Artificial sweeteners, praised for making your favorite beverage sweeter without adding a single calorie, are actually linked to weight gain in the long run, followed by hypertension and heart disease. The take-home message? “Zero calories” doesn’t always translate to “healthy.”
From the University of Manitoba’s George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation, scientists are focused on consolidating the data from multiple studies on artificial sweeteners and their impact on health, short-term and long-term. Whether it’s aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), or stevia, the number of people consuming artificial sweeteners is high and rising. Countless studies have been done linking these products to disturbances in metabolism, gut health, and appetite, and the newest Manitoba study aims to set the record straight.
Lead author Dr. Meghan Azad and her team compiled data from 37 studies on artificial sweetener and health. In total, the studies contained information from over 400,000 participants.
They found no significant relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight loss. The results were quite the opposite; consuming artificial sweeteners was shown to increase risk of weight gain, leading to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few.
"We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management,” explained author Dr. Ryan Zarychanski.
Azad suggests that consumers consider these findings until more studies can be done to confirm the long-term effects of consuming artificial sweeteners. Azad and her team are starting a new study focused on pregnant women and the consumption of artificial sweeteners, looking at weight gain effects on women and their babies.
"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 concluded.
Azad’s study was published in the journal Canadian Medical Association Journal.