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Low-calorie Sweeteners Promote Fat Formation, Study Finds

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Switching to low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar isn’t such a good idea after all, according to a study presented at ENDO 2017. This new research shows that artificial sweeteners, often found in diet sodas, play havoc with the body’s metabolism and may boost the formation of fat.

Because of the widely documented health negative effects of sugar consumption, more people are turning to products containing artificial sweeteners, thinking that they will be better for their health. “However, there is increasing scientific evidence that these sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction,” says principal study investigator Sabyasachi Sen, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at George Washington University.

For the study, researchers tested a popular low-calorie sweetener — sucralose — on stem cells derived from human fat tissue. By analyzing the effects of sucralose on these cells, they observed an increase in the expression of genes that are indicators of fat production and inflammation. Additionally, the stem cells showed an increase in the accumulation of fat droplets, especially when exposed to a higher sucralose dosage.

Sucralose is a zero-calorie, artificial sweetener that is found in many products, including diet sodas, table-top sweeteners, baking mixes, and breakfast cereals.

Researchers also compared abdominal fat samples from people consuming low-calorie sweeteners with samples taken from adults who did not consume sugar substitutes.

The team found that compared to subjects who didn’t consume low-calorie sweeteners, subjects who consumed them showed an overexpression of fat-producing genes and evidence of increased glucose transport into cells. The effects of artificial sweeteners were strongest among adults who were obese.

The team of researchers explained that their findings indicate that low-calorie sweeteners may dysregulate the metabolism in a way that increases fat formation. “From our study,” Dr. Sen said, “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.”  More studies are necessary in larger numbers of people with diabetes and obesity to confirm these findings, Dr. Sen stressed.

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