Artificial sweeteners were bolstered for many years as a healthy alternative to natural sugars. By matching the taste of sweetness without the calories, artificial sweeteners became immensely popular for people afflicted by obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Once the artificial sweetener saccharin was deemed probably carcinogenic, sugar substitutes fell from their health throne.
Speaking from their own health throne, the FDA has certified only five artificial sweeteners — saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K and neotame. Regardless, what the FDA deems “safe”, doesn’t necessarily reflect what is safe. There are many different ways artificial sweeteners impair human health. Consider the following a list of the most frightening ways artificial sugars kills more than a sweet tooth.(1)
Impairs metabolic processes of the body
Consuming large amounts artificial sweeteners can cause metabolic syndrome, which is associated with many conditions. Some of these include increased blood sugar and pressure, high blood cholesterol and excessive belly fat. In critical cases, obesity can lead to diabetes and chronic heart ailments.(2, 3)
Artificial sweeteners can disarray your hormones. An impaired metabolism can cause the endocrine glands to dysfunction, which can result in an abnormal secretion of hormones. This is because of the way insulin is released. Although sweeteners are devoid of calories, the pancreas responds to them as if they were natural sugars by producing insulin. However, in the absence of any glucose to metabolize, the insulin is retained by the body. This causes a condition known as hyperinsulinism. In its persistent state, hyperinsulinism can cause a person to lose strength and gain weight.(2, 4)
It is a common misconception that artificial sweeteners can help people lose weight. An insulin spike triggered by consuming sweeteners can increase food cravings. Consequently, people end up eating more and gaining weight. A heart-related study in San Antonio demonstrated that people who drank artificially sweetened beverages had a higher body mass index and greater fat retention than those who avoided these beverages. The author of The Supercharged Hormone Diet, Natasha Turner, states that artificially sweetened foods aren’t as filling, which leaves the person dissatisfied and makes them eat more. These facts put the fat in, well, facts.(2, 4)
The way artificially sweeteners taste is markedly different from the way natural sugars taste. In reality, artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than their natural brethren. Neotame, for example, is about 7,000 times sweeter than natural sugar. Even stevia, which is obtained from the sugarleaf herb, is hundreds of times sweeter than natural sucrose. It’s dangerous to expose taste buds to high levels of sweetness. The palate builds a tolerance with each sip and bite. This can make people crave sweeter foods and develop a dislike for other flavors.(4)
Alters intestinal bacteria
An ecosystem of bacteria resides in the pits of your stomach. Some bacteria aid digestion, whereas other strands are actually harmful. Some bacteria can isolate certain substances from ingested food and convert them into fats. Hence, a large population of gut bacteria means a high fat deposition. Artificial sweeteners can promote the growth of gut bacteria, thereby increasing body fat. The worst part is that fat becomes deposited beneath skin in the most unwelcome places — hips, thighs and belly.(4, 5, 6)
Increased risk of diabetes
Diabetics gravitated towards saccharin and other sweeteners because it is claimed to have zero calories. Artificial sweeteners lost favor among diabetics when it was discovered that fake sugar induced hormone imbalances. A Nurses’ Health Study conducted by the American Society of Nutrition in 2013 showed that people who regularly consumed artificially sweetened drinks had a much higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than those who did not. In addition, artificial sugars can boost obesity and alter gut bacteria, both of which are directly related to the onset of type 2 diabetes.(2)
Increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease
Sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame can interfere significantly with the metabolic functioning of your body. When the physiological processes slow down, blood circulation is affected in a major way too. The heart beats faster, which sparks high blood pressure and hypertension. Studies show that prolonged use of artificially sweetened drinks can lead to fatal problems in the long run, including coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
Many artificial sweeteners have come under the scanner for damaging the nervous system, including the brain. Aspartame is the most notorious in this regard. This sweetener is an organic compound that consists of three components — phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. These compounds have been independently shown to damage brain tissue cells. Further, they can slow down the responses of neurotransmitters, which impairs human reflexes. Heavy use of artificial sweeteners can impair motor control as well.(2, 4)
Although artificial sweeteners are organic compounds, they are not completely biodegradable. This is because they are designed to withstand the metabolic processes of the body; they do not dissociate and release energy in the form of calories. However, this has a negative impact in the environment since natural degradation processes cannot split them. A study conducted in 2009 published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology showed that municipal water bodies contained traces of acesulfame and sucralose. This could prove hazardous in the long run. By polluting water sources, artificial sweeteners merge into natural biogeochemical cycles, which will have an adverse impact on the environment. The best way to contain the threat is to control the consumption of artificial sweeteners now.(4)
The first artificial sweetener to be developed was saccharin. In an early lab rat study, saccharin was shown to possibly induce cancers when used in combination with cyclamate. The National Toxicology Program reported that the physiology that causes cancers in rats is not applicable to humans. Nevertheless, it is not yet known whether to artificial sweeteners can cause cancer in people. Since humans are one animal among many, it is prudent to steer clear of these sweeteners until more concrete results are discovered.(5)
The goal of artificial sweeteners to match the taste of sugar without imparting calories was said to have the best intentions in mind. Unfortunately, the unforeseen health risks attached to artificial sweeteners outweigh the goal to reduce weight. In many cases, artificial sweeteners actually promote weight gain. The best steps you can take to lose weight is to literally take steps. Artificial sweeteners write a check for zero calories that your body can’t cash.