How non-sugar sweeteners affect your health: A look at the research
A lot of people have an appetite for sugar. Studies have shown that the body’s response to sugary food starts even before it enters the body, with the brain firing on all cylinders to excite the reward circuit and produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure and reward.
However, past decades have also shown that people are becoming increasingly aware of its dangers. These days, nearly everyone knows why sugar – in particular, added sugars – is bad for the health. It increases the risk of dying because of heart disease, is associated with higher rates of periodontal disease, and may put an infant at a higher risk of allergy and asthma.
Of course, people still can’t get rid of their dopamine fix, turning to healthier alternatives to sugar. Recently, non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs) have become more ubiquitous, as more food products have replaced sugar with this calorie-free option. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved a handful of artificial sweeteners, a synthetic form of NNS, including acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and advantame.
Natural forms of NNS are also becoming available. In countries like Japan, stevia has long been used as a sweetener. (Related: Stevia is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agent.)
This is the perfect moment to understand the science behind NNS, as well as their possible health benefits and, if ever, adverse effects on the body, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal.
Researchers from the University of Pécs in Hungary, the University of Freiburg in Germany, and Paris Descartes University collected all relevant data on the health effects of NNS consumption. For a study to be included in the review, specific factors had to be met: It had to be a study on humans, it had to be either an intervention or exposure to artificial sweeteners or NNSs, it reported health outcomes, and it had no restrictions in study design or language.