Extra sugar has been known to cause several chronic diseases, leading food industries to use artificial sweeteners as alternatives in a wide range of eatables and beverages. However, the safety of artificial sweeteners is debated and study findings remain divided about their role in the cause of various diseases. The negative influence of food additives on cardiovascular diseases has been suggested in experimental studies, but data from human studies remain limited.
In the latest study published in the British Medical Journal researchers from France found that artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose) were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and coronary heart diseases. The research was conducted on over one lakh participants – almost 80 per cent of whom were females – with an average age of 42.
The authors, led by experts from the Sorbonne Paris Nord University, examined participants’ intake of sweeteners from all dietary sources including drinks, table-top sweeteners and dairy products, and compared it to their risk of heart or circulatory diseases.
The findings indicate that these food additives, consumed daily by millions of people and present in thousands of foods and beverages, should not be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar, in line with the current position of several health agencies.
“People who add sweeteners to their morning tea, thinking they are safe and will keep their sugar levels in check, should know that these could affect their heart. Earlier we knew that artificial sweeteners could cause a change in taste, abdominal discomfort, headache, lack of sleep and memory impairment. But in a new study, researchers have identified a possible link between artificial sweeteners and heart disease, and concluded that food additives should not be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar,” said Dr Ashok Kumar Jhingan, senior director of Delhi’s renowned BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital.
“Binge eating arising out of craving for calories is commonly noticed among people on diet and opting for artificial sweeteners. Alternately, one can use honey, a safe natural sweetener; stevia can also be used. Using artificial sweeteners for making sweets even at home is not the correct way to reduce calorie intake. It is better to take artificial sweeteners in moderation and not as a substitute for sugar,” Dr Jhingan added.