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Medicine Science Technology

Artificial Sweeteners Associated With Weight Gain, Heart Problems In Analysis of Data From 37 Studies (npr.org) 374

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The theory behind artificial sweeteners is simple: If you use them instead of sugar, you get the joy of sweet-tasting beverages and foods without the downer of extra calories, potential weight gain and related health issues. In practice, it's not so simple, as a review of the scientific evidence on non-nutritive sweeteners published Monday shows. After looking at two types of scientific research, the authors conclude that there is no solid evidence that sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose help people manage their weight. And observational data suggest that the people who regularly consume these sweeteners are also more likely to develop future health problems, though those studies can't say those problems are caused by the sweeteners.

The review, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at 37 studies. Seven of them were randomized trials, covering about 1,000 people, and the rest were observational studies that tracked the health and habits of almost 406,000 people over time.

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Artificial Sweeteners Associated With Weight Gain, Heart Problems In Analysis of Data From 37 Studies

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  • no extra calories? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @10:36PM (#54830471)
    eat four times as much.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @12:32AM (#54830891)

      The parent shouldn't be marked as a troll. Studies have shown that your body reacts to these sweeteners as if they were sugar. Meaning your body will release insulin in anticipation of the food spiking your blood sugar. However that spike never happens so excess insulin ends up causing low blood sugar levels and that signals you to eat more. So yes, using artificial sweeteners will cause you to eat more calories even though they don't have any.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Studies have shown that your body reacts to these sweeteners as if they were sugar. Meaning your body will release insulin in anticipation of the food spiking your blood sugar.

        Obviously not true. That's so easily measured that it's ridiculous that it would even be a discussion. How long would it take to prove? A day? An hour?

      • your body will release insulin in anticipation of the food spiking your blood sugar.

        That would take exactly one twenty-minute experiment to prove true/false.

        Where's the citations? Anyone....?

        • by bug_hunter ( 32923 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @08:18AM (#54832225)

          Not a 100% confirmed thing by any means, but here are the citations you were after
          https://www.scientificamerican... [scientificamerican.com]
          http://sydney.edu.au/news-opin... [sydney.edu.au]

        • by judoguy ( 534886 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @09:14AM (#54832557) Homepage

          your body will release insulin in anticipation of the food spiking your blood sugar.

          That would take exactly one twenty-minute experiment to prove true/false.

          Where's the citations? Anyone....?

          Sort of. I participated in a class once that did something along these lines as a demonstration of insulin reaction (indirectly, using blood sugar as a metric) to selected foods. Several guinea pig class members, I was one, used a glucometer and recorded serum glucose levels then we ate a bit of three different foods. One guy ate 1/2 a Snickers candy bar, one of ate a plain rice cake and I ate some ham. We waited a bit, took another blood sugar sample. Waited a bit more and took a final blood sugar test. Then we reported on how we felt

          The ham guy, me, had almost no change. The Snickers guy saw his blood sugar rise then drop below baseline, got some energy then crashed a little. The greatest reaction, by far, was the plain rice cake. That person had the greatest rise in blood sugar followed by a greater drop and actually got a little shaky.

          The point of the experiment was to show some misconceptions. Everyone thought the rice cake was healthy and the candy bar and fatty ham was unhealthy.

          Wrong, at least from an insulin flooding standpoint. The rice cake is pure sugar. Starch is just glucose chained together. It turns out that the candy bar, poor nutritionally as it was, had a milder effect because of the fat it contains. Fat seems to blunt the insulin response. Doesn't make the sugar any less, but moderates the insulin reaction. The rice cake hadn't that moderator so it produced the most dramatic reaction.

          That's why restaurants like to start you off with bread while you're perusing the menu. It ain't just being hospitable. They want your blood sugar to be plummeting when you order.

