February 13, 2017

For many trying to lose weight, one of the first steps in the process is eliminating sugar and replacing it with calorie-free alternatives.

Not so fast. New research from Tom Peeler, professor of biology at Susquehanna University, and his students has found that consumption of certain types of artificial sweeteners may, over time, cause us to actually gain weight.

Peeler and his students have found that the introduction of saccharin into the body speeds up the conversion of adipocytes-cells that have the potential to become fat cells, but have not yet made the conversion, a process known as adipogenesis.

“It’s not the amount of fat, but the rate of conversion,” Peeler said. “A certain number of cells will convert naturally, but 90 to 95 percent of these cells will convert if you add saccharin.”

Interestingly, Peeler and his students tested the effect of other artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and stevia, but did not find the same results.

Although they do not yet know why saccharin elicits different results than sucralose or stevia, they continue to investigate that, as well as the effects of spicy food on fat cell conversion.

“This research is a starting point in proving the negative effects of compounds such as artificial sweeteners on the human body-an unfortunate truth for products that are commonly advertised as being a ‘healthy alternative,’” said senior biology major Andrew Muckin, of Lake Winola, Pa.

Muckin was one of several students who is assisting Peeler in the research. After graduation, Muckin plans to attend the Pennsylvania College of Optometry to pursue a career as an optometrist.

“As we began, Dr. Peeler informed us of the current state of research regarding adipogenesis,” Muckin said, “and taught us the lab techniques required to conduct our research-from sterilization techniques, to growth procedures, to quantifying and interpreting our results.”