Many people guzzle down diet drinks in hopes that it will help them save some calories and trim their waistline. However, a new study has shown that diet soda, in particular the sweetener aspartame, may actually be one of the major causes of weight gain.

The new research suggests that drinking aspartame-laden drinks may actually make one hungrier instead of helping curb one’s appetite.

Studies done on mice and other rodents have demonstrated that consuming aspartame and saccharine (in addition to one’s diet) can lead to packing on the pounds.

Aspartame also contains an inhibitor of the gut enzyme intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP). The inhibitor, known as phenylalanine, can actually promote IAP (the generic name given to symptoms like obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) as it might stop the enzyme from doing its intended job.

Dr. Richard Hodin, from the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery, who led the research, explained how the enzyme works within the context of his experiments with mice:

“This enzyme — intestinal alkaline phosphatase or IAP — is very beneficial in terms of preventing obesity and diabetes. So the aspartame, by blocking this enzyme, had its negative effects on the mice.”

For Hodin’s research, mice were divided into four groups.

Two groups were fed a high-fat diet, one group receiving drinks with aspartame in them and one drinking plain water. Two groups were fed a regular diet, again with one group receiving aspartame drinks and the other drinking plain water.

After 18 weeks, researchers found that the mice who ate a regular diet had no noticeable difference in their weight, no matter if they were consuming drinks with aspartame or not.

However, for the mice that ate a higher fat diet, those who consumed drinks containing aspartame put on weight, while their counterparts were able to maintain their original weight.

The mice that consumed aspartame-laden drinks were also noted to have higher blood sugar than those in the other groups.

Dr. Hodin also added that he feels diet drinks may do more harm than good:

“Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don’t work very well and may actually make things worse.”

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