Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Artifical Sweeteners & The Like

I don't think anyone has a fucking clue when it comes to weight loss and such, scientist or not. I think there is too much individual variation in this world to make generalizations of what is "good" or "bad" for people as a whole. I could even make an argument that smoking is neutral, but I'm going to keep my mouth shut on that. 

But for now, the subject is artifical sweetener, from here on referred to solely as Splenda, my sweetener of choice. I'm going to stick to beverages here, as that is the only form in which I consume Splenda.

Basically, there is an argument going out there that Splenda can make you fatter, less healthy, etc. Supposedly, your brain is tricked into thinking that you're drinking something sweet, but when it doesn't get actual sweetness in your digestive system, it makes you crave something sweet. 

This doesn't make sense to me, but I am open to hearing explanations. My take on it is thus: if your brain continuously gets signals that you are drinking something sweet, but nothing sweet ends up in your stomach, eventually your body habituates and figures out that tasting something sweet does not mean it needs to produce insulin. In effect, I have rendered my "sweet" taste buds obsolete in the digestive process through habituation. Diet drinks do not make me hungrier, or crave any sort of food. My body, I believe, treats them like carbonated water. I drink it and piss it out, and that's the end of that. But I've been drinking diet sodas for a very long time and using splenda in my coffee for years. 

The problem, I think, is with suddenly switching from regular soda to diet or vice versa. I believe that if I suddenly started consuming sugar in my beverages, I would gain weight very quickly because my body is not used to getting liquid calories. But this belief that splenda can make you fatter - I'm not sure I'm buying it. Not unless someone can provide me with some evidence. 

If a calorie deficit = weight loss, then I don't see how drinking diet beverages could negatively impact weight loss results. If it makes you crave sweets, but you don't eat those sweets, then where is the negative impact? 

I'm not saying the opposite argument is wrong, I am just looking to understand the logic and science behind it. Thoughts?

11 comments:

Ambivalent Academic said...

Again, this is outside my area of expertise, so I'm only speculating. Habituation might happen. I can't really say. But getting back to GI hormones. Sweet taste probably does kick up your insulin levels. Absence of real calories at that point can have a negative effect on your metabolism. You might be habituated out of feeling hungry in response to this, but that doesn't necessarily mean that your body is not going into biochemical hoarding mode in response to artificial sweetener. So while you may not crave more calories and thus eat more of them because your body was expecting sugar rather than Splenda, it's entirely possible that something insidious is going on with respect to the calories consumed in your next meal (or over the long term) because you've generated an insulin spike in response to the sweet taste.

That's a hypothesis, not a fact, but it seems pretty reasonable to me. I'm too lazy to sift through the PubMed citations to back that up (and I suspect I would find some in conflict too), so I can't demonstrate that Splenda's bad for you, but I figure I won't do any harm by not eating it.

Toaster Sunshine said...

Email Science Bear on this one, she's owns this field. You might want to wait a couple days though to let her recover from candidacy examinations.

leigh said...

just stop drinking soda. that's throwing out the question entirely :)

[says the uber-hypocrite!]

Candid Engineer said...

If a calorie deficit = weight loss, then I don't see how drinking diet beverages could negatively impact weight loss results. If it makes you crave sweets, but you don't eat those sweets, then where is the negative impact?If this is the case, then there is no negative impact. The problem is that for many people, the sweet cravings actually cause them to eat. Which defeats the whole point of drinking diet soda.

And of course, another potential negative impact is that these artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

Hermitage said...

I agree with Toaster that Science Bear owns this field, but my personal suggestions:

1. Axe the diet soda. If only because it's artificial shit that your body is wasting energy trying to break down. I daresay it's probably healthier to drink something with 100% pure cane sugar than something that's Splenda

2. Lower reps for a longer time is just as good as a few hardcore reps. If you're body is shitting out on the treadmill, break it into multiple, smaller sessions. Your body and metabolism have to become equilibrated with your new exercise routine, that takes time.

3. Make SURE you are eating enough calories. Too many people try to combine exercise with eating 1200 calories a day or something equally ridiculous. Eat calories inline with your activity level or your body will just go into 'starvation mode' and hold on to all fat possible.

4. Eat healthy and eat often. Make sure the calories you are taking in are the right kind of calories (not diet soda!). You want to try as much as possible to be putting something into your body that it can either a) use or b) break down easily. Eating several small meals a day really does make a difference. I 'eat' about 5 times a day, but some of those are me eating some bread and grapes with a small piece of dark chocolate, or a small portion of rice and greens, etc.

And be aware if you take a break, your regression will be depressingly huge. But don't despair! A lot of it is muscle memory and you'll find yourself gaining it back again after a couple of weeks. The rest will require hard work, of course. And if you hate the treadmill, try an ellipitical.

JLK said...

@CE - Where is the evidence that artifical sweeteners cause cancer? Last thing I heard, nutrasweet caused like some sort of brain issue or something, but it was never proven (hence why it's still on the market). I have a lot of issues with the "X Causes Cancer" claims. First of all, we can't do the kind of testing on humans that would answer those questions. Second, everything on this god-forsaken planet causes cancer. The sun, for instance - we need it for vitamin D, lack of it causes depression (which we CAN test), moderate sun exposure that results in a bit of a tan has been shown to PROTECT against cancer and sunburn, and yet we all run around slathered in sunblock like a bunch of vampires.

People who don't smoke and who have never been around smokers get lung cancer. People who smoked 2 packs a day for their entire life often DON'T get lung cancer. We can show correlations for these things, but we can't show causation (largely because it's unethical.) And also because of genetic components that we don't understand yet and, quite frankly, can't do anything about anyway at this point.

