The side effects of artificial sweeteners refer to the potential negative health outcomes associated with consuming these sugar substitutes.
Artificial sweeteners are widely used as a sugar substitute in various food and beverage products, including diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and low-calorie snacks.
While they are marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar, research suggests that artificial sweeteners may have several negative side effects on the body.
Common Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
There are three common side effects of artificial sweeteners. These are headaches, digestive issues, and an increased risk of developing certain health conditions such as diabetes and obesity.
As a result, it is necessary to understand the potential side effects of artificial sweeteners and weigh the pros and cons before consuming them regularly.
Headaches are one of the most commonly reported side effects of artificial sweeteners.
While the exact mechanism behind this side effect is not yet fully understood, several theories suggest that the use of artificial sweeteners may trigger headaches in some people. But how?
These are discussed below:
Altered Levels of Neurotransmitters
One theory is that artificial sweeteners may change the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, which can affect the regulation of pain signals and trigger headaches.
In addition, some artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, contain phenylalanine, an amino acid that can cause headaches in some people.
Changes in Blood Sugar Levels
Another theory is that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may lead to changes in blood sugar levels, which can also trigger headaches.
When artificial sweeteners are consumed, they can activate the sweet taste receptors in the mouth, which send signals to the brain to expect a rise in blood sugar levels.
However, since artificial sweeteners contain few to no calories, blood sugar levels do not rise as expected, which may lead to headaches in some people.
Furthermore, dehydration is a common cause of headaches, and the use of artificial sweeteners may contribute to dehydration.
Some studies suggest that consuming artificial sweeteners may increase the frequency and volume of urination, leading to increased water loss and dehydration.
Dehydration can cause headaches, especially in individuals who are already prone to headaches.
Overall, while headaches are a common side effect of artificial sweeteners, not everyone who consumes these sugar substitutes will experience this side effect.
Digestive issues are another common side effect of artificial sweeteners. The consumption of artificial sweeteners can lead to several digestive symptoms, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
The exact mechanism behind these side effects is also not yet fully understood, but several theories suggest that the use of artificial sweeteners may disrupt the normal gut microbiome, leading to digestive issues.
Altered Balance of Bacteria in the Gut
Another theory is that artificial sweeteners may alter the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Studies have shown that the consumption of artificial sweeteners can reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, while increasing the number of harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile.
This disruption in the gut microbiome can lead to digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
A much publicized theory is that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may increase intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut syndrome.”
Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the lining of the intestine becomes more permeable than usual, allowing harmful substances such as bacteria and toxins to leak into the bloodstream.
This can trigger inflammation and digestive symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.
Decrease of Digestive Enzymes
In addition to disrupting the gut microbiome and increasing intestinal permeability, the consumption of artificial sweeteners may also lead to a decrease of digestive enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. Some studies suggest that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may reduce the production of digestive enzymes, leading to digestive issues such as bloating and gas.
Overall, while digestive issues are a common side effect of artificial sweeteners, not everyone who consumes these sugar substitutes will experience these symptoms.
Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on the Body – Increased Risk of Developing Diabetes and Obesity
The use of artificial sweeteners has been linked to an increased risk of developing certain health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.
While artificial sweeteners are marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar, research suggests that they may have several negative effects on the body that can contribute to these conditions.
Decrease in Insulin Sensitivity
One way in which artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of developing diabetes is through their effect on insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance is a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Studies have shown that the consumption of artificial sweeteners can lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which may increase the risk of developing diabetes over time.
Alter Body’s Ability to Regulate Food Intake and Energy Balance
Some studies have found a link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of obesity. One theory is that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate food intake and energy balance.
When we consume sugar, our bodies release hormones that signal feelings of fullness and regulate energy balance. However, when we consume artificial sweeteners, these signals may be disrupted, leading to overeating and weight gain over time.
Alter Gut Microbiome
Moreover, consuming artificial sweeteners may also alter the gut microbiome, which can contribute to obesity. Some studies have shown that the use of artificial sweeteners can lead to changes in the gut microbiome, including a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria.
This disruption in the gut microbiome may contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight gain.
How to Avoid the Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
If you experience headaches after consuming artificial sweeteners, reduce your intake or completely cut them out of your diet.
If you experience digestive issues after consuming artificial sweeteners, again the recommendation is to reduce your intake or avoid them altogether, and monitor your symptoms.
In addition, consuming a diet rich in whole foods and fiber can help support a healthy gut microbiome and reduce the risk of digestive issues.
Overall, while the link between artificial sweeteners and the increased risk of diabetes and obesity is still being studied, there is growing evidence suggesting that the regular consumption of these sugar substitutes may have negative effects on the body.
To reduce the risk of developing these conditions, it is important to consume a balanced diet that is rich in whole foods and limit the intake of artificial sweeteners and other processed foods.
How Safe Are Artificial Sweeteners? – The Truth About Them
Health Risks of Artificial Sweeteners – Why They are Important
The side effects of artificial sweeteners include headaches, digestive issues and the risk of diabetes and obesity, although not everyone faces the likelihood of these conditions.
Overall, the USFDA (Food and Drug Agency) have certified artificial sweeteners as safe for consumption. Moderation is the key!
United States Food and Drug Agency website https://www.fda.gov/
Suez, J., et al. (2019). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 568(7752), 83-86.
Sylvetsky, A. C.,et al (2019). Consumption of low-calorie sweeteners among children and adults in the United States. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 119(11), 1828-1845.
Swithers, S. E., & Laboy, A. F. (2018). Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 29(9), 655-667.