These French researchers studied the eating habits and health of 100,000 people over 10 years. They found that the biggest artificial sweetener consumers (who consume just 78mg per day, similar to what is found in half a can of diet drink) were nine per cent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease; and 18 per cent more likely to suffer cerebrovascular disease; conditions which affect the blood flow to the brain, such as a stroke.

Aspartame, found in sugar-free drinks, ice cream and salad dressing, was linked to the biggest risk of stroke. Artificial sweeteners are also added to things like yoghurt, cereal and sauces.

The findings from this large scale prospective cohort study suggest a potential direct association between higher artificial sweetener consumption (especially aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose) and increased cardiovascular disease risk.

The researchers admitted that their study is observational, not causational (the same as most nutritional studies). They said that those who consumed artificial sweeteners tended to be younger and fatter than those who didn’t. They were also more likely to smoke, be less active, follow a diet and eat more salt, red and processed meat, dairy and diet drinks. Many of these factors can raise the rise of heart issues, which may have skewed the results.  The experts claimed they took this into account, however.

It is believed that the effects relate to an interaction with intestinal sweet taste receptors which effects insulin secretion and glucose absorption. These sweeteners also alter the gut microbiota and are believed to increase glucose intolerance. The scientists also said they may increase inflammation which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

In my experience in my nutrition practice, diet drinks appear to be harder to quit than the sugar sweetened varieties. Artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar (aspartame is approx. 200 times sweeter than sugar). A high sugar diet already affects our taste buds and creates a desire for more sweetness, imagine how much more artificial sweeteners can increase that drive and contribute to a habit that is hard to give up.

I personally think that we need to stop treating artificial sweeteners as a “healthy” choice (which may encourage people to have more) and understand that all sweeteners (natural or artificial) can all be problematic to our health.

Here is a link to the British Medical Journal:

https://www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj-2022-071204

 

I discussed this topic on 2CC Talking Canberra on 20 Sept 2022, you can listen here:

Fiona Kane is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Mind Body Eating Coach, Holistic Counsellor, Professional Speaker and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health.

 

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