A series of new research points to the potential harms of artificial sweeteners

A series of new research points to the potential harms of artificial sweeteners

New research adds to the growing evidence that artificial sweeteners can be harmful to your health.

A study published Wednesday in the BMJ, which involved more than 100,000 adults in France, found a potential link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and heart disease.

The results showed that participants who consumed high amounts of aspartame – found in Equal and NutraSweet table-top sweeteners as well as cereal, yogurt, candy and diet soda – had a higher risk of stroke. cerebral than people who did not consume the sweetener.

Likewise, people who have consumed large amounts of sucralose – found in Splenda as well as baked goods, ice cream, canned fruit, flavored yogurts and syrups – and acesulfame potassium, often used in “sugar-free” sodas, had a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

“Artificial sweeteners may not be a safe alternative to sugar,” said Mathilde Touvier, study author and research director at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

Last month, a smaller study found that consuming non-nutritive sweeteners – sugar substitutes with few calories or nutrients – can alter a person’s gut microbes and potentially raise blood sugar. High blood sugar can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

Before that, a June lab study found that artificial sweeteners encouraged gut bacteria to invade cells in the intestinal wall, which could ultimately increase the risk of infection or organ failure.

Other previous research has linked artificial sweeteners to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased risk of cancer.

“The more data showing these adverse health effects, the less we want to encourage people to switch from added sugars to non-nutritive sweeteners,” said Dr Katie Page, associate professor of medicine at the University. from southern California.

But the healthiest course of action, Page said, isn’t to opt for regular sugar instead.

“We really need to encourage people to eat sugar in more moderation and try to reduce sugar intake,” she said. “And the way to do that is not to consume more non-nutritive sweeteners.”

Some sweeteners considered natural are also not preferable, Page said.

“I definitely wouldn’t switch to agave,” she said. “I know people think it’s healthy, but it’s actually very high in fructose.”

An emerging link between sweeteners and heart disease

As a category, artificial sweeteners are low-calorie or no-calorie additives often found in soft drinks and other highly processed foods like yogurt, granola bars, cereal, or microwaveable meals. They are also sold as table-top sweeteners like Equal, Splenda, Sweet ‘N Low, and Truvia.

Sweeteners were originally promoted as a healthier substitute for sugar, which is known to promote obesity and diabetes and can increase the risk of heart disease if consumed in excess.

Touvier said his study is the first to directly assess the impact of overall dietary intake of artificial sweeteners on heart disease risk. Previous studies have primarily focused on the impact of artificially sweetened beverages on the risk of heart disease.

His team defined a high amount of sweetener as about 77 milligrams per day, on average, or just under two packets of table-top sweetener.

More than half of participants’ consumption of artificial sweeteners came from soft drinks, while 30% came from table-top sweeteners. Another 8% came from sweet dairy products like yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit filling.

Sucralose is the most commonly consumed artificial sweetener in the world, Page said, while “aspartame has sort of fallen out of favor, so people aren’t consuming as much of it.”

She said sodas are the biggest source of artificial sweeteners in our food supply, although “a lot of the non-nutritive sweeteners that people consume come from foods that you might consider healthy.”

Two excellent examples: flavored yogurts and sports drinks.

The best alternative to sugary foods, Page said, is naturally sweet fruit. If water isn’t a good substitute for soda or juice, she suggested soda water without artificial sweeteners.

Sweeteners Could Disrupt Your Metabolism and Raise Blood Sugar

A growing body of research suggests that artificial sweeteners may interfere with the body’s ability to properly metabolize glucose, which may be a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular health issues.

For the study published last month, Israeli researchers asked 120 people to consume four artificial sweeteners – aspartame, saccharin, stevia and sucralose – for two weeks. The participants consumed six packets of sweetener daily, which meets the Food and Drug Administration’s acceptable intake.

Researchers observed changes in the composition and function of participants’ gut microbes, which help break down food and ward off disease-causing bacteria. The changes were not seen in people who did not consume artificial sweeteners.

“All four sweeteners altered the microbiome, each in their own way,” said Eran Elinav, study author and microbiome researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Two sweeteners in particular, sucralose and saccharin (found in Sweet ‘N Low), have impaired some people’s ability to process glucose.

“It changed how the insects function in their gut and that, in turn, caused their glucose levels to rise, which of course is not a good thing,” Page said.

The researchers even transferred samples of gut microbes from study participants with significant changes in metabolism to mice. The mice also developed blood sugar alterations, Elinav said.

“This is pretty good evidence suggesting that [artificial sweeteners] have some type of effect on metabolism and on the gut microbiome,” Page said.

Page said his team is currently studying how artificial sweeteners affect the risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes in children.

“There have been very, very few studies in children and there is data showing that increases in consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners are even higher in children and adolescents,” she said. .

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