      • by transporter_ii ( 986545 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @08:16AM (#54832213) Homepage

        [T]he sweeteners appear to change the population of intestinal bacteria that direct metabolism, the conversion of food to energy or stored fuel. And this result suggests the connection might also exist in humans.

        https://www.scientificamerican... [scientificamerican.com]

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @06:52AM (#54831851) Homepage Journal

      What I see is people jumping to conclusions that it's the artificial sweeteners that cause the problem, disregarding the simpler explanation of who the main consumers of artificial sweeteners are: People who overindulge, not taste seekers. When their problem of craving carbohydrates doesn't go away; they end up eating more to satisfy their craving. The fries and a Coke becomes two large fries and a Diet Coke.

      So I think the parent isn't just a troll but an insightful troll.

      • LOL. So many assumptions in your words.

        You assume that the only people who eat stuff with artificial sweeteners are people who over-indulge.

        Tell me this: How many friends do you have that are considered overweight? Amongst those friends, how many of them order two large fries with their Diet Coke?

        I can see why a person might think that all overweight people overindulge because they lack the self discipline to fight off the cravings. I am certain that this is even true in some (many?) cases; however, humans

  • by l810c ( 551591 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @10:46PM (#54830503)

    I delivered pizza in college. 2 large Everything pizza's and 4 litres of Diet Coke. Who orders that? Yep, every time. Like the Diet Coke is going to offset 4 slices of Everything pizza.

    I see it our community pool every summer. Some of these kids I don't see for 8 months. They come down each summer a little larger. Kids drink Diet Coke and then eat 4 hotdogs or 2 burgers. I see it every weekend. People eat multiple burgers/hotdogs, chips and fatty dip, strawberries with pound cake and whip cream, all while sipping their slimming Diet Coke.

    • by aphelion_rock ( 575206 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @10:55PM (#54830545)

      I delivered pizza in college. 2 large Everything pizza's and 4 litres of Diet Coke. Who orders that? Yep, every time.

      Notice the same too
      It is no the calorie free sweetener that is making the people fat, it allows them to get stuck into more unhealthy food than they would otherwise.

      I watch the people who pull out the packet of artificial sweeteners to add to their cup of tea/coffee, then when the deserts come around, they have multiple helpings.
      Then wonder why they put on weight

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:02PM (#54830579)

      So far, there is no magic trick that lets people live indulgently and remain healthy. And, deep down inside, everyone knows it.

      We can't make fat people thin with artificial sweeteners. We must give them a reason to want to be healthy. If they see no advantage in prioritizing health over immediate gratification, then why the hell should they change a damn thing?

      We all know we are going to die. We all know that it doesn't really make sense to deny ourselves the joys of life just to gain a few more years of being old and miserable at the end of it. There is a degree to which it is rational to sacrifice quantity of life for quality of life. So, if the quality of a healthy life just doesn't beat the quality of an indulgent one, the decision isn't very hard.

      • I always believed you want to maximize the area under the quality of life curve mapped over time. On one end you probably don't want a highly restricted calorie diet and an extended life, nor do you want a 8k calorie a day diet and die at 34 of a heart attack.
      • What makes you say the quality of life isn't affected much? The number of whales retiring mobility assistance certainly would indicate otherwise. So would the ability to walk up the stairs without taking a break, or paying with you kids in the park.

        I was overweight (no where near obese) and by shedding just 30lb my life has improved incredibly. How did I do that? I indulged in delicious and good food rather than shoveling shit into my face. I actually got a new love for food as a wonderful experience rather

    • by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:42PM (#54830721)

      I had diet coke when it was brand new. Never had diet drinks before. It was a test market so no one in other places had heard of it ("you mean 'Tab'?" they'd ask).

      The thing is, I don't drink it because it's slimming. I drink it because it tastes better. I can't even bother with real Coke, it just tastes wrong, it's too syrupy, whether or not it's real sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I can't even stand diet Pepsi.

      So do you think ordering 2 large Everything pizza's and 4 litres of regular Coke would be better? Would those people get your respect? Or is this just more of the old "lol, fat people, so funny!" trend?

    • I guess the question is really would they have still ordered those pizzas with standard coke. I think 2 large pizzas with 4 litres of coke would have seen them even bigger.
    • Some people actually like Diet Coke. I can't stand the regular non-diet Coke - it's way too sweet for me with a nasty aftertaste. And Diet Coke is just fine.
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      I know people who prefer the taste of Diet Coke over regular Coke. I like neither, so not me.

