Within the past decade, there has been a significant increase in consumers' intake of artificial sweeteners. According to the Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which collected data on artificial sweetener intake among adults from 1999 to 2008 indicate an increase of 5.4% among adults (Shankar, P. & Ahuja, S. & Sriram, K. 2013). For many consumers, artificial sweeteners are viewed as a healthy alternative to conventional sugar. Conventional sugar, or processed sugar, has been considered a major contributing factor to weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus as well as impaired brain function. It seems artificial sweeteners may have as great an impact on health outcomes as conventional sugar. The increase in artificial sweetener consumption has had a significant effect on health outcomes by contributing to a rise in obesity rates, type 2 diabetes mellitus and impaired brain function.
Artificial sweeteners contribute to increasing obesity through simple metabolic processes that control an individual's ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is what is known as the "hunger hormone" and a rise in ghrelin results in a rise in hunger. This shift creates an increase in caloric intake and is causative to weight gain and ultimately obesity. Due to artificial sweeteners being devoid of calories, upon entering the gastrointestinal tract and in the absence of macronutrients such as fats, proteins and carbohydrates, the hormones that regulate satiety and hunger are confused, and the food reward system that triggers satiety remains empty, hence the increase in hunger. According to Yang (2010), artificial sweeteners encourage sugar cravings because they themselves are sweet, but do not provide the body with calories as energy that fuels the body as well as the brain.
Another effect that artificial sweeteners have on health outcomes is the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Consuming artificial sweeteners seems to increase the probability of developing type 2 diabetes as well as obesity. Artificial sweetener consumption contributes to type 2 diabetes mellitus by way of our gut microbiome. The foods an individual consumes has a strong influence on gut bacteria within our gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria affect numerous metabolic processes, one in which is shifting the delicate balance of healthy to unhealthy gut bacteria. It is known that gut bacteria can influence mood, body composition and nutrient absorption. A shift in gut bacteria can result in dysbiosis leading to inflammation and alterations in metabolism as well as the inability to properly utilize nutrients (Suez et al., 2014).
Next is the artificial sweetener aspartame which is known to alter healthy neurological functions. The effect occurs when aspartame is metabolized within the body and converted in the gastrointestinal tract to the amino acid Phenylalanine as well as aspartate and methanol (Shanker P. et al., 2013). This process interferes with biochemical responses in the brain. Based on Arbind Kumar Choudhary and Yeong Yeh Lee's (Choudhary & Lee, 2018) academic journal on the connection between aspartame and neurophysiological symptoms, Phenylalanine is the culprit disrupting neurotransmitter production, causing inhibition in the manufacturing of specific neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Another consideration is the impact artificial sweeteners have on blood vessels throughout the body. It is known that these types of sweeteners cause inflammation leading to oxidative stress, which in turn increases cortisol production within the endocrine system and the brain. Due to heightened levels of cortisol, oxidative stress within the brain ultimately results in alterations in neurological behavior, such as decreased serotonin and dopamine levels (Choudhary & Lee, 2018). Consumer reports indicate that the most common side effects associated with intake of aspartame are gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, alterations in mood, and headaches (Shanker, P. et al., 2013).
In summary, artificial sweetener consumption is on the rise, and increased intake contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and impaired cognitive function. Artificial sweetener consumption, based on scientific data, causes weight gain by altering satiety and increasing appetite. Type 2 diabetes occurs from the effects artificial sweeteners have on glucose factors by influencing gut bacteria, shifting the delicate balance, and resulting in dysbiosis. Artificial sweeteners also affect brain function by influencing gut bacteria which play a vital role in neurotransmitter production and output. This results in cognitive impairment ranging from depression to uncontrolled hunger and memory loss. Considering the differences in each person's unique biochemical design may help reach an opinion regarding the impact that artificial sweeteners have on influencing health outcomes.
Choudhary, Lee, A. K. ,. Y. Y. (2018). Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection? Nutritional Neuroscience, 21(5), 306–316. Retrieved from https://eds-b-ebscohost-com.libauth.purdueglobal.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=f3beb341-01b3-4b6d-b569-e85da61a848a%40sessionmgr120
Shankar, P., Ahuja, S., & Sriram, K. (2013). Review: Non-nutritive sweeteners: Review and update. Nutrition, 29, 1293–1299. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2013.03.024
Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., … Elinav, E. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), 181–186. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13793
Yang Q. (2010). Gain weight by "going diet?" Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 83(2), 101-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/