Artificial sweeteners may increase risk for weight gain, heart disease

Henrietta Brewer
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.

ARTIFICIAL sweeteners may actually make people fat, a study has found.

Emerging data indicate that artificial, or nonnutritive, sweeteners may have negative effects on metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite, although the evidence is conflicting, they added.

"We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management", said Ryan Zarychanski, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.

Lead author Assistant Professor Dr Meghan Azad, from the University of Manitoba, said: "In 2008, more than 30 per cent of Americans reported daily intake of non-nutritive sweeteners, and this proportion is increasing".

It's a tough question, Dr. Swithers says, in part because people who report they drink diet pop tend to be heavier and are more likely to have a family history of health problems than those who drink regular pop.

"There might be adverse effects of these sweeteners and there certainly isn't strong evidence they're beneficial".

Thirty of the studies were observational, which have a greater risk of bias because artificial sweetener use is not randomly assigned and people who choose to consume sweeteners may be different from those who don't, in terms of socioeconomic, lifestyles and health-related factors. Her own work on animals has shown these sweeteners can alter the composition of gut microbiota, which she says could play a role in long-term changes in metabolism. Seven of the studies were randomized controlled trials, a type considered to be the gold standard in scientific research.

Numerous clinical trials this study drew on didn't align closely with the way people consume such sweeteners in the real world - for instance, trials generally give subjects diet soda or sweetener capsules, while ignoring other sources, such as food. She uses a variety of artificial sweeteners in her coffee, tea, cereal, on bitter fruit, in smoothies and in baking.

Because artificial sweeteners have been associated with health problems, experts have several working theories to explain the link. Sylvetsky Meni doesn't think having a diet soda here and there is bad.

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. The results were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Originally developed as an alternative to sugar, artificial sweeteners are used in products such as diet soft drinks and sugar-free candies in an effort to lower sugar intake and combat obesity.

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