    • eat 4 hotdogs or 2 burgers. I see it every weekend. People eat multiple burgers/hotdogs, chips and fatty dip, strawberries with pound cake and whip cream, all while sipping their slimming Diet Coke.

      How do you even eat multiple burgers? I have a moderate weight problem (85kg and slowly climbing [angband.pl]), yet when I try American food in that 1-in-2-years visit to McDonald's, after a BigMac with medium fries I feel bloated.

      So you'd need to overcome that bloated feeling and keep stuffing yourself.

  • Drink filtered water (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GreatDrok ( 684119 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @10:54PM (#54830541) Journal

    I've struggled a bit with weight for years and recently started a new diet which includes not drinking zero calorie fizzy drinks. Instead I keep chilled filtered water in the fridge and drink that. I've also calorie controlled my diet like I have previously but this time the weight is falling off. The only real difference is the lack of these zero calorie fizzy drinks. Anecdotal yes, but seriously worth considering.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      The idea is you a meant to swap to diet drinks as part of an entire diet change. Low sugars and carbs and up the proteins and roughage (vegetables, whole meal bread). The fake fizzy drinks, after all the other diet adjustments tend to be way, way, over flavoured and I am down to around a thirty percent mix (the majority water) to make the palatable. Diet drinks will absolutely not help you manage your weight one iota, they are just part of your diet change, and you just drop full sugar drinks along with all

    • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@ear[ ]ink.net ['thl' in gap]> on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:15PM (#54830619)

      I have not had any weight problems until recently. I did two things to reduce my calories. First, I cut out my end of day beer. It took me a while to figure out why people enjoyed a beer at the end of the day but for some reason I started the habit. It's relaxing and dulls the aches from the day but it also has a lot of calories. I lost 20 pounds fairly quickly after dropping that habit. Second, I started to keep bottled water around the house. When thirsty I tended to grab whatever I had in a single serve bottle or can. This usually meant a fizzy drink. With bottled water on hand I can grab one of those instead.

      Bottled water comes in handy when there are things contaminate the city water like floods or some idiot put a backhoe through a water main. This does not happen often but when it does and city water is deemed undrinkable then bottled water can get real hard to find. I keep a few bottles in the freezer for when I need to put ice in a cooler, when the ice melts I drink the water from the bottle. Also good for adding thermal mass to the refrigerator and freezer for when the power blinks.

      • An ex-smoker once told me that you get over the craving for a cigarette after one or two puffs, but smoke the rest of it anyway. It's a bit like that with "single serving" anything too - in my anecdotal experience, most 'single servings' are about 30% bigger than you actually need (and when I visit the USA I'm always amazed how much bigger 'single servings' of things are there compared to Europe).

        For example, a 330ml can of drink - I love the very occasional diet coke (or recent new favourite is diet pepsi

    • And if you want to make it a little more exciting, you can drop 2 slices of cucumber into a pitcher of water and it gives the whole thing a nice refreshing flavor.

    • The only real difference is the lack of these zero calorie fizzy drinks. Anecdotal yes, but seriously worth considering.
      Actually known since ages.
      The taste of sweetness already increases the insulin level.
      So the less sweet you eat, the lower the insulin level (before actual sugar hits the blood), and the less fat is transported into the fat cells but burned or metabolized.

    • If I want a zero-calorie fizzy drink, I keep my fridge stocked with carbonated bottled water, which has a tiny bit of flavoring added but doesn't add any significant caloric or nutritional impact. Amazon ships Perrier right to my doorstop, but if you can find a source, Talking Rain is good too. I was never a big soda drinker, but I still had cravings for carbonated drinks on occasion.

      Some people don't like the unsweetened drinks, as they're probably an acquired taste, but I absolutely love them.

  • by danceswithtrees ( 968154 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:04PM (#54830583)

    Can anyone say confounding by indication? In the same way that people who get a lot of EKGs are at much higher risk of having a heart attack, people who consume artificial sweetners are at increased risk of obesity.

