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How Artificial Sweeteners Promote Weight Gain and Poor Health

The three most common artificial sweeteners are saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose. People choose these sugar substitutes in order to restrict calories and avoid sugar. However, most of the evidence suggests that all these substances actually cause an increase in caloric intake and weight gain, stimulate appetite, trigger bouts of compulsive overeating and binging, and a wide array of other neurological, behavioral, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Consumers of Artificial Sweeteners Gain Weight

The American Cancer Society followed almost 80,000 women who were similar in age, weight, and ethnicity. Those who consumed artificial sweeteners on a regular basis gained more weight than those who didn’t use them.

The San Antonio Heart Study, which followed over 3,000 adults over eight years, found that those who drank artificially sweetened beverages had greater increases in body mass than others.

Studies involving children have also found a relationship between artificial sweeteners in the diet and weight gain.

Subconscious Says There are Calories to Spare

Researchers secretly substituted sugar with artificial sweeteners at a weight loss clinic. Even though they didn’t know about the sweetener switch, the patients immediately began consuming fewer calories.

When they were told that the change was made from sugar to artificial sweeteners, they consumed more calories. This turn of events suggests that those who use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar may think they have extra calories to spare, so they eat more.

Appetite Wants Calories to Match the Sweetness

Although many think that artificial sweeteners satisfy their cravings for sweets, experiments repeatedly show that the artificial sweet taste enhances appetite.

Men of average weight experienced a hunger boost after drinking aspartame-sweetened water. When taken in capsule form, the aspartame didn’t increase their appetites. When sweetness hit the tongue, appetites grew stronger.

Animal studies show that artificial sweetener supplements stimulate caloric intake in rats. They gained more weight and added fat than those who ate glucose. Those given artificial sweeteners before a meal ended up eating more food.

Your body expects calories after a sweet taste because that’s how it works in nature. Research shows that the pairing of sweetness with low calories leads to a strong appetite and binge eating.

Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Satisfy Food Reward

Food reward stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. This reinforces that we will continue to eat, an act that is essential for our survival. Processed and sweet foods stimulate food reward, but in a different manner than real food.

There are two branches of food reward: sensory (the mouth) and postingestive (after the mouth). The sensory type occurs when information that is perceived by the tongue travels to the brain. A pleasurable response is vital for a feeling of satisfaction after eating flavorful food.

Certain nutrients create positive rewarding effects. This postingestive food reward trains you to prefer some foods over others by using positive and negative signals. These signals are triggered by nutrients throughout the digestive system.

Mice preferred glucose over saccharin no matter what the flavor of the food was. Those that weren’t able to perceive a sweet taste still showed activity in the pleasure centers of the brain.

A lack of calories in artificial sweeteners takes away the postingestive food reward. When sweetness is there without the calories, food reward isn’t completely activated. This contributes to an elevated appetite.

Even when animals don’t have a need for calories, they still seek sweet foods to satisfy cravings. A lack of complete satisfaction–or the activation of one branch of food reward and not the other–causes binging and overeating.

Artificial sweeteners boost sugar cravings and the constant need for something sweet. If you eat a flavor repeatedly, your desires for that flavor become more intense. Repeated consumption of sweet flavors train your brain to continually want more.

According to Marcelle Pick, artificial sweeteners essentially trick your brain, because it is hardwired to expect calories and an insulin surge when we eat something sweet. The artificial sweetener contains neither of these, so when it doesn’t arrive, the brain feels cheated and then cravings for sugar and carbohydrates develop as it seeks the boost from calories and insulin it was expecting.

Sucralose Effects

Sucralose, which is commonly known as Splenda, is a substance that was discovered accidentally when scientists were experimenting with a new pesticide formula. Its molecular structure is very similar to chlorocarbons, which is what most pesticides are. So essentially you are consuming a substance that resembles pesticides.

Some common side-effects that have been reported on Splenda include migraines, panic attacks, diarrhea, muscle aches, intestinal cramping, stomach aches, agitation, numbness, rashes and flushing, weight gain, blood sugar fluctuations and seizures.

Splenda has been shown to increase zonulin levels, a substance that regulates gut and brain barrier permeability. Higher levels of zonulin cause leaky gut and leaky brain. It also causes a decrease in friendly bacteria in the gut of animals and increases fecal pH, both of which encourage overgrowth of Candida and other pathogenic microbes. Splenda also alters cytochrome p-450 detoxification.

A recent study in the journal, Diabetes Care, found that sucralose may actually increase blood sugar levels and prompt an insulin response. However, it’s important to note that Splenda also contains sucrose and maltodextrin, which are a form of sugar. So this is the likely cause of the spike in insulin.

There are some medical professionals that believe the taste of anything sweet may trick the body into thinking it has eaten sugar and thus still incite an insulin response. However, at this time, the research is not conclusive.

Aspartame Effects

Aspartame, more commonly known as NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel and AminoSweet, used to be listed as an agent of biochemical warfare by the Pentagon. The FDA has received more reports on reactions to aspartame than all other food additives combined.

Aspartic acid, a substance in aspartame is a well-known excitotoxin that increase aspartate, one of our primary excitatory neurotransmitters to excessive levels causing overstimulation. Excitotoxins, decrease brain synapses and connecting fibers and excite brains cells so excessively that it causes the brain cells to die. All of which can lead to significant impairment of brain function and neurodegeneration.

Some research has found that the high levels of phenylalanine in aspartame inhibits the brains ability to convert tyrosine to dopamine and tryptophan to serotonin, thus dopamine and serotonin levels will plummet. Serotonin and dopamine are two very important neurotransmitters that among other things regulate our moods, energy and cognitive functions. Other studies have found that phenylalanine creates a higher than normal level of dopamine, which produces a high similar to psychotropic drugs. Artificial stimulation of dopamine receptors will eventually lead to depletion. This also means that aspartame may be an addictive drug in and of itself.

