People hoping to lose weight by substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar may end up disappointed, suggests a review of 37 studies conducted at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.
The new analysis suggests the use of non-caloric sweeteners could be linked to weight gain and other undesirable outcomes such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
The review concluded that there was no consistent evidence of a long-term benefit from the sweeteners, but there was evidence for weight gain and increased risks of other health problems.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and stevioside are increasingly popular as evidence mounts that sugar is fueling the obesity epidemic.
These artificial sweeteners are chemically different than real sugar. They activate receptors on the tongue that lets the brain know the person is eating or drinking something sweet.
Past research on non-caloric sweeteners shows a mixed bag of results, including links to weight gain, as well as links to weight loss.
About the study
For the analysis, they research team looked through the medical literature for studies examining possible links between artificial sweeteners and weight or health issues like obesity.
The researchers found seven randomized controlled trials, which are considered the gold-standard of medical research. Some of the trials, for example, compared people who drank artificially sweetened beverages to people who drank water. The researchers also found 30 studies that followed people using the sweeteners over time.
They found no link between the use of artificial sweeteners and changes in body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of weight in relation to height, among the 1,003 people in the randomized controlled trials. They also didn't find a link between the sweeteners and other outcomes.
Artificial sweeteners tied to weight gain, high blood pressure in observational studies
Among the 405,907 people included in the 30 other studies, the researchers found that artificial sweeteners were tied to a small increase in BMI, weight, waist size, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems and metabolic syndrome.
The researchers caution, however, that the studies that followed people over time may be biased since artificial sweeteners are promoted as a treatment for conditions like obesity or diabetes. Also, the randomized controlled trials were relatively short.
The researchers were also not able to look at individual sweeteners. Different sweeteners may have different effects.
Until there is better research, experts advise people to be cautious about using artificial sweeteners.
Source: CMAJ, online July 17, 2017.
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