Artificial sweeteners are marketed as healthier, ‘sugar-free’ alternatives, when in fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that they have a far more damaging effect on the body. In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the consumption of artificial sweeteners had a direct effect on how the brain perceives hunger.
Researchers fed fruit flies a diet rich in artificial sweeteners for extended periods of time and the results of their eating habits were compared to when they were fed food with only naturally-occurring sugars. The results showed a 30% calorific increase when the fruit flies ate artificially-sweetened food.
“After chronic exposure to a diet that contained the artificial sweetener sucralose, we saw that animals began eating a lot more,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Greg Neely from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Science.
This pushed researchers to discover why this is the case. “Through systematic investigation of this effect,” Neely adds, “we found that inside the brain’s reward centres, sweet sensation is integrated with energy content. When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases total calories consumed.”
What disrupts that balance? Why is it that the brain believes that we need more sugar, when in fact we’ve had enough? The group discovered “chronic consumption of this artificial sweetener actually increases the sweet intensity of real nutritive sugar, and this then increases the animal’s overall motivation to eat more food.”
So the addition of artificial sweetener on top of the sugars that naturally occur in food alters the brain’s reward center, making it seem as if we’re still hungry when in fact we’re not.
As well as the consumption increase, the study showed that artificial sweeteners promoted hyperactivity, insomnia and decreased sleep quality — behaviours consistent with a mild starvation or fasting state.
Many food manufacturers whose products are aimed at the many Americans seeking to lose weight tend to favor artificial sweeteners over sugar. In the years since these so-called ‘healthy’ alternatives have flooded the market, a number of other side-effects have been the subject of study. Cancerous growths were detected in mice fed sucralose, their damaging neurotoxic effects on gut bacteria have been noted, as well as their potential to alter your insulin levels.
For those who are aiming to lose weight, break their sugar cravings, or tame their appetite, they would be better off completely eliminating sugars and sweeteners for a period of time to allow the brain to reset to a healthier function. At the Acupuncture & Wellness Center we provide consultation on what this looks like for each of our patients with these goals in mind.
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