Zero-calo­rie sweeteners tied to weight gain

Higher risks of heart dis­ease, di­a­betes seen

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY LAURA KELLY

If zero-calo­rie sweeteners sound too good to be true, they just might be.

A grow­ing body of ev­i­dence links non-nu­tri­tive sweeteners to weight gain and other neg­a­tive health ef­fects, as sci­en­tists eval­u­ate the long-term im­pact of rou­tine con­sump­tion of zero-calo­rie sugar sub­sti­tutes.

Sev­eral health-fo­cused groups have rec­om­mended non-nu­tri­tive sweeteners — such as as­par­tame, su­cralose or ste­vio­side — as guilt-free sub­sti­tutes for sugar to help limit calo­ries, aid weight loss and man­age di­a­betes.

But a study pub­lished last Mon­day in the Canadian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion Journal found that long-term con­sump­tion of th­ese sweeteners may con­trib­ute to mod­est weight gain, in­creased waist cir­cum­fer­ence, higher in­ci­dences of obe­sity and meta­bolic syn­drome — a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions that in­crease the risk of heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and stroke.

Fur­ther­more, re­searchers found in an anal­y­sis of short-term, ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als that sweeteners had no sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on body mass in­dex.

“It was kind of sur­pris­ing that look­ing at all the ev­i­dence out there … there was no clear ben­e­fit of th­ese ar­ti­fi­cial sweeteners, yet there was ev­i­dence for harm­ful ef­fects in the long-term con­sump­tion,” said Meghan Azad, lead au­thor of the study and a re­search sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba.

Ms. Azad and a team of re­searchers with the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba’s Ge­orge and Fay Yee Cen­ter for Health­care In­no­va­tion con­ducted a “study of stud­ies,” eval­u­at­ing re­sults from ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als and long-term fol­low-up co­hort stud­ies.

In an anal­y­sis of seven ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als, which fol­lowed about 1,000 par­tic­i­pants for pe­ri­ods from six to 24 months, Ms. Azad and her team found in­con­sis­tent re­sults on con­sump­tion of sweeteners and de­creases in weight, body mass in­dex or weight cir­cum­fer­ence.

They com­pared their find­ings with 30 long-term, ob­ser­va­tional stud­ies that fol­lowed more than 400,000 par­tic­i­pants for pe­ri­ods of 10 to 30 years. Re­sults from those stud­ies found par­tic­i­pants had in­creased risks of weight gain and di­a­betes, but re­searchers could ob­serve only an as­so­ci­a­tion, not a di­rect cause-and-ef­fect re­la­tion­ship.

“The big mes­sage is that we don’t know a lot, and we need more re­search,” Ms. Azad said. “But I think, for the av­er­age per­son, in­clud­ing my­self, it is sur­pris­ing that you see links be­tween the ar­ti­fi­cial sweeteners and in­creased weight gain and in­creased di­a­betes, be­cause those are the ex­act things peo­ple are try­ing to avoid by tak­ing them in many cases.”

Con­sump­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial sweeteners is per­va­sive in the U.S. and ex­pected to con­tinue to rise, with about 25 per­cent of chil­dren and more than 40 per­cent of adults re­port­ing con­sum­ing low-calo­rie sweeteners, ac­cord­ing to a study this year pub­lished in the Journal of the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics.

A num­ber of pop­u­lar sweeteners are ei­ther ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion for con­sump­tion or gen­er­ally re­garded as safe, and their non-nu­tri­tive qual­ity is sup­posed to mean that it passes through the body.

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