Links between Artificial Sweeteners, Obesity & Auto-Immune Thyroid Issues

The balancing Relationship between our Autoimmune System & the Gut 80% of the immune system is reported to be reliant on the microbiome of the gut.

This is where the immune system will detect and identify 'foreign objects' that it considers as harmful for our body.

This inter-relationship between the gut and the immune system makes sense when you think about it - because as we evolved, historically we were most likely to receive a harmful foreign object or substance through ingestion of daily foods, or drink, than in almost any other way!

The immune system has been built upon the need to recognize foreign objects which have entered into the inner biology of the organism (i.e. inside our body), this may be because we may have inadvertently ingested something (or we have been cut or penetrated by a foreign object). It is the immune systems role to disable any foreign 'invaders' and rid the body of them as fast as possible. If the body sees these invaders as a real threat, then their elimination takes precedence over almost everything else (as the body considers this potentially life threatening).

The microbes in the gut influence many aspects of our biology, including the immune system, organ development and metabolism. Many of the intricate relationships between the gut microbes and the chemical and physiological processes of the host are still largely unknown, but this is a growing area of research for scientists, especially as there is growing evidence that the gut microbes may have an influence on metabolic processes which may affect and influence levels of obesity, and other auto-immune diseases and disorders, all of which is a huge and rapidly growing problem within the western world.

In terms of Meta Health, the purpose of viruses, bacteria, bugs and other 'foreign bodies' which end up causing "undesirable" symptoms in our bodies, does not adhere to the standard medical thinking that they are 'attacking' our system, and that our bodies are being invaded or overtaken.

In Meta Health, we consider that the actions of our biology and the actions of viruses and bacterias in our system are actually involved in more of a symbiotic 'dance' that is all about KEEPING BALANCE.

To discuss this further I will be writing a blog on Viruses & Bacterias: friend or foe? so please do sign up to my email list if you are interested in knowing more about this.

However, today we are looking at the relationship between Artificial sweeteners and thyroid function.

Artificial Sweeteners & Thyroid Function

Reduced Gut Flora

Artificial Sweeteners have been shown to reduce the healthy bacteria in the gut micro biome by up to 50%. Due to the importance of gut flora (healthy bacteria living in the digestive tract), and its affect on our immune responses, this is likely to have an adverse affect on the immune system.

There are growing correlations between auto-immune thyroid disease (Hashimotos) and gluten intolerance, which may be connected to the reduced capacity of the gut to perform effectively and healthily, leading to the migration of gluten molecules into the blood stream. This cross-over of these 'food particles' into the blood stream (where they should not be) could initiate the immune response connected with the destruction of healthy thyroid tissue.

Reduced TSH Levels

Endocrine health has been shown to be adversely affected from drinking diet fizzy drinks and TSH levels have been seen to be reduced by simply eliminating any fizzy drinks (along with all other foods and beverages) that use artificial sweeteners. This report finding was established in 2013 by Dr. Sachmechi, an endocrinologist, who subsequently went on in his practice to advise Hashimoto patients that cutting out their artificial sweeteners may reduce their TSH and hypothyroidism. Of all his patients since 2013, only 3 have taken his advice and completely eliminated artificial sweeteners from their diets. Of these, 2 patients have completely reversed their disease, going from antibody positive to antibody negative. They are now completely without thyroid medication.

The third patient saw no change, but significantly to the other two patients, her mother was also hypothyroid, and therefore Dr. Sachmechi believes that there may be some connection with her genetic disposition, which may supersede the artificial sweeteners contribution to thyroid function.

Increased Antibody levels correlate to high levels of artificial sweetener usage

Recently, in 2015, a study conducted at Mount Sinai Hospital in New york reported that tests on 100 Hashimoto patients in Nashville, Tennessee showed that 53% of them use more than 3.5 packets of artificial sweeteners every day. This is compared to an alternative test group of 125 people, who were all thyroid antibody negative. Of these only 12% reported using artificial sweeteners, leaving the remaining 88% of those without antibodies as not using artificial sweeteners. The study was not stringent, but it has given researchers reason to further consider and investigate the links with autoimmune thyroid disease and artificial sweeteners.

Sweeteners that Raise Insulin & Leptin

Current studies are indicating that artificial sweeteners have many unpleasant and potentially opposing results to those intended by those people who are taking them.

Ironically, studies are beginning to show that they are potentially contributing to weight gain and even diabetes!

Wei-na Cong, at the National Institute of Aging, has been working to understand the potential health effects of long-term artificial sweetener use. Her studies showed that mice that ingested high doses (relative to those regularly ingested by many humans) of ACK (the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium) for 40 weeks, produced higher levels of circulating insulin and leptin. These hormones are both important in sugar metabolism, fat burning and appetite control.

Insulin tells the body to store sugar.

Leptin plays a key role in regulating food intake, fat burning, body weight, and energy homeostasis.

She thinks that the ACK stimulates pancreatic cells to excessively secrete insulin.

At the same time, “the increased leptin levels occurred because the mice became resistant” to leptin.

Insulin concentration and leptin resistance are associated with obesity.

Importantly for those who suffer with thyroid issues, her "studies also revealed that ACK accumulated in the mice’s brain tissue and that the mice exhibited decreased cognitive function in the form of slow learning and impaired memory." (National Institutes of Health: NIH)

This is rather important for people who suffer with the symptom of BRAIN FOG in hypothyroidism to be aware of!

Whilst, in mind-body detective terms, there may be other connections and associations involved in understanding and addressing why people with thyroid issues are experiencing brain fog, there is no doubt that adding a soup of chemical cocktails that affect brain function is potentially undesirable. Unfortunately, for many women with hypothyroid issues, weight gain is such a huge symptom of the disease, that using artificial sweeteners is often common in the battle to reduce or halt the weight gain!

Wei-na Cong also explains that her studies show that ACK also affected energy metabolism in brain neuronal cells, inducing an “energy crisis” in the cells. “Energy metabolism for the neuronal cell is very important” for brain-tissue health, she says.

Her work suggests that long-term ACK use may contribute to the development of other cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer disease.

Leptin Resistance

Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells. Leptin can be thought of as the 'hormone signal' that communicates to the brain, to let it know how much fat stores (= energy reserves) the body has.