The Brain on Sugar Substitutes

The number of sugar substitutes has proliferated over the past few years as Americans desire the sweet taste but fear the calories.  While the debate on the impact of whether artificial sweetners actually help people lose weight is still under fierce debate, new research shows the difference to how the brain perceives artificial sweetners and sugar even though the taste buds may be fooled.

This new researches comes from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.   Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to visualize how the brain responds to the different sweetners.  Subjects drank two orange flavored drinks, one sweetened with sugar, the other sweetened with a mix of the artificial sweetners aspartame, acesulfame K, cyclamate and saccharin.

The mix of artificial sweetners were formulated to match the real tast of suger as closley as possible.   The subjects were also given the different drinks during different days to reduce the subjects ability to taste the difference.

What they found was that both drinks stimulated the amygdala, the brain region that triggers the sense of pleasure.  But only the drink with sugar activated the caudate, the part of the brain that senses the intake of calories and operates independently from the sensation of taste.

This supports research dones at the University of Birmingham in Britan that showed improved muscle performance from athelets who meerly rinsed their mouths with sugar water, compared with no improvement when athletes did the same with artificially sweetened water.

What the research is pointing to is the possibility that the artificial sweeteners are whetting the body’s appetite for calories.  When the calories don’t arrive, the brain stimulates a stronger hunger response which may lead a person to actually consume more calories as a response then they would have if they simply consumed sugar.

One solution may be to skip the artificial sweetners and in the case of drinks, sip the drink slowly.  Other research showed that when subjects drank a sugary drink, they naturally drank less when their sip size was smaller.   That reminds me of the advice my grandmother gave me as a kid:  eat (and drink) slowly and chew your food so your brain can catch up with your stomach.

Additional Links:

Los Angeles Times



About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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