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Sweetener.jpgArtificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are commonly used in ‘diet’ drinks and low calorie desserts. Being intensely sweeter than sugar, these synthetic substitutes are calorie-free and allow diabetics to enjoy the occasional dessert. However, new findings are suggesting that artificial sweeteners are not necessarily a good option for people trying to lose or maintain weight.

A study conducted at Purdue University reviewed research papers on artificial sweeteners published in the last five years and found that not only were they linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease in the long run, but also led to weight gain.

Although it seems counterintuitive, excessive intake of artificial sweeteners can in fact pack on the pounds. They cause metabolic confusion by deceiving the body into believing it is consuming real sugar; this causes the body to pump insulin in anticipation of the sugar when there is in fact none. Artificial sweeteners slow down the metabolic rate and increase cravings for more sugar and starchy foods, leading to over consumption and consequently weight gain.

Another study presented at the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego revealed that over a decade, 30% of adult women who drank at least two diet drinks daily were likely to experience decreased kidney function due to rapid degeneration of glomerular filtration rates.

Susan Swithers, Professor of Psychological Sciences and author of the Purdue University research study, says artificial sweeteners, especially in the form of diet drinks, should be consumed with the same caution as other sugary foods – in moderation.

It is encouraging to know that the FDA approved daily intake of artificial sweeteners is about 100 times less than even the smallest amount that can be harmful. However, it is still a good idea to go easy on artificial sweeteners and sugar.

– Dr Suwaiba Azim

The writer is a postgraduate trainee at JPMC.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 8, 2013.