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Artificial Sweeteners Don't Fool Your Brain

January 14, 2010 | 61,721 views

artificial sweeteners, ice cream, tasteWhile artificial sweeteners may be able to confuse your taste buds, the suspicion is growing that your brain is not so easily fooled.

Several studies suggest your brain has a way of detecting calories while food is still in your mouth. For example, researchers made eight cyclists perform 60-minute workouts on a stationary bike while measuring their work rate.

During workouts on separate days they were told to rinse their mouth with a solution of either glucose or saccharin, without swallowing either one. The glucose mouth rinse improved the cyclists' performance by a small but consistent amount compared to saccharin.

Later, they were asked to rinse their mouths with either saccharin alone or saccharin plus a caloric (but non-sweet) sugar called maltodextrin. The cyclists did slightly better when they rinsed their mouths with maltodextrin, even though both solutions carried identical saccharin taste.

When scientists performed fMRI scans on the athletes, they found that the combination of saccharin and maltodextrin activated two reward-associated brain areas -- the striatum and anterior cingulate -- which saccharin alone failed to touch.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Do you consume artificial sweeteners over real sugar, thinking you’re doing your health a favor by avoiding the extra calories?

Well be warned that although you may be fooling your taste buds, your brain likely is not buying it. And if your brain is not satisfied, there’s a good chance you’ll go looking for another sweet treat later on, perhaps one that’s even bigger and more calorie-rich than the original version you were trying to avoid.

Why Artificial Sweeteners Can be Detrimental to Your Waistline

The belief that eating artificially sweetened foods and drinking artificially sweetened beverages will help you to lose weight is a carefully orchestrated deception. So if you are still opting for sugar-free choices for this reason, you are being sorely misled.

For years now studies have shown that consuming artificial sweeteners breaks the connection between a sweet sensation and a high-calorie food, thereby changing your body’s ability to regulate intake naturally.

In one study by psychologists at Purdue University’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center, rats that ate yogurt sweetened with an artificial sweetener consumed more calories (and didn’t make up for it by cutting back later), gained more weight, and put on more body fat than rats that ate yogurt sweetened with sugar.

Other studies, too, have shown that eating artificial sweeteners might hinder your body's ability to estimate calorie intake, thus boosting your inclination to overindulge. Your body and your brain simply do not have the same biological response to artificial sweeteners that they do to regular sugar, and this can pose some serious problems.

Your Brain Can Tell the Difference

You may have convinced yourself that your favorite artificial sweetener tastes the same as sugar, but rest assured your brain is not being fooled.

In one brain-scan study by neuroscientist Paul Smeets, volunteers were given two version of a beverage, one sweetened with sugar, the other with a blend of artificial sweeteners. The brain scans showed that the artificially sweetened beverage failed to activate an area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, which is an area associated with rewards.

A separate study by psychiatrist Guido Frank at the University of Colorado in Denver also looked into your brain’s response to sugar versus artificial sweeteners. Women given a taste of the two said they could not consciously determine a difference. However, a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of their brain responses showed differences indeed.

As in the previously mentioned study, the sugar activated the reward areas of your brain more strongly than the artificial sweetener, suggesting that the latter may not make you feel satisfied the way sugar would.

This is not an endorsement to indulge in sugar; rather it’s a major clue that your body is not being fooled by artificial sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners are Toxic

That’s right.

There are more reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners than just their impact on your brain and waistline. In fact, there’s enough evidence showing the dangers of consuming artificial sweeteners to fill an entire book -- which is exactly why I wrote Sweet Deception.

When I first started studying natural medicine I did not know which was worse, regular soda or diet soda, but after careful review the answer became very clear that although sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup needs to be avoided like the plague, it is still less damaging to your health than artificial sweeteners.

Take aspartame, for instance. The phenylalanine in aspartame dissociates from the ester bond and increases dopamine levels in your brain. This can lead to symptoms of depression because it distorts your serotonin/dopamine balance. It can also lead to migraine headaches and brain tumors through a similar mechanism.

Furthermore, the aspartic acid in aspartame is a well-documented excitotoxin. Excitotoxins are usually amino acids, such as glutamate and aspartate. These special amino acids cause particular brain cells to become excessively excited, to the point they will quickly die. Excitotoxins can also cause a loss of brain synapses and connecting fibers.

Then the ester bond in aspartame is broken down to formaldehyde and methanol, which have their own toxicities. So it is not surprising that this popular artificial sweetener has also been linked to cancer.

A recent study also found a two-fold increased risk of a decline in kidney function among women who drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages a day.

This just adds to the growing list of serious health risks from consuming these toxic substances, which are deceptively marketed as though they are safe and even healthy!

Unfortunately, most public health agencies and nutritionists in the United States recommend these toxic artificial sweeteners as an acceptable alternative to sugar, which is at best confusing and at worst harming the health of those who take their misguided advice.

How to Address Your Cravings for Sweets in a Healthy Way

If you consume a lot of diet foods and beverages, it’s likely because you have sweet cravings (yet you think you are making a healthy choice by avoiding sugar).

Your body, however, may be craving sweets because you are not giving it the fuel it needs. Finding out your nutritional type will tell you which foods to ideally eat to feel full and satisfied. It may sound hard to believe right now, but once you start eating right for your nutritional type, your sweet cravings will radically decrease and may even disappear.

Meanwhile, be sure you address the emotional component to your food cravings using a tool such as the Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT). More than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, MTT works to overcome food cravings and help you reach dietary success.

And, if diet soda is the culprit for you, be sure to check out Turbo Tapping, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to get rid of your soda addiction in a short period of time.

For those times when you just want a taste of something sweet, my sweetener of choice is Stevia.

Stevia is a natural plant and, unlike aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, it is a safe, natural alternative. I prefer Stevia as my sweetener of choice. However, I recommend using Stevia in moderation, just like sugar.

I want to emphasize that if you have insulin issues, I suggest that you avoid sweeteners altogether, including Stevia, as they all can decrease your sensitivity to insulin.

If you have experienced an adverse reaction to any aspartame product, call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area.

For more information on the dangers of aspartame, visit http://aspartame.mercola.com.

[+] Sources and References

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