According to a new study, artificially sweetened drinks can be just as bad for your health as those loaded with sugar.
The work found a possible link between artificial sweeteners and heart disease, building on previous similar research.
The authors of the study published in the British medical journalstated that foods and beverages containing the substitutes should not be considered as a health and safety alternative.
Several studies link the consumption of artificial sweeteners to weight gain, high blood pressure and inflammation.
But the results were mixed on the role of artificial sweeteners in causing various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.
To further the link, a team of researchers from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research examined the health records of 103,388 people, aged 42 on average. Most, 80%, were women.
They looked at their intake of artificial sweeteners from all food sources, including beverages, table-top sweeteners, dairy products and by type, such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
More than a third, 37%, consumed artificial sweeteners, with an average intake of 42.46 mg/day, which corresponds to about 100 milliliters, or less than a third of a can of diet drink.
They found that compared to non-consumers, “heavier consumers tended to be younger, have a higher body mass index, be more likely to smoke, be less physically active, and follow weight-loss diet”.
Over a nine-year period, there were 1,502 “cardiovascular events” among the participants, including a heart attack, angina pectoris, angioplasty, which is a procedure to widen blocked or narrowed arteries to the heart, transient ischemic attack and stroke.
Researchers found that total consumption of artificial sweeteners was associated with increased cardiovascular disease.
“The results of this large-scale, prospective cohort study suggest a potential direct association between increased consumption of artificial sweeteners (particularly aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose) and increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” said said the authors.
They stressed that this was an observational study, so they cannot establish a cause between consumption and health. Other factors may also have affected the results, they said.
Nonetheless, this was a large study that assessed individuals’ consumption of artificial sweeteners using accurate, high-quality dietary data, they said.
For this reason, the study suggested that there was no benefit to replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners with respect to cardiovascular disease.
Further studies are needed to confirm the results. But in the meantime, the study provides key insights into the context of the reassessment of artificial sweeteners currently being conducted by the European Food Safety Authority, the World Health Organization and other health agencies.
Updated: September 07, 2022, 11:08 p.m.