    No one would suggest that getting an EKG increases your risk of heart attacks but people who get a lot of them are certainly at a much, MUCH higher risk of heart attacks. That is because if you have risk factors and complain of chest pain and shortness of breath to a doctor, she will send you for an EKG. In the same way, people self select to consume artificial sweetners if they are fat.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      However there are some (admittedly contradictory) experiments with rats showing that consuming artificial sweeteners can cause obesity.
      Some people prefer Diet Coke because they think regular Coke is too sweet. I agree that most Diet soda consumption is by overweight people trying to cut calories, however.

      • Don't forget the dental factor. Diet or not the citric acid is not good for the teeth, but sugar in the Coke/Pepsi is worse if you're sipping at it much of the day.

        • My dentist: "The ONLY thing that soft drinks are good for is destroying your teeth. There is no more effective tooth-destroyer, short of a hammer."

          • Potato chips are pretty bad too, not just for your health.

            Of course they have loads of fat and carbs in them, in addition to heaping amounts of sugar. That's a bad recipe for your general health, but the sticky gooey carbs also wreak havoc on your teeth. It can be a lot worse than soda, because it tends to stick around between your teeth, whereas soda gets washed away by saliva relatively quickly.

            Also, don't swirl the soda around in your mouth, drink it straight down if you must.

      • Any study that groups all sweeteners together in the same category is probably suspect. The various sweeteners are so different chemically that it would be surprising if the body responded to them all in exactly the same way.
    • by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:47PM (#54830747)
      If I'm reading this right, this wasn't merely looking at who has properties X and Y and drawing the correlation, but they also analyzed experimental data where people had artificial sweeteners add to their diet and it didn't have any significant good effects and in some cases resulted in bad outcomes BMI wise, although modest.
    • EKG is diagnostics. Artificial sweeteners are also used preventatively. I see a culture around them without relation to obesity. E.g. North Germans will find aspartame on every restaurant table, the Dutch will look at you with a confused expression when you ask for it. Southern Europe and SE Asia generally give you what you ordered the first time round, the USA and parts of Eastern Europe you'll get confirmations if you want diet, zero, out whatever the latest coke trend is.

      There's an element of confounding

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:07PM (#54830591)

    My understanding is that eating something sweet causes an insulin rush (actually, merely the taste of sweetness on the tongue triggers this, you don't even have to swallow it.) If the insulin arrives, and finds no real sugars in the bloodstream, this is like crying wolf. Eventually the insulin stops responding to the sweetness trigger, which is 'insulin resistance.' This causes real sugar to linger in the bloodstream longer before it's processed, although I forgot how that leads to obesity; probably a secondary metabolic pathway converts the 'leftovers' to fat.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Think I remembered. An insulin rush causes one to be hungry, this is why diabetics who inject insulin have to resist the urge to eat that it creates. Thus, artificial sweeteners make one eat more since they create hunger but no satiety.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by x0ra ( 1249540 )
      Insulin releases is triggered by the pancreas (and more specifically the islets of Langerhans) when heightened glucose level in blood is being detected. It has nothing to do with sweetness on the tongue...

      I'd suggest you take back Human Biology 101 instead of posting on /.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by lucm ( 889690 )

      This causes real sugar to linger in the bloodstream longer before it's processed, although I forgot how that leads to obesity

      The prevalent theory is leptin resistance. The point at which the body feels like it's at its appropriate level of fat slowly goes up.

      There's also a possibility that insulin resistance wrecks havoc in the hypothalamus, which ultimately leads to unfixable obesity.

    • by gravewax ( 4772409 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @12:11AM (#54830839)
      old myth still perpetuated by poorly informed fitness experts and dietitians. insulin release is purely a chemical reaction to blood sugar levels not to what you taste or think.
  • Sugar has paid millions to hurt, harm, etc artificial sweeteners.
    It's BULLSHIT until you prove they weren't involved.
    This is yet another bullshit study, with an obvious result.

    oil, lead, sugar, etc. industries that have paid billions to debunk their harm.
    I assume false, based on experience.
    • I am plenty overweight, I did drink a lot of diet coke but I gave it up a few months ago when there were reports that the sweeteners are causing dementia. My weight has increased since I gave up (and no, I have not started drinking full fat coke). My problem is the usual too many calories in / too few expended. Anecdotally of course I can't say that the diet coke was my downfall so far as weight is concerned.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Full fake coke would be better. Fat makes you feel more full, takes longer to digest, and takes more energy to digest. Fat doesn't make you fat. Stop avoiding fat.

