Escalating rates of obesity and public health messages to reduce excessive sugar intake have fuelled the consumption of artificial sweeteners in a wide range of products from breakfast cereals to snack foods and beverages. Artificial sweeteners impart a sweet taste without the associated energy and have been widely recommended by medical professionals since they are considered safe. However, associations observed in long-term prospective studies raise the concern that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners might actually contribute to development of metabolic derangements that lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obtaining mechanistic data on artificial sweetener use in humans in relation to metabolic dysfunction is difficult due to the long time frames over which dietary factors might exert their effects on health and the large number of confounding variables that need to be considered. Thus, mechanistic data from animal models can be highly useful because they permit greater experimental control. Results from animal studies in both the agricultural sector and the laboratory indicate that artificial sweeteners may not only promote food intake and weight gain but can also induce metabolic alterations in a wide range of animal species. As a result, simple substitution of artificial sweeteners for sugars in humans may not produce the intended consequences. Instead consumption of artificial sweeteners might contribute to increases in risks for obesity or its attendant negative health outcomes. As a result, it is critical that the impacts of artificial sweeteners on health and disease continue to be more thoroughly evaluated in humans.
Keywords: Artificial sweeteners; Disease risk; Metabolism; Nutrition; Obesity; Population health.