Diet Drinks May Not Aid Weight Loss in Women, Obese People

Sucralose consumption tied to decrease in appetite-regulating hormones, increased activity in brain regions for food cravings and appetite

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 6, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Drinks that contain the artificial sweetener sucralose may increase food cravings and appetite in women and people who are obese, according to a study published online Sept. 28 in JAMA Network Open.

Alexandra G. Yunker, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues examined neural reactivity to different types of high-calorie food cues (sweet and savory), metabolic responses, and eating behavior following consumption of sucralose (a non-nutritive sweetener) versus sucrose (a nutritive sugar) in a randomized, within-participant, crossover trial in which about 74 healthy young adults, during three separate visits, ingested 300-mL drinks containing sucrose, sucralose, or water, followed by an ad libitum meal.

The researchers found that for both women and people who were obese, functional magnetic resonance imaging studies showed significantly increased activity in regions of the brain responsible for food cravings and appetite (medial frontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex) after consumption of sucralose-containing drinks versus drinks containing real sugar. There was an across-the-board decrease in levels of hormones (e.g., glucagon-like peptide-1) associated with fullness after participants drank the sucralose-containing drink versus the sucrose-containing drink, suggesting artificially sweetened beverages may not be effective in suppressing hunger. After female participants drank the sucralose-containing drink, they ate more at the snack buffet versus after they drank the sucrose-containing drink.

"Our study starts to provide context for the mixed results from previous studies when it comes to the neural and behavioral effects of artificial sweeteners," a coauthor said in a statement. "By studying different groups, we were able to show that females and people with obesity may be more sensitive to artificial sweeteners. For these groups, drinking artificially sweetened drinks may trick the brain into feeling hungry, which may in turn result in more calories being consumed."

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