A new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that diet soft drinks sweetened with Sucralose could be bad for the very people that are targeted as benefiting from diet drinks—obese people and females. The study found that obese people and females who consumed diet sodas had a stimulated appetite, leading to more food consumption.
The study was conducted by University of Southern California. Study author Katie Page, MD stated, “We found that females and people with obesity had greater brain reward activity” after consuming the artificial sweetener. In contrast, males and healthy people did not experience an increase in brain reward or increased appetite.
Page and her team measured the subjects of the study in three ways. They used MRI’s to measure the activation of parts of the brain linked to appetite and cravings. They used blood samples to measure blood sugar levels and hormones that affect hunger. And they also tracked how much food was consumed at a buffet table that was open at the end of each session.
The study found that obese people and women had a decrease in the hormone that inhibits appetite after drinking a diet soda compared to regular sugar sweetened drinks. In other words, the diet sodas made them crave food. People of healthy weight did not have the same response.
“I think what was most surprising was the impact of body weight and biological sex,” Page says. “They were very important factors in the way that the brain responded to the artificial sweetener.”
Some studies in the past have shown that diet sodas help with weight loss but long-term research has shown that diet sodas are actually linked to weight gain.
One theory is that when the body tastes sugar but doesn’t get the calories from sugar, the body is tricked into thinking that the sugar is coming. This could lead to increased appetite and an inability for the body to deal properly with the sugar when it arrives. If this is happening, this could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes because the body must release more insulin to absorb the sugar. Drinking diet soda may be pushing the body harder.
Given the new research, overweight people and women may want to stop drinking diet sodas for several weeks to see if that helps reduce the cravings for high-calorie foods. And the best choice? Avoid the chemicals in diet drinks altogether and drink water instead.