People who regularly consume the low-calorie sweetener sucralose may be putting themselves at greater risk of putting on weight, US researchers suggest.
The findings from a study by the George Washington University also suggest that weight gain may in turn increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome is a collective term for risk factors, including unhealthy cholesterol levels, abdominal fat, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
In the first part of the study, the effects of a common low-calorie sweetener called sucralose were examined on human-derived stem cells from fat tissue in a laboratory experiment over 12 days.
Lead rsearcher Dr Sabyasachi Sen said: “Our stem cell-based studies indicate that low-calorie sweeteners promote additional fat accumulation within cells compared with cells not exposed to these substances, in a dose-dependent fashion – meaning that as the dose of sucralose is increased more cells showed increased fat droplet accumulation.
“This most likely occurs by increasing glucose entry into cells through increased activity of genes called glucose transporters.”
The researchers believe the effect is more pronounced in overweight people because of increased insulin resistance and more glucose in the blood.
In a further test, the researchers looked at abdominal fat samples taken from 18 participants who regularly consumed low-calorie sweeteners consumers, four of whom were at a healthy weight; the rest were overweight.
Among frequent consumers of low-calorie sweeteners, the scientists noticed a rise in certain genes linked to increased fat production and inflammation. These findings matched the effects that occurred in the stem cell experiment.
The results showed a greater increase in activity leading to increased fat production in the people who were obese. This experiment had also previously been carried out by the team involving eight people and the results were similar.
Dr Sen added: “Because we found the same results with then, larger sample size, we have much more confidence that low-calorie sweeteners are causing metabolic dysfunction.”
The findings of the study were presented at an Endocrine Society meeting, which took place in Chicago on March 18.

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