Artificial Sweeteners and Other Food Substitutes: Dangerous to Your Health?

Dr. Oz examines the risks linked to artificial sweeteners and other food substitutes. Bottom line: They’re not always the healthier option.

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The theory between artificial sweeteners and weight gain extends to include addictive behavior. As the sweet receptors in the esophagus and stomach become “tricked” by the zero-calorie sugar substitute, you crave more food and become susceptible to addictive eating habits like binging or overeating.

Could They Be Causing My Bathroom Troubles?
Artificial sweeteners can cause you to go to the bathroom more often. They may cause the muscles in your bladder to become hyperactive – forcing you to urinate more frequently. Even one packet might be enough to cause you to urinate more frequently than normal. This can eventually wear out the bladder, increasing your risk for urinary tract infections and urge incontinence.

Recent reports are also linking specific sugar substitutes you eat every day to major digestive problems including diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating. They are specifically called sugar alcohols, which are calorie-reduced sugar substitutes that include sorbitol and malitol, which are found in “sugar-free” gums, candy and baked goods.

Are They Linked to Diabetes?
As the sweet receptors in your esophagus and stomach are “tricked” by the zero-calorie substitutes, your pancreas is tricked into sending a false spike of insulin that can lead to insulin resistance. This can lead to diabetes. Also, since artificial sweeteners cause your body to crave more food, you can also put on weight, which further increases your risk for diabetes.

In addition to diabetes, artificial sweeteners may be contributing to a nationwide epidemic of metabolic syndrome, which includes diabetes-inducing insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and too much fat around the waistline. Whether you’re diabetic or not, limit yourself to no more than 2 servings of artificial sweeteners per day. (A serving size equals 1 sweetener packet or 1 diet soda.)

Can They Cause Cancer?
When artificial sweeteners like saccharin were first marketed, some animal studies showed an increased rate of cancer in animals. However, the FDA has done due diligence in their research for these sweeteners, and no evidence exists that moderate use in humans can cause cancer. However, according to a landmark report issued by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the evidence that excess body fat increases the risk of developing cancer is much stronger now than ever before. The connection isn’t clear, but these cancers include cancers of the colon, kidney, pancreas, esophagus and breast.