Based on the size of the diet beverage industry, we can figure that millions of people drink diet sodas daily. Most say they drink these no-calorie drinks to control their weight. A study from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 2012, suggested that consumption of artificial sweeteners might actually sabotage those weight-loss plans. It does so by changing how your brain’s reward center responds.
Here’s how the study worked: The UCSD research group took 24 young adults and split them into two groups. Group 1 drank at least one serving of diet soda every day. Group 2 avoided artificially sweetened drinks. Several weeks later, the research subjects had their brains scanned, while they alternately sipped naturally and artificially sweetened water. This allowed the researchers to track how their brains responded to different kinds of sweeteners.
The brains of those who’d been consuming diet soda responded very differently from those of non-drinkers. This was seen in the centers of the brain related to reward and controlling food intake—or your appetite “off switch.” What was significant was the fact that the more they diet sodas they drank, the greater the difference.
Artificial Sweeteners Trick Your Brain
The scans showed decreased activity in the reward center of the brain. For the diet soda drinkers, this suggested that artificial sweeteners were the likely cause of throwing this reward system off. The findings by the UCSD research team was that the sweet taste didn’t always signal incoming calories. The subjects’ brains were trained to ignore a normal response. They concluded that if the brain doesn’t recognize the correct caloric intake, it can get confused, and the diet soda drinkers would then be more likely to consume additional calories—especially later in the day.
How Little Things Can Affect Your Brain
Research is always being done in this area. This particular study provides one interpretation of how our lifestyle choices can influence our brains. Consume artificial sweeteners and your brain responds one way—give your brain positive experiences and it could respond differently.
Other studies have found you can achieve positive brain changes as a result of regular exercise, proper sleep, plus other factors. No surprise there if you’ve been working with me. Today’s take-away lesson is to pick and choose your habits carefully. They could be good or bad not just for your body, but also for your brain!