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Risk of obesity, heart disease, and other health issues higher in those who consume artificial sweeteners, study finds

July 17, 2017

A new study conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Manitoba’s George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation, along with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, suggests that artificial sweeteners may be linked with long-term weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The study that aimed to understand if the consumption of artificial sweeteners is linked with adverse long term effects on weight and heart disease, was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), today.

The intake of artificial sweeteners like, aspartame, sucralose and stevia have become widespread and increasing. Even though the proof is inconsistent, the emerging data indicate the possibility of negative effects of artificial, or nonnutritive, sweeteners on metabolism, gut bacteria, and appetite.

©Clay Junell/ flickr.com license

To test the correlation between artificial sweeteners with the health issues, the researchers had done a systematic analysis of 37 studies which followed more than 400 000 people for an average of 10 years. Among these studies, only 7 were randomized controlled trials (the gold standard in clinical research) and those studies involved 1003 people, who were followed for an average of 6 months.

The trail showed no reliable effects of artificial sweeteners on the loss of weight. 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.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, Assistant Professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba and an author of the study said: “Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products.” The data from the clinical trials did not support the anticipated benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management, she added.

To understand the effect of artificial sweeteners consumed by pregnant women on weight gain, metabolism and gut bacteria of their infants, a team at Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, under the lead author Dr. Meghan Azad, Assistant Professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, is undertaking a new study.

According to Dr. Azad, until the characterization of the long-term health effects – both risks and benefits – of artificial sweeteners are completed caution is necessary.

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