  • by chipschap ( 1444407 ) on Monday July 17, 2017 @11:56PM (#54830787)

    The key phrase in the above summary is:

    "those studies can't say those problems are caused by the sweeteners"

    meaning the studies are pretty useless, and the /. headline:

    "Artificial Sweeteners Associated With Weight Gain, Heart Problems In Analysis of Data From 37 Studies"

    is completely misleading.

    Undoubtedly as many other posters have suggested the problem is behavioral, which will surprise no one and doesn't require 37 studies to demonstrate.

    • There's nothing misleading about it. Association is correlation. There's nothing in the headline saying it causes it, just that the two are linked.

      The study itself is also not useless even if the link is the result of behaviour as it shows a measurable way of identifying people's destructive behaviours. There's also a question of justification in the behaviour, e.g. weight gain caused by increased unhealthiness due to the incorrect justification that since sugar is now cut out of me coffee I can eat another

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @12:04AM (#54830813)
    It could be a lifestyle problem. I know that in my case I started with sugar cola, then switched to diet because I was getting too much sugar, so much I was starting to show off early signs of diabetes mellitus. Then now I am trying to switch off to water (more difficult than you think - I have now bouts of water consumption and bouts of soda without sugar - bad habits are hard to shake. On the other hand my weight is dropping).

    For many people the alternative is not healthy lifestyle with diet soda and healthy lifestyle without, the alternative is unhealthy lifestyle with lotta sugar and sugary drink OR unhealthy lifestyle with diet cola , that is slightly less sugar. As such , yes people consuming artificial sweetener soda seem to are more likely to get lifestyle related disease... But the alternative may actually be they get those disease earlier if they consumed sugary drink instead.
    • In my case, many years ago I started drinking tea as an alternative to sodas, partly because of vague concerns about artificial sweeteners, but mainly because I was afraid that all of that phosphoric acid was not good for my guts. I was never much of a fan of normal soda because the lingering film made my teeth feel like they were going to rot, but I was kind of addicted to diet sodas.

      It took a couple of months for the craving to switch from soda to tea, but now I would pretty strongly prefer tea over diet

    • Drink water. If you find that a bit plain, drink sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime instead. You don't have to drink soda, no one's forcing you.

  • Half-a-Study (Score:5, Interesting)

    by magusxxx ( 751600 ) <magusxxx_2000@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Tuesday July 18, 2017 @12:16AM (#54830853)
    The other have should be the connection to caffeine. As already stated below, sugary tastes make you hungrier. While the caffeine turns off the chemicals associated with hunger. This is why it's so prevalent in diet pills. But what happens when you put both together? You get a concoction which puts your body into a constant chemical imbalance. Has their been a long term study stating what happens when this happens? Or has Coke/Pepsi already buried the report?
  • Aspatame influences the sugar and fat transfer from the digesting track to the blood and has an influence on insulin levels (insulin is already set free when you taste the right sweetness in your mouth) and hence amplifies transfer of fat and sugar into the fat cells.

    I know that since over 25 years, so I guess the science is 30 years old or older ...

  • "I'll have a large pizza and a diet coke please. I've got to think of my weight"
  • ...but I'd sure as hell like to have an easy-access, nicely detailed list of funding parties for this research, along with the head researchers background, with their past work clear and conclusions accessible.

    I like my research unbiased and authorship transparent. That also applies to headlines around the subject - I see none of that in this post.

    Or did everyone already forget, now that it's silly season, that big sugar is a large research patron?

  • Article, summary, and even the abstract of the study are all completely useless garbage because none of them tell us which sweeteners they actually studied.

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