A Taste for Artificial Sweeteners

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October 2004 Volume 15, Number 5
©2004 Gürze Books

Many people with eating disorders regularly turn to low-calorie foods and artificial sweeteners as a means of controlling their weight. However, until recently, actual use patterns hadn’t been studied very thoroughly. Diane Klein, MD, and colleagues at Columbia University reported at the recent American Psychiatric Association meeting that their controlled study showed that women with eating disorders ate more artificially sweetened products per week than did a control group. The subjects were inpatients with anorexia nervosa (20 women), or bulimia nervosa (36 women), and a group of non-eating-disordered women (24). Women with anorexia nervosa, binge/purge subtype, reported the highest weekly consumption of 12-oz servings of diet beverages (mean: 72.1) and pieces of gum (mean: 32 pieces). Women with anorexia nervosa, restricting subtype, reported the highest consumption of sweetener packets (mean: 231 packets per week). The researchers noted that this consumption of artificially sweetened products may be an index of appetitive drive in this population, and is consistent with hedonic preferences for sweet tastes previously reported in women with eating disorders. The possible toxicity of aspartame is still unknown, even though some fraction of it is converted to methanol and it also activates N-methyl-D aspartate (NMDA) receptors.

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