My trouble with claims like these, especially among scientists, is that we are so careful to pick apart research in our own fields for lacking causation or not accounting for confounding variables, but when the headlines tell us that something "causes" cancer, we all go batshit crazy to remove it from our lives.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying that it MIGHT cause cancer. But with the prevalence of diet beverages in our society, wouldn't a fuckton of us be running around with tumors?

It reminds me of something CPP said in a conversation about pregnant women avoiding fish so they don't risk taking in mercury: "These women get paranoid about eating fish that MIGHT contain traces of mercury, but every day they get behind the wheel of a car where the probabilty of being killed or severely injured is much, much, much higher than getting mercury poisoning from a fucking piece of fish."

Hope said...

If you find definitive evidence/studies, I hope you’ll post about it. I didn’t stop drinking diet soda when I was dieting. On average, I consumed about one can/day with a meal. I didn’t notice a difference in terms of sweet cravings when I drank diet soda vs. sparkling water with my meals.

Hope said...

I believe that if I suddenly started consuming sugar in my beverages, I would gain weight very quickly because my body is not used to getting liquid calories.

I’m not sure that this is true. I, too, was accustomed to drinking a number 0-calorie drinks. Recently, I’ve become hooked on Bolthouse Farms’ Vanilla Chai Tea, which has ~150 cal per serving. My body seems to know the difference – I feel full after a glass of that in a way different from how I feel after a glass of water or diet soda.

Becca said...

As a molecular scientist, I think I look at cancer very differently than you do. If you already know some of this stuff, my apologies, but I've got a framework for thinking about cancer that might be useful.

"We can show correlations for these things, but we can't show causation (largely because it's unethical.) "Well, let's put it this way... we can take smokers who get lung cancer and biopsy the tumor. Generally, there will be tobacco-specific nitrosamines adducts in the DNA and mutations in genes that we have shown in multiple model systems to be capable of causing cancer...
Smoking. Gun. Of course, maybe it was really Professor Plumb with the candlestick...

UV damage will cause fairly distinctive mutations in your DNA (most, but not all, get repaired easily). Given a long enough timespan to accumulate these mutations, some of the cells will get the right kinds of mutations and their growth will become dysregulated. Most of these 'cancers' are benign (using the strictest of definitions, moles could count as cancer in that they are the result of imperfectly regulated cell growth).
The biggest risk factor for cancer is age. If you look at the 80+ age group, the likelihood of getting benign skin cancer nears 100%.

Now, why some people get moles and others get melanoma is a much more complicated and interesting biological question than "does UV exposure cause cancer?"

"But with the prevalence of diet beverages in our society, wouldn't a fuckton of us be running around with tumors? "(minor tangential point- I think the percent of people who regularly consume this stuff is only ~15%; not what I'd term "a fuckton")
Major point- we are all running around with tumors, but the immune system clears most of them; particularly the ones that get invasive.

Basically, what I'm trying to get at is "freaky cell growth that directly results from environmental insults" = INCREDIBLY COMMON. "freaky cell growth that can kill you" = relatively rare.

If it's any consolation, I don't think there's any reason to think of most artificial sweeteners pose any kind of meaningful cancer risk (at absurdly high doses aspertame is not good- particularly if you are a rat- so I wouldn't use a fuckton. But for small amounts, at some point you have to trust in your DNA repair pathways and immune system to do their jobs).

I think it's possible to establish causation in cancer. However, things like "which gene happened to have an accessible chromatin state at the particular time you were exposed to a carcinogen" or "what unique minor genetic variations do you have" function as stochastic factors, complicating the analysis of any individual case. That doesn't invalidate claims about populations though- in much the same way that not knowing the precise location of every electron doesn't mean we can't know how elements behave.

Also- I don't know how CPP drives, but I personally don't have an 80% risk of getting into a car accident.
The odds of a getting a 'high' level of mercury is a whole other kettle of swordfish...
http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS155602+17-Jan-2008+BW20080117

Now, even the highest of those figures is still about 3-fold lower than some of the lowest levels known to cause mercury poisoning in humans (highest fish was 3.7ppm, lowest fish associated with disease in other cases was 9ppm). On the other hand, I wouldn't say that 3-fold is such a ginormous difference that it wouldn't be of some concern. Particularly since it's known that fetuses are significantly more vulnerable to mercury. Plus, I'm not just worried about acute mercury poisoning, but whether smallish amounts could affect development.

That said, there's a shameful amount of absurd advice directed at pregnant women that anyone basing their decisions on a logical analysis of the risks should ignore.

PhizzleDizzle said...

I think we talked about this once before that the world is bell-curvian. yes, people smoke 2 packs a day and live forever. and people who never smoked get lung cancer.

In general, my attitude is that for things I don't care about, I'll just give it up. For example, in my mind smoking is so not worth it. I've never wanted to do it, so not doing it in the hopes that I will live longer is totally worth it. Same with diet soda. I happen to think that shit is unnatural and I try not to drink it much. Cheese however, when I am pregnant I plan to eat my soft cheeses and the occasional sushi.

Aspartame certainly has a warning on it that says something about cancer, but I know that Splenda is not aspartame. However, I don't think it's been studied as much because it's waaaaaay newer. Who knows what that stuff does?

In the end, it's up to you to decide what's worth it. Do any of our actions ever guarantee a given result (driving->death, sun-worshipping->cancer, smoking->cancer, drinking->cirrhosis)? I don't think so. All we can do is decide what risk factors we want to take on in our lives.

Congrats on the 1inch loss though!!!! That's great.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen anyone drink diet who was really skinny? I haven't.

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