other healthier foods, so people tend to consume more calories when they eat foods with more sugar in it leading to obesity and weight gain. This weight gain has been associated with high risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Also, if you already have diabetes or a diabetes-related condition then having sugar will increase your blood sugar and your triglycerides, which is a risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease. Simple sugar is also correlated with tooth cavities and decay, poor energy levels, and can lead to sugar cravings as the body never becomes fully satisfied from healthy foods.

What are artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are low-calorie or calorie-free chemical substances that are used in place of sugar to sweeten foods and drinks. They are found in thousands of products including beverages, desserts, ready-to-eat meals, chewing gum and toothpaste. Sweeteners provide a sweet taste but after they are consumed, unlike sugar, they don't increase one’s blood sugar levels. Saccharin (sugar in Latin) was the first artificial sweetener discovered accidentally in 1897 by a Johns Hopkins University, USA researcher who was searching for new uses for coal tar derivatives. The discovery of another sweetener called cyclamate in 1937 coincided with the rise of diet soda (Pepsi and Coca Cola) in the 1950s and is still used today in diet Pepsi. Sweeteners are considered safe but to say that they are very healthy and have no side effect on our body is highly debatable. Most food manufacturers make tall claims that sweeteners help prevent tooth decay, control blood sugar levels and reduce our calorie intake. Sweeteners also may have a stimulating effect on one’s appetite and thus may play a role in weight gain and obesity. However, research on sweeteners and is still inconsistent, mixed, sometimes biased and very much ongoing. Most studies do not universally conclude the positive or negative aspects of artificial sweeteners but do stress upon the fact that these sweeteners can have negative health consequences as well1.

Are artificial sweeteners all good or bad

Increased awareness about the health consequences of eating too much sugar - for all consumers of all age group - has led to the dramatic rise in the consumption of zero-calorie artificial sweeteners in past decades in the form of beverages or foods. It can be said that artificial sweeteners are now the most commonly used food additives worldwide. However, health experts argue that despite this publicity, awareness and usage there is still a continuous rise in obesity and diabetes cases. Recent comprehensive research2 showcased at 2018 Experimental Biology meeting shows that these sweeteners (sugar replacements) can cause health changes that are linked with diabetes and obesity and may not be good for anyone (normal or at-risk group). This is the largest research till date which successfully tracks biochemical changes in the body after consumption of sugar and sugar substitutes using an approach called “unbiased high-throughput metabolomics”. The study was conducted in rats and cell cultures and the impact of substances on lining of blood vessels in the body was studied which suggested the health status. It was seen that both sugar and artificial sweeteners seem to exhibit negative effects relating to obesity and diabetes, just with different mechanisms.

Sugar and sweeteners harmful in an alike manner

In this study, researchers fed rats (belonging to two different groups) diets which were high in glucose or fructose (two kinds of natural sugar), or aspartame or acesulfame potassium (the common zero-calorie artificial sweeteners). After a period of three weeks they studied the differences in the concentrations of biochemicals, fats and amino acids in their blood samples. It is known that up to an extent our body machinery is very smart and can handle sugar, it’s the excess chronic consumption over a long course of time that causes our natural machinery to break down. The results of the study showed that the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium appeared to accumulate in the blood leading to higher concentrations thus having a harmful effect on the cells which line the blood vessels. Negative unnatural changes in the fat and energy metabolism were seen upon replacing natural sugars with non-calorific artificial sweeteners. There cannot be a simple or clear conclusion from this study, the authors state, as more research is needed in this area. However, one aspect which is clear is that high dietary sugars and artificial sweeteners “both” have a negative health outcome in an otherwise healthy individual. The study also doesn’t suggest to go cold turkey on these sweeteners by claiming that this would eliminate any risks of obesity or diabetes. The study rather propagates a “moderation” approach to rule out health risks and does not promote a blanket ban on artificial sweeteners as such.

Artificial sweeteners promote diabetes

Unpublished study3 showcased at ENDO 2018, annual meeting of Endocrine Society USA, shows that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners could promote metabolic syndrome and cause diabetes especially in obese people. The metabolic syndrome consists of risks like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and high abdomen fat. These risks promote blood vessel and heart diseases leading to attacks and strokes along with a very high risk of diabetes. This study showed that in stem cells artificial sweeteners promoted fat accumulation in a dose dependent fashion unlike cells which have not been exposed to such artificial substances. This happens by increased glucose entry into the cells. Also, when looking at fat samples from obese individuals who consumed these artificial sweeteners, it was found that that same thing was happening in the fat cells as well. Therefore, this is a cause of greater concern for people who have obesity or diabetes than normal weight counterparts because they have more insulin and more glucose in their blood. This only leads to increased risk of heart attack and strokes.

The word is not final on the artificial sweeteners as research is being carried out to understand their effects. But one thing is surely clear is that such artificial substances should also not be blindly consumed by the public and moderation approach must be applied to it as with the other “supposedly” healthy foods and drinks.

Source:

1 Jotham Suez et al. 2014, ‘Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota’, Nature, vol. 514, pp.181–186, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13793
2 EB 2018, Experimental Biology Meeting <https://plan.coreapps.com/eb2018/abstract/382e0c7eb95d6e76976fbc663612d58a>
3 ENDO 2018, annual meeting of Endocrine Society USA <https://www.endocrine.org/news-room/2018/consuming-low-calorie-sweeteners-may-predispose-overweight-individuals-to-diabetes>

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Vol.1 Issue 5 May 2018

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