No, not the name of the latest teen-pop sensation, but a perfectly valid hypothesis that I have been kicking around for a while. How many people try to lose weight, thinking that just having a drink of Diet Zingo might take the edge off their hunger, and help them get that satisfying sweet taste, without the risk of piling on the pounds?
Well, think again.
It could be that artificial sweeteners are actually making you hungrier, making you gain weight, and predisposing you to type 2 diabetes. Diabetic clinics are full of people who swear they don't eat much, and only drink diet drinks. Is it time to reverse cause and effect?
I stress that this is just a hypothesis at this stage, but it is way testable, and I hope to get around to exactly that at some point in the future. But here is how it goes:
1. You feel the need for a snacquette. You're hungry. You crave something tasty.
2. Aha, you say, I know - I will take a slug of Diet Zingo, which will satisfy my thirst and my sweet craving, and since it has only 1 calorie in 1500 cubic metres, I don't need to feel any of the crushing guilt that silly people complain about every time they eat one too many lentils. So, with a sense of utterly illogical and pointless moral rectitude, you knock back a few mouthfuls of the tasty aspartame-laden concoction.
3. Meanwhile, your brain (should you actually *have* one) is doing something rather interesting. Upon the sweet sensation, it engages in a very interesting phenomenon known as Cephalic Phase Insulin Release (CPIR). The sweet taste sensation actually stimulates the release of insulin into your bloodstream. The adaptive biological explanation for this is of course that it is getting ready to absorb some calories, and if you're primed with some insulin beforehand, this will prevent you getting hyperglycaemic, and will also get you metabolically ready to use or store those calories...
4. ...except the calories never come. It's *Diet* Zingo, remember? Virtually no calories. Oh dear. What is the insulin going to do now?
5. Well, it's going to act to drive your blood sugar even lower. What glucose *is* kicking around in your circulation is sequestered from the blood stream and converted into glycogen or fat.
6. In your lowered blood-sugar state, you get hungrier, so you either eat something, or you drink some more Diet Zingo, making the effect worse.
7. Your body thinks "oh crappo - I'm actually *starving* here", so reduces your metabolic rate; processes antagonistic to insulin kick in to rectify the blood glucose (still at a lower level than optimal), so you get even lazier, and burn off even less energy than before. This results eventually in insulin resistance.
8. You get *fatter* and more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
The solution? AVOID diet drinks like the plague, unless you are eating something along with it. Nature cannot be fooled. Or, rather, if you try to buck CPIR, it will come back to bit you in your enlarging butt. There are no "good foods" or "bad foods" - just foods, and it is the pattern of consumption that is important. AVOID the lure of the sweet *taste*. CPIR is your enemy here.
And if you are an academic endocrinologist interested in carrying out a large prospective study on this, get your people to contact my people, and we'll do lunch. We'll be drinking tap water.
We're doing it again! This time we are biking from Petra in Jordan up to Nazareth in Israel, to raise money for the Nazareth Hospital CT Scanner appeal. Last year we raised over £50,000 for the Children's Unit! Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel; the people are lovely, and the kids are awesome. Nazareth also treats kids in the West Bank of Palestine who have very limited access to healthcare. They need your help! Go to my sponsorship page to find out more and see what you can do! Maybe even join us..?