Science says artificial sweeteners can actually make you eat more

Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungry and lead to eating more, according to research in both animals and humans.

A study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, sheds light on the effects of artificial sweeteners on the brain in regulating appetite and in altering taste perceptions.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research identified a system in the brain that senses and integrates the sweetness and energy content of food.

“After chronic exposure to a diet that contained the artificial sweetener sucralose, we saw that animals began eating a lot more,” says lead researcher Associate Professor Greg Neely from the University of Sydney.

“Through systematic investigation of this effect, 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.”

Billions of people worldwide use artificial sweeteners and they are prescribed as a tool to treat obesity.

This is the first study to identify how artificial sweeteners can stimulate appetite, with researchers identifying a complex neuronal network that responds to artificially sweetened food by telling the animal it hasn’t eaten enough energy.

The researchers also found artificial sweeteners promot hyperactivity, insomnia and decreased sleep quality -– behaviours consistent with a mild starvation or fasting –- with similar effects on sleep also previously reported in human studies.

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