Artificial Sweeteners’ Effects

Kelly Petrarca

As sugary processed foods and sodas became more common in peoples’ diets, people began to gain weight from the increased intake of sugar.  The solution to this problem was the creation of artificial sweeteners, which replace sugar in certain processed foods and beverages.  Artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar and contain little to no calories.  This seemed like the perfect solution for decreasing peoples’ caloric intake without making them give up the foods they enjoy.  However, studies show artificial sweeteners causing weight gain in people.  Other health problems have been discovered too, such as changes in the metabolic system and impaired cognitive memory function.  The experiment by Reid et al.5 had results that showed artificial sweeteners caused people to compensate for the calories they had not gained from the food with artificial sweeteners.  In the experiment by Cong et al.1, mice that had ingested artificial sweeteners over a long period of time were shown to have a significant increase in the fasting circulating levels of insulin as well as significant elevation of circulating leptin levels.

Artificial sweeteners affect metabolism because normal sugar triggers a different reaction from hormones in the metabolic system.  Since artificial sweeteners react differently in the body than sugar, hormones such as insulin and leptin can be affected 1.  Insulin removes excess glucose from the blood while leptin regulates appetite.  In the experiment by Cong et al.1, they discovered that leptin and insulin were elevated in mice that had consumed the artificial sweetener acesulfame K (ACK) for a long period of time.  Even though the article mentions this difference between ACK and sucrose, it does not explain how ACK causes a different response than sucrose.  In the article by Swithers, it is stated that there is a 17% to 100% increase in the risk of metabolic syndrome when someone drinks artificially sweetened beverages (ASB).  Someone is considered to have metabolic syndrome when a certain group of factors occur together that lead to an increased risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.  The amount of risk for getting metabolic syndrome depended on what other risk factors were taken into account.

The use of artificial sweeteners can also affect cognitive functions such as learned responses.  If artificial sweeteners are consumed often, the body begins to lose the connection between sweetness and caloric intake 2.  This can affect the reactions that normally occur in the stomach after the detection of sweetness.  In the study by Tellez et al.4, mice were given the choice between water that contained glucose and water that contained sucralose, an artificial sweetener.  Originally, the mice preferred the water with sucralose since it had a much sweeter taste than the water with glucose.  Over time, the mice began to prefer the water with glucose since the water with sucralose was not providing the energy the mice needed.  The study came to the conclusion that glucose oxidation rates can control what type of sugar is consumed.

The degree to which artificial sweeteners help with weight loss has now come into question.  Even though artificial sweeteners do not contain calories, people have been shown to gain weight when artificial sweeteners are part of their diet.  A study created to test this hypothesis had normal-weight women add either soda with sucrose or soda with artificial sweeteners to their diet for four weeks 5.  The women who drank soda with sucrose reduced the amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins they consumed.  Given this outcome, researchers concluded that sucrose satisfies appetite instead of stimulating it.  Artificial sweeteners, however, does not satisfy appetite, so the women consuming artificial sweeteners continued to try to satisfy their hunger with more food, thus negating any positive outcome from consuming less calories through artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners were suppose to help with the issue of weight gain but have caused other physiological issues and not helped with weight loss.  The physiological issue that was most surprising was impaired cognitive function.  It is shocking that artificial sweeteners have the ability to damage the connection between sweetness and calorie intake, which leads to an inefficient breakdown of glucose.  This problem, and the issues with the metabolic system and weight gain, will continue to be studied until definite conclusions are made.  The majority of the studies referenced in this paper did research on mice.  The future of artificial sweetener studies will hopefully include more research done with humans.  This will provide a more accurate understanding of how artificial sweeteners affect human minds and bodies.

Works Cited

Cong W, Wang R, Cai H, Daimon CM, Scheibye-Knudsen M, Bohr VA, Turkin R, Wood III WH, Becker KG, Moaddel R, et al. “Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Acesulfame Potassium Treatment Alters Neurometabolic Functions in C57BL/6J Mice.” PLoS One [Internet]. 2013 Aug 7 [cited 2014 Jan 26];8(8): 40. Available from:

Swithers, SE. “Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.” Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism [Internet]. 2013 Sep [cited 2014 Jan 26];24(9): 431-441.

Mitsutomi K, Masaki T, Shimasaki T, Gotoh K, Chiba S, Kakuma T, Shibata H. “Effects of nonnutritive sweetener on body adiposity and energy metabolism in mice with diet-induced obesity.” Metabolism [Internet]. 2014 Jan [cited 2014 Jan 26];63(1): 69-78. Available from:

Tellez LA, Ren X, Han W, Medina S, Ferreira JG, Yeckel CW, de Araujo IE.
“Glucose Utilization Rates Regulate Intake Levels of Artificial Sweeteners.” The Journal of Physiology [Internet]. 2013 Oct 10 [cited 2014 Jan 26];591(22): 5727-5744.

Reid M, Hammersley R, Hill AJ, Skidmore P. “Long-term dietary compensation for added sugar: effects of supplementary sucrose drinks over a 4-week period.” British Journal of Nutrition [Internet]. 2007 Jan 12 [cited 2014 Jan 28];97(1): 193-203.