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Artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain, study finds

Sugar substitutes may have health risks such as obesity and hypertension, according to report

The verdict is out on the health benefits of artificial sweeteners.
The verdict is out on the health benefits of artificial sweeteners.

The scientific evidence against artificial sweeteners continues to grow, with numerous studies having been published in recent years.

Now, a new literature review from the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that the consumption of one or more product containing sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose may lead to weight gain, obesity and hypertension, as well as a greater risk of heart attack or diabetes type 2.

Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized Study author Meghan Azad

The review looked at 37 studies following a total of 400,000 people for an average of 10 years, with seven of these being scientifically robust randomized control trials. Interestingly, it found that sweeteners could halt weight gain and even lead to weight loss in the short term. However, long-term use can increase weight.

In other words, while the use of sweeteners may initially appear to help with weight loss, using sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose as a sugar substitute in so-called low-fat diets can have the opposite effect.

In a section looking at how to interpret the results of their review, the researchers also note that only two of the studies they looked at showed that sweeteners helped people lose weight in the long term. Both of these were financed by the food industry.

“I think there’s an assumption that when there are zero calories, there is zero harm,” study author Meghan Azad told Time magazine. “This research has made me appreciate that there’s more to it than calories alone.”

“Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized,” said Azad in a press release.

While artificial sweeteners can lead to short-term weight loss, long-term use may have the opposite effect

“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,” Azad added.

Aspartame, known as E591 in Europe, can be found in everything from chewing gum and breath mints, to yogurt, cereals, ice creams, sodas and even medication.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has carried out a study on the health effects of aspartame and a further routine review was due to be carried out in 2020. But that was brought forward after a slew of studies suggested sweeteners may have negative health effects or even cause cancer. However, the EFSA found that aspartame does not pose any risks to health if the daily allowance of 40 milligrams is adhered to.

English version by George Mills.

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