Do Sugar Substitutes Increase Appetite?

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The answer might be “yes.” A study from the University of Sydney in Australia investigated the effects of artificially sweetening the diet of fruit flies. After five days, the bugs showed hyperactivity, insomnia, glucose intolerance, and enhanced sweet taste preferences, with a sustained increase of 30% in the consumption of food and calories. The researchers then investigated why fake sugar would cause this response. They found that the innate appetite systems in the body that combine effects from insulin’s response to blood sugar and the energy sensor AMPK to the brain’s appetite and craving chemicals, such as neuropeptide Y (NPY), were out of balance when the sweet taste of artificial sugars was consumed. The brain, in turn, recalibrates and increases the motivation to consume more calories to compensate.

On a positive note, the sugar substitute, sucralose (known at Splenda), is not linked to cancer, according to a thorough review of studies by researchers at the University of London.

Wang Q, Lin Y, Zhang L, et al: Sucralose promotes food intake through NPY and neuronal fasting response. Cell Metabolism 2016; 24:75-90.

Berry C, Brusick D, Cohen S, et al: Sucralose non-carcinogenicity: A review of the scientific and regulatory rationale. Nutrition and Cancer 2016; September 22nd.

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