Diet soda may prompt food cravings, especially in women and people with obesity

Food cravings can be triggered by diet soda, particularly in obese women and those with an unhealthy weight.
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Some soda drinkers may find the "diet" in diet beverages a false promise. They deliver the same fizz and taste as soda, but without the calories. New research has shown that they can also cause people to crave more food.

Recent research published in JAMA Network Open supports the idea that drinks containing sucralose can stimulate appetite.

Katie Page, a doctor at the University of Southern California who specializes in obesity, said that after eating artificial sweetener, "we found that females had greater brain reward activity than people with obesity."

The hormone that inhibits appetite was reduced in both the sucralose-sweetened and regular sugar-sweetened groups. They also ate more food. The study showed that healthy people and men did not experience an increase in brain reward activity or the hunger response. This suggests they are not affected the same.

Page states, "I think the most surprising thing was the impact on body weight and biological sexual sex." She says, "They were very important in the brain's response to artificial sweetener."

This study found that previous research had focused on men and people with normal weight. This study suggests that diet drinks sweetened by sucralose may be detrimental to those who would most benefit from a diet strategy that works.

Laura Schmidt, a professor of Health Policy at the University of California in San Francisco, says that obesity is a problem that affects a large number of people.

Page and her team measured diet soda's response in three different ways. To document the activation in brain areas related to cravings and appetite, Page and her team used functional MRI brain scans of the 74 participants. Blood samples were taken to determine blood sugar levels and metabolic hormones that drive hunger. They also recorded how many participants ate at a buffet at the end each study session.

It is difficult to determine whether diet soda aids or hinders dieters in their efforts to lose weight. While some studies show benefits, long-term research shows that diet soda intake is associated with weight gain.

Schmidt sent NPR an email explaining that the study "offers some clues as why." "Artificial sweeteners may be priming people with obesity to crave high-calorie food."

Research continues into how artificial sweeteners can affect metabolism and weight. Susan Swithers, a Purdue University behavioral scientist, reviewed the findings.

Swithers states that these results are consistent in confirming patterns we have seen in animal studies in my laboratory.

One theory is that the artificial sweetener does not have a direct impact on the body. Artificial sweeteners could trick the body into believing sugar is coming, causing it to be confused.

"You're supposed to get sugar after you eat something sweet." Swithers explains that your body is conditioned to do this. Diet soda can cause a disconnect. Sugar never arrives. This can cause the body to lose its ability to efficiently metabolize sugar later.

According to Swithers, this could be a sign that you "get the sweet taste but no sugar," which can change how you react to sugar next time.

Swithers' lab, for instance, has shown that animals who have been exposed to artificial sweeteners in the past experience higher blood sugar levels than those who are not. She says that while it is a minor effect, over time this could have potentially serious consequences.

This could increase the risk of Type-2 Diabetes in people who drink diet soda. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin is required to absorb it. Swithers states that you are "pushing the system harder."

The new research suggests that diet soda drinkers trying to lose weight should give up artificially sweetened beverages.

Schmidt suggests that people with obesity may want to avoid diet sodas for at least a few weeks to see if it helps reduce their cravings for high-calorie food.