09 September 2022

An unhealthy alternative

Sweeteners may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes

Sergey Vasiliev, Naked Science

The harm of adding sugar to food has been known for a long time. Its bad reputation forces both consumers and manufacturers to turn to artificial sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc. However, these substitutes are far from harmless. Some studies show that they increase the chances of developing diabetes and stimulate the spread of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The new negative effects of sweeteners are described in an article by French scientists published in the journal BMJ (Debras et al., Artificial sweeteners and risk of cardiovascular diseases: results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort).

Mathilde Touvier's team from the Sorbonne University Paris North tracked the effect of sugar substitutes on the health of more than 103 thousand French residents participating in the NutriNet-Santé clinical experiment. The sample included men and women with an average age of 42 years. Within six months, they recorded data on all the food eaten and drinks drunk in detail three times – for two working days and one weekend. Sweeteners consumed about 37 percent of them.

Following the medical records of the participants over the following years, the scientists recorded about 1,500 acute cardiovascular problems, including ischemic attacks, heart attacks and strokes. At the same time, people who consume sweeteners had a nine percent higher risk of developing such conditions than average, and for cerebrovascular diseases associated with blood supply to the brain – by 18 percent. In addition, the authors noticed a possible difference in the effect of different sweeteners. For example, the use of aspartame correlated with a higher frequency of cerebrovascular problems, and sucralose and acesulfame potassium – with coronary heart disease.

"This shows that dietary supplements, which are consumed by millions of people every day and which are present in thousands of food products, cannot be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar," the scientists summarize. It is worth adding that their study only demonstrated a correlation between the use of sweeteners and the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It does not completely exclude the influence of other factors, and even more so does not indicate the mechanism of such an action.

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