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Potential Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

* the opinions expressed are those of the author and not Nutrition Ink.

Artificial sweeteners, or nonnutritive sweeteners, are commonly used sugar substitutes that are much sweeter than sugar and often contain zero calories and sugar. The most common artificial sweeteners are

  • sucralose (Splenda),

  • aspartame (Equal),

  • and saccharin (Sweet‘N Low)

While artificial sweeteners are often considered a healthier alternative to natural sugar, emerging research indicates they may yield potential adverse health effects.

Despite the high-intensity sweetness of artificial sweeteners, recent research indicates these compounds result in different responses by the brain than sugar; one study reported glucose resulted in satiety signaling by the brain, while sucralose had a significantly lower effect on satiety that was comparable to water.1 This suggests artificial sweeteners may not have a similar effect of satiety and satisfaction on the brain as natural sugars, which may lead to increased intake and weight gain.

Along with this, several studies report the effect of artificial sweeteners on various organs within the body. One review reported consumption of aspartame yielded increased production of free radicals within the kidneys, as well as increased cases of kidney injury.2 Additionally, another study indicated saccharin leads to disruption of the barrier function of the intestinal wall, adversely allowing various compounds to penetrate through and enter the bloodstream, while aspartame and sucralose did not significantly alter barrier function.3 Therefore, artificial sweeteners may lead to alterations in proper organ function.

Overall, these findings further warrant additional research on how artificial sweeteners may affect the body. While the FDA currently considers artificial sweeteners as “Generally Recognized As Safe”, they may result in various adverse health outcomes according to recent research and consumers should be aware of the potential repercussions.


1. van Osptal AM, van den Berg-Huysmans AA, Hoeksma M, et al. Dietary sugars and non-caloric sweeteners elicit different homeostatic and hedonic responses in the brain. Nutrition. 2019;60:80-86. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2018.09.004

2. Ardalan MR, Tabibi H, Ebrahimzadeh Attari V, Malek Mahdavi A. Nephrotoxic effect of aspartame as an artificial sweetener: a brief review. Iran J Kidney Dis. 2017;11(5):339-343.

3. Santos PS, Caria CRP, Gotardo EMF, Ribeiro ML, Pedrazzoli J, Gambero A. Artificial sweetener saccharin disrupts intestinal epithelial cells' barrier function in vitro. Food Funct. 2018;9(7):3815-3822. doi: 10.1039/c8fo00883c

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