Lead researcher Greg Neely said the research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, showed the brain sensed both sweetness and energy intake and regulated appetite in response.
In other words, if people eat sweeteners but do not actually get the equivalent amount of calories, they eat more food to make up for it.
“Our conclusions from this study were that the sweetness and energy content of food are integrated in reward centres in the animals’ brain,” Associate Professor Neely said.
“When they’re out of balance, the brain responds and corrects it by promoting more or less food intake, in this case more food intake.”
Sweeteners cause hyperactivity and insomnia
Artificial sweeteners are used around the world to control weight even though little is known about how they impact weight loss.
While the study looked at sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, researchers said their findings were likely to apply to most artificial sweeteners.
The study was also replicated in mice in conjunction with Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
Associate Professor Neely said essentially chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners fostered the sweet tooth of the animals.
“One message is just that having extra sweetness in your diet especially in extreme situations isn’t totally inert and moderation might be in order,” he said.
The study also found the sweetener promoted hyperactivity, insomnia and reduced sleep quality, which replicated a fasting state.