Last but not least, aspartame is converted into methanol (also known as methyl alcohol – a poisonous chemical) which is then metabolized into formaldehyde, which accumulates in the brain, damaging the central nervous system, immune system and DNA and can result in many serious and chronic diseases.

Aspartame can mimic all the following conditions: MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, chemical sensitivity, arthritis, chronic fatigue, attention deficit, panic disorder, depression, lupus, diabetes, birth defects, lymphoma, lyme and hypothyroidism. It has also been linked with male infertility, episodes of mania, migraines, headaches, intestinal pain, nausea, irritability, nervousness, dizziness, seizures, autism, brain tumors, cancer, and other central nervous system disorders.

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame potassium, known as Sunett or Sweet One, and found in many sodas is believed to cause neurological damage, influence prenatal development, affect the thyroid gland, and be carcinogenic. It will also prompt an insulin response, which means it will lead to cravings for sugar and carbs in that way as well and can contribute to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, etc.

People use artificial sweeteners in order to stay away from sugar while still enjoying sweet foods and beverages. Although the science on this topic may seem confusing and inconsistent, and the impact may vary somewhat depending on which product you are using, it is very clear that artificial sweeteners cause significant impairment to brain chemistry, the endocrine system, and the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, these sweeteners intensify your appetite and stimulate your taste for sugar, make weight loss difficult and frustrating, contribute to mood disorders of all kinds and promote poor health on every level.

What I can tell you for certain, in my work with sugar addicted clients, they report that the consumption of artificial sweeteners always leads to cravings for sugar and carbs and ultimately a significant binge, which can often take days to recover from.

Your goal when giving up sugar should not be finding a replacement for your sweet tooth; your goal is to eliminate your sweet tooth. You should not switch your dependence from sugar onto artificial sweeteners. You want to learn how to appreciate the level of sweetness that occurs naturally in your food and then you have no need for sugar, sucralose, aspartame, etc. This can be accomplished by eating a diet that restores balance to your brain chemistry and your endocrine system, which is basically a slightly modified version of the Paleolithic diet.

You can find a more comprehensive discussion of this diet in my book, Break Your Sugar Addiction Today. After you are on the diet for a while, and your biochemistry begins to heal, you will develop a taste for natural sweetness and you’ll no longer want sugar or artificial sweeteners, because they will taste too sweet and unappetizing.


Yang, Qing. “Gain Weight by “going Diet?” Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 83.2 (2010): 101-08. Print.

Avena, Nicole M., Pedro Rada, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 32.1 (2008): 20-39. Print.

Sclafani, A., and K. Ackroff. “The Relationship between Food Reward and Satiation Revisited.” Physiology & Behavior 82.1 (2004): 89-95. P

Mercola, Joseph, M.D. America’s Deadliest Sweetener Betrays Millions, Then Hoodwinks You With Name Change

Mercola, Joseph, M.D.

Dr. Woody Monte on the Dangers of Aspartame

Sugar Substitutes and the Potential Danger of Splenda, Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load

Abou-Donia MB, El-Masry EM, Abdel-Rahman AA, McLendon RE, Schiffman SS. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health. 2008;71(21):1415-1429.

Zhang, G. H.; Chen, M. L.; Liu, S. S.; Zhan, Y. H.; Quan, Y.; Qin, Y. M.; Deng, S. P. (2011). “Effects of Mother’s Dietary Exposure to Acesulfame-K in Pregnancy or Lactation on the Adult Offspring’s Sweet Preference”. Chemical Senses 36 (9): 763–770. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjr050. PMID 21653241.

Cong W-n, Wang R, Cai H, Daimon CM, Scheibye-Knudsen M; et al. (2013). “Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Acesulfame Potassium Treatment Alters Neurometabolic Functions in C57BL/6J Mice.”. PLOS ONE 8 (8): e70257. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070257.

Andreatta MM1, Muñoz SE, Lantieri MJ, Eynard AR, Navarro A. Artificial sweetener consumption and urinary tract tumors in Cordoba, Argentina. Prev Med. 2008 Jul;47(1):136-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.03.015. Epub 2008 Apr 8.

2 thoughts on “How Artificial Sweeteners Promote Weight Gain and Poor Health”

  1. I am puzzled about conflicting reports regarding Stevia and Xylitol! Is Xylitol a type of sugar? And if not is it permitted on a Candida Cleansing diet?
    Ditto, Stevia?
    I so enjoy and learn so much from your newsletters and wish to thank you for sharing and educating us all. You are a Blessing!

    1. Admin - Cynthia Perkins

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you and you’re welcome.

      Xylitol is an alcohol sugar, but those words are misleading, because it is not really an alcohol or a sugar.

      Stevia is an herb.

      Both of these are permitted on the Candida diet, as neither one will feed Candida. They typically don’t trigger cravings for sugar either for most people, because they don’t generally spike insulin or neurotransmitters in the brain. However, I occasionally work with someone who does get addicted to Stevia or Xylitol, because they can trick the brain into thinking they have eaten sugar.

      Xylitol also causes a lot of GI distress like abdominal pain, gas, bloating, irritable bowel and diarrhea in some people. It must be used in moderation to prevent diarrhea.

      Stevia does not have this effect. It is the preferred sweetener when something is needed. However, it should be used in moderation also.

      As stated in the article above, your goal is to eliminate your sweet tooth and learn to appreciate the natural sweetness that is present in your food.


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