Dangers of artificial sweeteners confirmed


Long-term use of artificial sweeteners does not lead to weight loss and may increase risk of obesity and heart disease.


Stevia leaves and tablets.
Long-term use of artificial sweeteners such as stevia may increase the risk of obesity.
StockFood / Getty

The longer-term effects of artificial sweeteners could be quite opposite to their intended outcomes, with the potential to increase the user’s risk of obesity and heart disease.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests nonnutritive sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and stevia could be increasing obesity risk and its associated effects over many years of use.

Originally developed as an alternative to sugar, artificial sweeteners are used in products such as diet soft drinks and sugar-free sweets in an effort to lower sugar intake and combat obesity. However, this research from the University of Manitoba in Canada suggests long-term use could have the opposite effect.

Recent studies into the health impacts of artificial sweeteners have shown up conflicting results. Although some research shows a link between chemical sweeteners and increased appetite and other factors, these findings are not consistent across the board.

In an attempt get more solid answers, the research team analysed data from 37 separate studies – 7 clinical trials and 30 cohort studies – which monitored more than 400,000 people in total, for an average period of 10 years.

Among the cohort studies, consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners was associated with increases in weight and waist circumference, as well as higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.

The intended benefits of artificial sweeteners – that is, weight loss and decreased obesity risk – were not observed among the overall findings.

“We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management,” says paper author Ryan Zarychanski, at the University of Manitoba.

Lead author Dr Meghan Azad says the findings should be taken as a warning to long-term users of artificial sweeteners.

“Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products.

“Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised.”

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Amy Middleton is a Melbourne-based journalist.
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