The Brain Knows the Difference Between Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar

First Posted: Sep 22, 2013 11:34 PM EDT

Think your brain can't tell the difference between Splenda and regular sugar? Think again.

A recent study implies to it's particularly difficult to fool our brain into thinking that calorie-less sugars are as sweet as the real thing. In fact, the study shows that when participants were given regular sugar, the reward centers of their brain showed greater activity than when given an artificial substance.

"The consumption of high-calorie beverages is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, even after the introduction of artificial sweeteners to the market. We believe that the discovery is important because it shows how physiological states may impact on our choices between sugars and sweeteners," Professor Ivan de Araulo said, the led study author of the Yale University School of Medicine study, via a press release.

"Specifically, it implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high calorie alternatives in the future.

"The results suggest that a 'happy medium' could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn't drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum."

The study identified a specific psychological brain signal that's critical for determining choice between sugars and sweeteners. This signal actually regulates dopamine levels in the body-a chemical that's essential for reward signaling in the brain. In turn, it helps brake down into a form if sugar is given for fuel in order for the body to function.

Researchers looked at this further through mice while measuring chemical responses in brain circuits for rewards. They believe their findings are likely to reflect in humans, as well.

"According to the data, when we apply substances that interfere with a critical step of the 'sugar-to-energy pathway', the interest of the animals in consuming artificial sweetener decreases significantly, along with important reductions in brain dopamine levels," Professor Araulo said, via the release.

"This is verified by the fact that when hungry mice - who thus have low sugar levels - are given a choice between artificial sweeteners and sugars, they are more likely to completely switch their preferences towards sugars even if the artificial sweetener is much sweeter than the sugar solution."

What do you think?

More information regarding this study can be found via the Journal of Physiology

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