University of Manitoba: artificial sweeteners linked to heart disease and weight gain

Artificial Sweetener linked to obesity

Artificial Sweetener linked to obesity

But researchers have now linked them to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

"Evidence that sugar consumption is fuelling this epidemic has stimulated the increasing popularity of non-nutritive sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose and stevioside". Yet, a relatively higher risk of weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues was evident in relation with those sweeteners in long term observational studies.

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, are used to make numerous most popular soft drinks and according to researchers, consumption of them is widespread and increasing. In addition, people may be eating them unconsciously, in products like yogurt or granola bars.

For her research, Azad and her team conducted a systematic review - they zeroed in on 37 studies that followed over 400,000 people for an average of 10 years.

"We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management".

Read Azad's full findings published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Seven of the studies were randomized controlled trials, "the gold standard of research", said Azad.

Both types of studies have their pluses and limitations. "It really affects everybody", she said.

They also may not reflect how people behave in the real world.

The trials did not show a consistent effect of artificial sweeteners on weight loss. What researchers couldn't observe were the deserved effects of artificial sweeteners, namely weight loss or the absence of metabolic problems. There was a 32 percent higher chance of cardiovascular events for the heaviest versus lightest users.

The American Beverage Association (ABA), a trade group, disputed the study's conclusions.

The sweeteners, such as saccharin and aspartame, are used in thousands of diet products including drinks, desserts, ready meals, cakes, chewing gum and even toothpaste.

Nutrition scientist Allison Sylvetsky at the George Washington University, who was not involved in the study, agrees.

Because artificial sweeteners have been associated with health problems, experts have several working theories to explain the link.

Other hypotheses suggest they promote a preference for sweetness, leading to further consumption of sweet foods and beverages, or may lead people to indulge in other ways. Some researchers also believe that sweeteners may interfere with the body's mechanisms for metabolizing sugar. Sweeteners may also alter the microbiome in ways that change metabolism for the worse. And more trials that reflect how people consume sweeteners in a host of foods are needed.

His colleague and lead author Dr Meghan Azad added: 'Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized'.

Ordering a diet soda as a "healthier" choice may be backfiring.

And, she says, one option is to reduce your taste for sweet altogether rather than choosing between a sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened drink or food. "We need to know what the artificial sweeteners do".

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