Low-calorie, artificial sweeteners appear to play havoc with the body's metabolism, and large consumption of these sugar substitutes could promote fat accumulation, especially in people who are already obese, preliminary research suggests. The study results will be presented Monday at ENDO 2017, the Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
"Many health-conscious individuals like to consume low-calorie sweeteners as an alternative to sugar. However, there is increasing scientific evidence that these sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction," said Sabyasachi Sen, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the study's principal investigator.
Sen and his colleagues tested sucralose, a popular low-calorie sweetener, on stem cells—cells that could change into mature fat, muscle, cartilage or bone cells—taken from human fat tissue. They placed these cells in Petri dishes for 12 days in media that promotes fat production. At a 0.2-millimolar sucralose dose similar to the concentration found in the blood of people with high consumption of low-calorie sweeteners—equal to four cans of diet soda per day—the researchers said they observed increased expression of genes that are markers of fat production and inflammation. There also was increased accumulation of fat droplets in cells, particularly at a larger dose (1 millimolar), Sen reported.