When it comes to artificial sweeteners, what good news have you heard about them recently? More and more research is accumulating and highlighting the potential negative health effects of artificial sweeteners on gut health, mood, cognitive function, metabolism, and weight management.

One of the largest impacts may be on gut health, as research has shown that consumption of artificial sweeteners may significantly reduce the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, a team of researchers found that after just 5 days of using a common artificial sweetener, participants experienced significant changes in the composition and function of their gut microbiome (i.e., gut dysbiosis).

Compelling evidence suggests that gut dysbiosis (an imbalance between good and bad bacteria) participates in the development of increased body fat, reduced carbohydrate tolerance, and an unhealthy inflammatory response. Research has even shown that gut dysbiosis can increase the amount of calories you absorb from food.

At a recent meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, researchers found that a group of individuals who regularly consumed the equivalent of 3 ½ packets of artificial sweeteners per day showed signs of impaired thyroid function. Your thyroid gland is your body’s “master controller,” and it’s responsible for setting your metabolic rate. Impaired thyroid function equals decreased metabolic rate. Not good.

What about diet soda? Can that hinder weight loss? Recent research suggests that it just might.

In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62 women, who regularly consumed diet beverages and were trying to lose weight, were randomly and evenly divided into two groups. One group replaced zero-calorie diet beverages with water while the other half continued to drink diet sodas— but they were limited to only one per day.

The women followed the exact same weight loss program for 24 weeks, and as expected, all of the women lost weight. However, the women who replaced diet beverages with water lost 16% more weight than the women who drank diet sodas, and the women who drank water experienced a 70% increase insulin sensitivity. Better insulin sensitivity generally means being able to eat more carbs while still losing fat.

There’s still more, as artificial sweeteners have been shown to affect mood and brain health. In a study recently published in the journal Research in Nursing & Health, researchers from the University of North Dakota found that folks consuming a moderate amount of aspartame for 8 days were more irritable in mood, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on spatial orientation tests.

With all of that in mind, if you currently use artificial sweeteners, it may be time to reconsider. If you’re looking for a low-calorie substitute, the great news is that there are numerous healthy, natural alternatives made with stevia, erythritol (a natural sugar alcohol that’s friendly on the digestive system), and naturally-occurring plant fibers that also support gut health.