Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad For You | Artificial Sweeteners And Health Risks

Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad For You | Artificial Sweeteners And Health Risks

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

When it comes to nutrition and heart health, there are a few questions that always seem to be asked. The most popular topic is about cooking oil, but a close runner-up is about artificial sweeteners. Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?

Many people are looking for ways to reduce the amount of sugar they consume in order to lose weight.

Artificial sweeteners have been around for more than 130 years, and for about 100 of them, experts have been debating their relative benefits and dangers. Industry insiders would say that time supports their products safety. I don’t agree with that. It is obvious that artificial sweeteners are not nearly as safe as marketers would have you believe.

What, Exactly, Are Artificial Sweeteners?

The term artificial sweetener and sugar substitute are often used interchangeably, even though they are not the same thing, which I think is one of the reasons for the confusion. The creation and nutrition of sugar substitute products are quite different.

I think artificial sweeteners are synthetic, non-caloric sugar replacements. There are a few that have been approved for use in the United States, but you are most likely to run across these four.

  • Aspartame is also known as Nutrasweet and Equal.
  • Saccharin is also known as Necta Sweet®.
  • Sucralose (Splenda®)
  • There is a substance called ace-K or ace-F.

The oldest of the bunch, Saccharin, was introduced in the late 1870s; however, the use of artificial sweeteners has increased since the introduction of aspartame, ace-K, and sucralose in the 1980s. Artificial sweeteners are found in almost all diet soft drinks, low- calories foods, and sugar-free candy and snacks, as well as those colorful packets on restaurant tables.

Short-Term Impact: Confused Metabolism

These sweeteners are so potent that it’s an understatement. All of them are at least 200 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter.

Food manufacturers have taken advantage of this by substituting tiny amounts of artificial sweetener in lieu of sugar. This allows them to make products that taste good, but don’t have the added calories.

This seems to be a good way to help people reduce their calories. Artificial sweeteners have worse side effects than sugar, which is why they are called bait-and-switch schemes.

Let’s use diet soda as an example. When you drink a diet soda, the sweetener activates your taste receptors just like sugar does—and that, in turn, stimulates appetite and causes your body to release a number of hormones.

One of the hormones that is produced to remove the expected influx of sugar from the blood is the hormone insulin. Because the sweetener doesn’t have any actual sugar in it, theinsulin ends up removing whatever sugar is already in the blood, causing blood sugar to dip too low, and further triggering the appetite, to compensate.

leptin is one of the hormones released that helps regulate the appetite cycle and let your body know you have eaten enough calories. Due to the fact that the sweetener doesn’t deliver any actual calories, the leptin circulates but is never sent back a message to stop. You continue to feel hungry because the appetite loop is never closed.

If you drink a diet soda, it’s most likely that you’ll eat some chips, a cookie, or something else nearby. That doesn’t sound like a really effective way to lose weight.

Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Side Effects

It is easy to see how long-term consumption could damage health if appetite and metabolism can be disrupted each time. There are dangers to watch out for with artificial sweeteners.


If you feel hungry, you are more likely to eat more and gain more weight than if you lose it. As far back as the mid-1980s, research was suggesting that artificial sweeteners worsened the problem they were marketed to solve.

A study that followed more than 75,000 women for a year found that those who consumed artificial sweeteners were more likely to gain weight. The subjects who drank artificially sweetened beverages were more likely to gain weight than those who did not. Data from the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging showed that diet soda drinkers gained more belly fat than nondrinkers after they ruled.

Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome

If artificial sweeteners can increase belly fat and weight gain, it makes sense that they also may increase risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Care confirmed this:  drinking diet soda on a daily basis was associated with a 36 percent greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater relative risk of type 2 diabetes, compared with non-consumption.

Changes in gut bacteria

A study published in the journal Nature suggested that saccharin can alter gut flora, and that it may cause metabolic disorders. The researchers in Israel found that mice given water spiked with both sugars were more likely to have high blood sugar. When they were able to show that killing the rodents gut flora with antibiotics reversed the blood sugar issue, they linked it to the change to gut flora. They also developed high blood sugar when they used fecal transplants to introduce alteredbacteria in healthy animals.

This is significant not only because it demonstrates another danger of artificial sweeteners, but also because the gut microbiome is linked with aspects of health unrelated to metabolism—including immunity and mood. Changes to the flora could have unanticipated effects beyond metabolic dysfunction.


As if potential diabetes and changes to the gut microbiome aren’t risky enough, two of the artificial sweeteners on our list have at some point been labeled as carcinogens. In the early 1970s, saccharin was found to cause bladder cancer in rats, and in 2005 it came under review for a possible link to cancer.

Both substances have been found to be safe, but I am still not convinced. People may say that I am overreacting. My point of view is based on avoiding the consequences of believing we can do things better than Mother Nature, which is one of the things I am most vigilant about as a doctor. One health risk I am not willing to take is the potential side effect of artificial sweeteners.

Minimize the Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners With These Alternatives

If you read food labels carefully, eat mostly whole foods, and opt for more natural alternatives, you will be able to avoid the potential side effects of artificial sweeteners. Good options are included.

  • There are small amounts of local honey or maple syrup.
  • There is fresh juice from grapes, oranges, and peaches.
  • There are shredded apples, coconut, raisins, and dates.
  • There is a dash of cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg.

I’m okay with other sugar replacements, but I’m okay with the one that uses stevia. In South America, China and Japan, it’s an herbal supplement that’s used. You can find it in health food stores.


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