An Artificial Sweetener in Diet Soda May Make You Fat

An Artificial Sweetener in Diet Soda May Make You Fat

A recent study suggests, a widely used artificial sweetener in diet soda and many prepackaged foods may silently make consumers gain weight. A group of scientists found aspartame may be ineffective for weight loss. In fact, it may paradoxically fuel weight gain.

New research shows that consuming aspartame on a daily basis can make you feel hungry earlier and even put on some weight. This effect was observed even when study participants consumed the FDA-recommended daily intake of aspartame.

Past studies in mice confirmed that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain in the long run. Researchers cannot tell why exactly this happens, but their latest study confirmed the association.

A team at the Massachusetts General Hospital thinks a metabolite in aspartame may fuel weight gain. Lead author of the research explained the study’s findings.

The body breaks down aspartame into several compounds including phenylalanine, which blocks a gut enzyme dubbed intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP). The enzyme is very effective in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome in rodents. Obese and type 2 diabetes patients along with those with a cardiovascular disease experience metabolic syndrome.

In a previous trial, Dr. Hodin’s team had fed IAP to rodents on high-fat diets and learned it reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome and subsequently the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. IAP also reduced the severity of symptoms in animals with the condition.

As a result, researchers speculated that phenylalanine may boost the risk of metabolic syndrome since it blocks IAP. So, they started a new research to learn whether aspartame fueled obesity.

The New Study

In the study, scientists added aspartame to the diets of two groups of mice and compared the results to just as many control groups. Two groups had a normal diet and two groups were on a high-fat diet. Next, researchers added aspartame in their diet.

Researchers fed one normal-diet group the equivalent of 3 ½ cans of diet and one high-fat group the equivalent of two cans of diet soda every day. Scientists monitored all four groups for 18 weeks. At the end of the trial, the research team found aspartame in drinks reduced IAP activity. By contrast, if those drinks contained sugar they had no influence on IAP levels.

Moreover, when the team injected the rodent’s small intestines with the artificial sweetener they saw IAP levels go down. On the other hand, when they injected a saline solution, there was no change in IAP activity.

After 18 weeks, none of the two groups on normal diet saw a significant weight gain. By contrast, the group on high-fat diet who consumed aspartame put on more weight than mice on the aspartame-free, high-fat diet.

Animals who consumed the sweetener had also higher blood sugar levels than those in the control group. What’s more, the levels of TNF-alpha inflammatory protein saw a spike when aspartame was involved. The protein is known to cause the metabolic syndrome. Dr. Hodin underscored that while aspartame and other similar products are designed to keep that risk down, several studies have shown otherwise. She thinks the sweeteners may “make things worse.”

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