Artificial sweeteners stimulate fat growth, harmful to metabolism, study finds

WASHINGTON — Artificial sweeteners have an effect on the body’s metabolism and can lead to excessive fat accumulation in people, especially those who are already obese, according to a recent study.

Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, an associate professor of medicine and endocrinology at George Washington University, led the study, explaining in a press release by the Endocrine Society that while many people rely on these artificial sweeteners as a low-calorie alternative to natural sweeteners, “there is increasing scientific evidence that these sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction.”

Sugar or artificial sweetener
A new study finds that low-calorie artificial sweeteners can promote fat growth, especially in those already overweight, and can disturb one’s metabolism.

Sen and his colleagues tested the popular low-calorie sweetener sucralose on stem cells taken from human fat cells. They placed these cells in Petri dishes for 12 days, adding 0.2 millimolars of sucralose. The dosage is based on the concentration of sucralose in the bloodstreams of people with high consumption levels of the artificial sweetener — about four cans of diet soda per day.

The researchers observed increased expression of genes that produce fat and inflammation. They also saw an increased accumulation of fat droplets in the cells, especially when they increased the concentration of sucralose.

Using this data, Sen and his team analyzed biopsy samples of abdominal fat from eight subjects who consumed low-calorie sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame. Half of the subjects were a healthy weight, half were obese.

Dr. Sen found evidence of over-expressed fat-producing genes and of increased glucose transport into cells.

This metabolic dysregulation causes cells to produce more fat, according to Dr. Sen.

“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,” explains Sen.

The findings from this study were presented at ENDO 2017, the Endocrine Society’s 99th annual meeting in Orlando in April.