CBS Local Although many people think diet soda is a healthier option than other sugary drinks, a new study has found that having beverages using artificial sweeteners can still lead to diabetes and obesity.

Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin say a study of rats has revealed that artificial sweeteners, commonly used in zero-calorie sodas, actually did as much harm to the body as a high-sugar diet. “We also observed that replacing these sugars with non-caloric artificial sweeteners leads to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism,” lead researcher Brian Hoffmann said in a press release.

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The findings, presented at the Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, show that the rats given artificial sweeteners experienced severe changes in the makeup of their biochemicals, fats, and amino acids after just three weeks. Dr. Hoffmann added that the body is more equipped to deal with consuming real sugar rather than chemical substitutes.

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The researchers discovered that sweetener ingredients like acesulfame potassium were not being broken down by the body and began to have a harmful effect on the cells, which line blood vessels. Hoffmann says limiting exposure to both real and artificial products was the key, as both damage the body in different ways.

“We observed that in moderation, your body has the machinery to handle sugar; it is when the system is overloaded over a long period of time that this machinery breaks down,” Hoffmann explained. “If you chronically consume these foreign substances (as with sugar) the risk of negative health outcomes increases.”

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The CDC estimates that 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, however one in four people don’t know they have the condition. Diabetes is considered the seventh-leading cause of death in the country and top cause of kidney failure.