A recent opinion piece published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism has suggested that artificial sweetener consumption increases the risk of certain health outcomes, including “excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Susan Swithers, “ Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements,” Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, July 2013. Authored by Purdue University Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience Susan Swithers, the article hypothesizes that “consuming sweet-tasting but noncaloric or reducedcalorie food and beverages interferes with learned responses that normally contribute to glucose and energy homeostasis.”

To this end, Swithers points to several prospective cohort and interventional studies linking artificially-sweetened beverages to “a variety of negative health outcomes,” as well as research examining physiological responses to highintensity sweeteners, which are “largely inert with regard to effects on glucose homeostasis because they do not reliably elicit post-ingestive responses similar to caloric sugars.” Based on these findings, she argues that “when considered within the framework of Pavlovian conditioning principles, experiences with noncaloric sweet tastes that are not accompanied by typical and expected post-ingestive consequences, such as post-prandial release of insulin, GLP-1, or GIP, or activation of brain regions sensitive to energy or reward, might eventually degrade or partially extinguish the capacity of caloric sweet tastes to evoke these responses.”

“Public health officials are rightfully concerned about the consequences of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, but these warnings may need to be expanded to advocate limiting the intake of all sweeteners, including no-calorie sweeteners and so-called diet soft drinks,” explained Swithers in a July 11, 2013, press release. “Although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be problematic, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Findings from a variety of studies show that routine consumption of diet sodas, even one per day, can be connected to higher likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure, in addition to contributing to weight gain.”