That Sugar Movement


Artificial sweeteners found to increase hunger

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We have discussed artificial sweeteners a few times, and generally have found the jury is out as to the safety and health effects.

Whilst some sweeteners are found to not necessarily be that bad (but not good either), gut instinct tells us that regular consumption of a sweetener concocted in a lab ain’t going to be great for us, right?

Well, the latest round of lab-rats (well, actually mice in this case) have been put to the test, and the results aren’t great for the Splenda-types; this time going against something they are meant to help with – weight loss.

Sucralose set to sucra-lose?

There are an array of artificial sweeteners available to us. Aspartame, for example, has been being linked to higher BMI, fasting glucose levels and glucose intolerance, with some research showing the negative effects of artificial sweeteners may be via the impact on gut health. However, little is known on how it is supposed to regulate hunger.

To further ascertain why there is a link between consumption of artificial sweeteners and metabolic issues, Sucralose was put under the microscope!

Researchers from University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have sought to trial the impact of this sweetener on flies and animals.1

I know what you are thinking – flies? How could that possibly be related to humans? Read on, as the results collectively are pretty telling.

The flies given a sugar free diet laced with Sucralose for more than 5 days consumed 30% more calories than when their diet was sweetened naturally with food, and returned to normal eating patterns once the sweetener was removed. The trial was replicated in mice for 7 days, and they too starting upping the content of their chow, up to 50% more!

The researchers also found that the longer the animals were fed Sucralose, the greater their desire for sweet stuff became.

“After sustained consumption of artificial sweetener, the animals could detect much smaller concentrations of real sugar, would eat more of it and respond to it physiologically with much more intensity,” study lead author Associate Professor Greg Neely told Scientific American.

Neely has an extensive history studying flies and throughout these trials, he and fellow researchers have managed to map a new neuronal pathway that integrates sweetness and palatability with energy density. And the imbalance in this pathway is thought to be responsible for increasing hunger when consuming Sucralose.

What this means is when the brain detects sweetness, but there aren’t any of the expected calories to go along with it, it compensates by increasing the desire for sugar in order to find those calories. Fascinating!

This is a key finding as to why artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain; yet they are designed to help us shed the pounds.

And the excess food consumption, especially of foods high on the glycaemic index, could possibly contribute to further to weight gain, as well as insulin resistance and cardiovascular issues.2

Whilst replicating in a human trial would be incredibly difficult, a take home is we can presume artificial sweeteners may be having an impact on our brain, and a lot more comprehensive research is needed.

No sugar and no sweeteners – now what?

As we have mentioned in past, nature is complex and trying to replicate what is naturally provided for us will always be a complex process, and one we currently have little idea of long-term impact.

So, what to do?

We are designed to desire sweet things – it is just the amount and form we eat them that have become the issue.

Ideally we want to be reducing our desire for so much sweetness, and encouraging our taste buds to become more sensitive to sweet stuff over time. And by eating an abundance of real, whole foods like healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates, we are on track to doing so!

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Wang, Q, Lin, Y, Zhang, L, Wilson, Y, Oyston, L, Cotterell, J, Qi, Y, Khuong, T, Bakhshi, N, Planchenault, Y, Browman, D, Lau, M, Cole, T, Wong, A, Simpson, S, Cole, A, Penninger, J, Herzog, H, & Neely, G 2016, ‘Sucralose Promotes Food Intake through NPY and a Neuronal Fasting Response’, Cell Metabolism, vol. 24, pp. 75-90.
  2. Ludwig, DS 2002, ‘The glycemic index: physiological mechanisms relating to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease’, JAMA, vol. 287, no. 18, pp. 2414-2423.
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