Neurobiology of Artificial Sweeteners

Neurobiology of Artificial Sweeteners
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The disconnect between sweetness sensations coming from our tongue, and the lack of a caloric feedback loop in the gut, may result in overeating.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Other than overcompensation for expected caloric reduction, there are two other ways that even the most nontoxic, noncaloric sweetener could still be harmful—if we’re not careful.

When our brain registers the sensation of sweetness on our tongue, it has millions of years of evolution telling it we just put a piece of fruit in our mouth. And so, your brain yells, eat it, and boosts our appetite—because the only naturally sweet things on the planet are super healthy, right? Fruit; sweet potatoes; beets.

You drink a can of diet soda, and your brain thinks you just stumbled across a wild blueberry bush or something—and sends urgent signals to consume, consume, before someone else gets wind of our bounty.

Now, your body’s not stupid. It knows if you eat too many calories of any food, you might get fat, and not be able to outrun some sabertooth tiger. So, there are signals that come up from our gut when we absorb calories into our system—telling us eventually to, okay, slow down, we’ve had enough.

But, with noncaloric sweeteners, we have a disconnect. We just have the appetite-boosting effects on our brain of the sweet nerve sensations from our tongue, but without the appetite-suppressing effects of the calories coming into our system.

And so, this revved-up appetite may lead us to overeat—more than we would have without the diet soda—and end up gaining weight.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to Uwe Hermann, and Bukowsky18Vik Approved; Artondra Hall; and Johnn via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Other than overcompensation for expected caloric reduction, there are two other ways that even the most nontoxic, noncaloric sweetener could still be harmful—if we’re not careful.

When our brain registers the sensation of sweetness on our tongue, it has millions of years of evolution telling it we just put a piece of fruit in our mouth. And so, your brain yells, eat it, and boosts our appetite—because the only naturally sweet things on the planet are super healthy, right? Fruit; sweet potatoes; beets.

You drink a can of diet soda, and your brain thinks you just stumbled across a wild blueberry bush or something—and sends urgent signals to consume, consume, before someone else gets wind of our bounty.

Now, your body’s not stupid. It knows if you eat too many calories of any food, you might get fat, and not be able to outrun some sabertooth tiger. So, there are signals that come up from our gut when we absorb calories into our system—telling us eventually to, okay, slow down, we’ve had enough.

But, with noncaloric sweeteners, we have a disconnect. We just have the appetite-boosting effects on our brain of the sweet nerve sensations from our tongue, but without the appetite-suppressing effects of the calories coming into our system.

And so, this revved-up appetite may lead us to overeat—more than we would have without the diet soda—and end up gaining weight.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to Uwe Hermann, and Bukowsky18Vik Approved; Artondra Hall; and Johnn via flickr

Doctor's Note

The overcompensation mechanism was explored in How Diet Soda Could Make Us Gain Weight. Note that both can be overcome if one is eating consciously. The same goes for the final potential mechanism in Unsweetening the Diet.

For further context, check out my associated blog post: How to Gain Weight on Diet Soda.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

14 responses to “Neurobiology of Artificial Sweeteners

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  1. This is an important subject. Addiction to sweetness is a much underrated modern condition that has been severely exploited by the food industry. It does not really matter in this respect what the type of sweetener it is; the exaggerated digestive signal is sufficiently problematic.

    There are genetic differences involved. My genes show that I’m a super taster of sweet with a childhood aversion to bitterness. It’s interesting that the genetic aversion to bitterness wears off over time and actually becomes a preference in mid life. However, my sweetness preference under the influence of exploitative food technology became a teenage addiction that took decades to get under control and particularly at the expense of my dental health.

    The fact that sugar is antibacterial and used as a preservative for product shelf life is an additional factor. Excess sugar as empty calories and artificial sweeteners with zero calories, both do enormous damage, not to mention the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup. They badly distort our evolutionary instincts, yet we continue to reward our children with ‘sweeties’. It’s a cultural disaster.




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  2. Is this an argument to stop chewing gum? I chew a lot of gum because it prevents me from snacking, but maybe I’m actually doing my body a disservice and consuming more calories overall because of the artificial sweetness of the gum.




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    1. Just sharing from a friends experience: He did the same thing to help curb his food cravings, it seemed to build on itself. The more sugar free gum he had the hungrier he felt so the more gum he chewed. When he finally stopped with the gum and began focusing on eating healthy instead of simply reducing calories he started loosing weight, which was his goal and has been maintaining his progress for about 9 months now.




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  3. I am addicted to sugar., and between that, menopause, osteoporosis and dental disease I’m doomed. My son is a type 1 diabetic, where can he find ERYTHITOL?




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  4. Every time I see more than one 2-litre diet soda in the shopping cart-I see an obese person/family pushing the cart. Every single time. They eat a lot of chicken too. #cartsnob




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  5. Hello Dr Gregger,

    Do you have any advice for about sweeteners such as Stevia and Monk fruit, I have switched for a couple years and I have lost alot of weight, also , I know its not as bad for the system as sweeteners that contain chemicals such as asperteneme. any advice you have in regards to this, I like the Stevia, althoug some the the soda are addicting as well. maybe its the eytinol, not sure, any advice on that.




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  6. Does this affect tic disorders? reason asking there is so many studies done none of them conclusive, what is that actual research saying in the areas of like I asked tic disorder, seizures and pot concussion?




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  7. After years of gum chewing, I think I’ve had a reaction to the aspartame in the gum when I suddenly increased the amount of vitamin B-12 supplementation from 500 mcg a week to 500-1000 mcg a day…numbness, tingling, and arm pain. I stopped chewing gum and am holding vitamin B-12 for now. Is there any reliable information about how long it takes for the body to clear out aspartame? Thank you very much! Janet




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  8. ok since I started my wfpb diet I lost most of my sweet-tooth habits. However, sometimens a little bit of sweet is necessary (althoug my non wfpb aquaintances say my sweet-dishes are not really swwet!). I usually use fruits to make things like cakes and cookies sweet, but for icecreams and serbets I use stevia mixed with erythritol and I am fine, I do not get hungry nor do I over it because it this. IMHO this “overeating” depends on one’s personal degree of sweet tollerance level.




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  9. Hi Jean,

    I am a volunteer for Dr. Greger. Thanks for your question–this is a very interesting one that I think we’ll learn more about as it becomes more heavily used and studied.

    Monkfruit extracts are currently on the generally recognized as safe list, but as we have found out from past incidences, many foods are put on and taken off this list every year, which calls into question the certainty of safety of foods on this list.

    Preliminary research has not found anything dangerous. However, we must be aware of one of the reasons why artificial sweeteners may be less healthful: they trick our brain into thinking we are receiving calories, but our gut knows there aren’t any calories in there. So the gut sends a message to the brain saying that we are still hungry, and we crave more food, especially energy dense foods. This theory has not been proven yet with monkfruit, but the research on monkfruit is still up and coming.

    I hope this helps to answer your question. I’ll try to see if we couldn’t get a video made for monkfruit. If there’s enough good research, I’m sure Dr. Greger would be glad to make a video on it.




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