If you are among those calorie-conscious consumers who opt for diet sodas or other diet products, you may actually ruin your health and become fat, according to several new studies.

During a recent interview, ABC News’ medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard stated that “there is something about diet foods that changes your metabolic limit, your brain chemistry.” Savard said another recent study, which included more than 18,000 people, found healthy adults who consumed one diet drink a day could increase their risk of health problems and metabolic disorders by a whooping 30 to 40 percent.

Basically, artificial sweeteners confuse your brain. The enzymes in your mouth begin a cascade that primes your cell receptors for an insulin surge, and when it doesn’t arrive your brain feels cheated. That’s why most diet sodas are loaded with caffeine — so you’ll still feel a jolt. But even if your brain is distracted momentarily, soon enough it wants the energy boost you promised it — and you find yourself craving carbohydrates. In one study, people who used artificial sweeteners ate up to three times the amount of calories as the control group. But again, this is individual. It all comes down to the brain’s perception of calories, which can get thrown off whenever artificial ingredients are substituted for whole food.

The Dangers of Aspartame

Aspartame, the main ingredient in Equal and NutraSweet, is responsible for the most serious cases of poisoning, because the body actually digests it. Aspartame should be avoided by most women, but particularly in those with neuropsychiatric concerns. Recent studies in Europe show that aspartame use can result in an accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain, which can damage your central nervous system and immune system and cause genetic trauma. The FDA admits this is true, but claims the amount is low enough in most that it shouldn’t raise concern.

Aspartame has had the most complaints of any food additive available to the public. It’s been linked with MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and other central nervous disorders. Possible side effects of aspartame include headaches, migraines, panic attacks, dizziness, irritability, nausea, intestinal discomfort, skin rash, and nervousness. Some researchers have linked aspartame with depression and manic episodes. It may also contribute to male infertility.

Also the aspartic acid in aspartame is a well-documented excitotoxin. Excitotoxins are usually amino acids, such as glutamate and aspartate. These special amino acids cause particular brain cells to become excessively excited, to the point that they die. xcitotoxins can also cause a loss of brain synapses and connecting fibers. A review conducted in 2008 by scientists from the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo found that consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability of enzymes in your brain to function normally, and may lead to neurodegeneration.

According to the researchers, consuming a lot of aspartame can disturb:

The metabolism of amino acids

Protein structure and metabolism

The integrity of nucleic acids

Neuronal function Endocrine balances

If you suffer from sweet cravings, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing the right thing by opting for a zero-calorie sweetener like aspartame. In the end though you will do more harm than good to your body this way.

References:

Swithers, Susan E., & Davidson, Terry L. (2008). A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience, 122, Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/bne-feb08-swithers.pdf.

Sweeteners & Desserts. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from American Diabetes Association Web site: http://diabetes.org/nutrition-and-recipes/nutrition/sweeteners.jsp (2006, Apr 24).

Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from Center for Disease Control (CDC) Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/women/natstat/overwght.htm Henkel, John (2006, Feb).

Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from FDA Consumer Web site: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdsugar.html

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