- A recent study implicates there may be an association between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Those who often consume such sweeteners were typically younger, less active, and had a higher tendency to be overweight or obese. They were also more likely to consume more red meat, dairy, salt while consuming fewer fruits, vegetables, carbs, and fats.
- The study does not definitively prove that sweeteners undermine heart health directly, only indicating that there exists a link between the two that requires further exploration.
- Potential risks of artificial sweeteners involve triggering the promotion of metabolic syndrome conditions, which include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess waist fat, and high cholesterol.
- Health professionals suggest focusing on a balanced diet that includes more plant foods, lean or low-fat animal foods, and moderate portions of sweet items, rather than focusing on a single ingredient as the ‘bad guy’.
According to a recent study that has been observing the cardiovascular health of more than 103,000 French males and females for nearly a decade, it was observed that a greater intake of artificial sweeteners correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Mathilde Touvier, the head of the nutritional epidemiology research team in France, led this research. The methodology of the study, which started in 2009, included tracking the health trends of NutriNet-Santé participants, who comprised mostly women, with the average age being 42.
At the beginning of the study, it was found that roughly four in every ten participants regularly used plant-based sweeteners like Nutrasweet (aspartame), Splenda (sucralose), and Sunett or Sweet One (acesulfame potassium). Additionally, these sweeteners were found in their processed food items or beverages.
The Profile of Plant-Based Sweetener Users
Those who used such sweeteners were generally younger and less active. They had a higher propensity to be overweight or obese, more likely to smoke, and more likely to be dieting. Their diets were also found to include more red meat, dairy, salt, and sugar-free drinks. They consumed fewer fruits and vegetables, lesser amount of carbs and fats, and fewer calories overall.
The Relationship Between Sweeteners and Heart Health
Over the course of nine years, the health of these participants was tracked. During this time, over 1,500 heart-related problems took place, which included heart attacks, strokes, severe chest tightness or pain (also known as angina), and procedures to widen blocked arteries (angioplasty).
A comparison of artificial sweetener consumption with these heart troubles led the researchers to conclude that there was an evident association between the two.
Touvier and her team clarified their work doesn’t definitively prove that sweeteners directly undermine heart health, only that there’s a link between the two. This conclusion has important implications but needs to be interpreted with caution.
Need For Further Analysis
Connie Diekman, a St. Louis food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, also noted the need for careful assessment of such patterns.
She mentioned that most of such studies do not provide a cause-and-effect outcome. In the case of non-nutritive sweeteners, it is often hard to isolate the influence of the overall health of the subjects from their disease outcome.
Understanding the Risks of Artificial Sweeteners
While seemingly harmless, plant-based sweeteners could potentially trigger the promotion of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. These conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess waist fat, and high cholesterol.
Another possibility suggested by Charlotte Debras, the lead author of the study, is that artificial sweeteners could interact with intestinal sweet taste receptors. This could affect insulin levels and sugar absorption and may even alter the makeup of microbes found in the gut, thereby driving up systemwide inflammation and triggering vascular malfunction.
But, these are hypotheses that need to be confirmed.
A Balanced Diet Is Key
Diekman advised focusing on an overall healthful eating plan. She emphasized on consuming more plant foods, lean or low fat animal foods, and moderate portions of sweet items. She stressed that it’s important to consider how everything comes together in your day-to-day eating plan rather than focusing on one single ingredient as the ‘bad guy’.
The conclusions of the study were presented in an online report on 7 September.
For more in-depth look into plant-based sweeteners, you can check the resources available from the Cleveland Clinic.