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The “diet” in diet drinks can be a false promise for some soda aficionados. True, they deliver the fizziness and flavor of a soda experience with zero calories. However, new research shows that they can also trigger people with increased cravings.
A study recently published in JAMA network open Contributes to the evidence that drinks containing sucralose can stimulate appetite, at least in some people, and the study provides some evidence as to why.
“We found that women and people with obesity had greater reward activity in the brain,” after consuming the artificial sweetener, says the study author Katie Page, an obesity doctor at the University of Southern California.
Both groups also had a decrease in the appetite suppressant hormone and ate more food after consuming drinks containing sucralose compared to regular sugar-sweetened drinks. In contrast, the study found that men and people of healthy weight had neither increases in brain reward activity nor hunger response, suggesting they are not affected in the same way.
“I think the most surprising thing was the influence of body weight and biological sex,” says Page. “They were very important factors in the brain’s response to the artificial sweetener.”
The study notes that most of the previous research has focused on men and people of normal weight. However, this finding suggests that diet drinks sweetened with sucralose may be detrimental to the people who could benefit most from an effective diet strategy.
“People with obesity in particular suffer disproportionately from a strong urge to eat high-calorie foods,” says Laura Schmidt, Professor of Health Policy at the University of California, San Francisco.
Page and her team measured response to diet soda in three ways. They used functional MRI brain images from the 74 study participants to document activation of parts of the brain associated with appetite and cravings. They used blood samples to measure blood sugar and the metabolic hormones that can increase hunger. And they also tracked how much participants ate at a buffet table that was open at the end of each study session.
It was difficult to determine whether diet soda helps or hindered losing weight. Some studies have shown benefits, but long-term research has shown that consuming diet sodas associated with increased weight gain.
“This study offers some clues as to why,” wrote Schmidt in an email to NPR. “Artificial sweeteners could prepare the brains of obese people to crave high-calorie foods.”
There is ongoing research into the complex ways artificial sweeteners can affect metabolism and weight, says Susan Swithers, a behavioral scientist at Purdue University who was not involved in the new study but checked the results.
“These results are consistent with patterns we actually have in my lab in. have seen [animal] Study, “says Swithers.
One hypothesis is that it is not the artificial sweetener itself that has a direct effect on the body. The idea is that artificial sweeteners can confuse the body by tricking it into thinking that sugar is coming.
“You should only get sugar when something tastes sweet. The body is conditioned for that, ”explains Swithers. But diet soda can cause a disruption. The sugar never arrives, and this can weaken the body’s predictive responses and impair the ability to efficiently metabolize sugar that is later consumed.
This could mean that “if you get the sweet taste with no sugar, the next time you react to sugar will change because you don’t know if it’s coming or not,” says Swithers.
For example, the Swithers laboratory has documented that when animals that have consumed artificial sweeteners in the past are given real sugar, their blood sugar levels rise higher than in animals that have not received artificial sweeteners. “It’s a small effect, but over time it could lead to potentially significant consequences,” she says.
If this happens to some people who consume diet soda, it could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, because when blood sugar rises, the body needs to release more insulin to absorb the sugar. “So you’re pushing the system harder,” says Swithers.
Should diet soda drinkers trying to reach a healthy weight avoid artificially sweetened beverages, given new research?
“People with obesity may want to avoid diet sodas completely for a few weeks to see if this helps reduce cravings for high-calorie foods,” suggests Schmidt.
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