A scientific review by researchers in Spain confirms the negative influence of artificial sweeteners on several primary cardiovascular risk factors. It also shows evidence that these products are not beneficial for controlling excess weight.
The paper, published in Current Opinion in Cardiology, delves into the consumption of these sweeteners and their negative influence on the development of obesity and of several of the most important cardiometabolic risk factors namely –
Globalisation and the increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods have led to a need for greater knowledge on the health impacts of certain nutrients such as artificial sweeteners (nutritive and nonnutritive).
This review aims to analyze their role and their effect on cardiometabolic and cardiovascular disease risk.
The detrimental effects of a high-calorie, high-sugar diet have been well established. For this reason, health authorities recommend limiting sugar consumption. The recommendation has led the food industry to develop different artificial sweeteners with specific properties, such as flavour and stability (nutritive artificial sweeteners), and others aimed at limiting sugar in the diet (nonnutritive artificial sweeteners).
Evidence shows that consuming artificial sweeteners does not encourage weight loss. “Quite the contrary,” Pérez-Martínez, scientific director at the Maimonides Biomedical Research Institute in Córdoba and internist at the University Hospital Reina Sofia in Córdoba, told Medscape Spanish Edition. “There is evidence showing weight gain resulting from the effect that artificial sweetener consumption has at the neurohormonal level by altering the mechanisms involved in regulating the feeling of satiety.”
However, on the basis of current evidence, sugar cannot be claimed to be less harmful. “What we do know is that in both cases, we should reduce or remove them from our diets and replace them with other healthier alternatives for weight management, such as eating plant-based products or being physically active.”
Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
What is more damning is that, artificial sweeteners cause significant disruptions in the endocrine system, leading our metabolism to function abnormally. The review revealed that consuming artificial sweeteners raises the risk for type 2 diabetes by between 18% and 24% and raises the risk for metabolic syndrome by up to 44%.
According to Gómez-Delgado, who is an internal medicine specialist at the University Hospital of Jaen, “On one hand, neurohormonal disorders impact appetite, and the feeling of satiety is abnormally delayed.” On the other hand, “they induce excessive insulin secretion in the pancreas,” which in the long run, encourages metabolic disorders that lead to diabetes.
Ultimately, this process produces what we know as “dysbiosis, since our microbiota is unable to process these artificial sweeteners.” Dysbiosis triggers specific pathophysiologic processes that negatively affect cardiometabolic and cardiovascular systems.
Types of sweetener
Regarding the type of sweetener, Gómez-Delgado noted that currently available studies assess the consumption of special dietary products that, in most cases, include various types of artificial sweeteners. “So, it’s not possible to define specific differences between them as to how they impact our health.” Additional studies are needed to confirm this effect at the cardiometabolic level and to analyse the different types of artificial sweeteners individually.
“There is enough evidence though to confirm that consuming artificial sweeteners negatively interferes with our metabolism — especially glucose metabolism — and increases the risk of developing diabetes,” said Gómez-Delgado.
Another important point “is that this is not in reference to the sweeteners themselves, but to soft drinks containing those components, which is where we have more studies,” he added. There are two factors explaining this increase in hypertension, which poses a problem at the population level, with medium- to long-term follow-up. “The sugary beverages that we mentioned have a higher sodium content. That is, the sweeteners add this element, which is a factor that’s directly linked to the increase in blood pressure levels.” Another factor that can also influence blood pressure is “the increase in insulin secretion that has been described as resulting from sweeteners. In the medium- and long-term, this is associated with increased blood pressure levels.”
Cardiovascular Risk Factor?
Are artificial sweeteners considered to be a new cardiovascular risk factor? “What they really do is increase the incidence of the other classic risk factors,” including obesity, said Anguita. It has been shown that artificial sweeteners don’t reduce obesity when used continuously. Nonetheless, “there is still not enough evidence to view it in the same light as the classic risk factors,” added Anguita. However, it is a factor that can clearly worsen the control of the other factors. Therefore, “it’s appropriate to sound an alarm and explain that it’s not the best way to lose weight; there are many other healthier choices.”
“We need more robust evidence to take a clear position on the use of this type of sweetener and its detrimental effect on health. Meanwhile, it would be ideal to limit their consumption or even avoid adding artificial sweeteners to coffee or teas,” added Pérez-Martínez.
Pérez-Martínez mentioned that the measures proposed to regulate the consumption of artificial sweeteners and to modify the current legislation must involve “minimising the consumption of these special dietary products as much as possible and even avoiding adding these artificial sweeteners to the foods that we consume; for example, to coffee and tea.” On the other hand, “we must provide consumers with information that is as clear and simple as possible regarding the composition of the food they consume and how it impacts their health.”
However, “we need more evidence to be able to take a clear position on what type of sweeteners we can consume in our diet and also to what extent we should limit their presence in the foods we consume,” said Pérez-Martínez.
“Most of the evidence is from short-term observational studies that assess frequencies and patterns of consumption of foods containing these artificial sweeteners.” Of course, “we need studies that specifically analyze their effects at the metabolic level as well as longer-term studies where the nutritional follow-up of participants is more accurate and rigorous, especially when it comes to the consumption of this type of food,” concluded Gómez-Delgado.
So for now, err on the side of caution and rather limit or avoid the use of artificial sweeteners.
Website – https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/artificial-sweeteners-increase-cardiovascular-risk