Sweetener consumption ‘associated’ with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, study finds

The total consumption of sweeteners is “associate” to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This is highlighted by the results of a study by a research team from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm), the National Research Institute for Agriculture, the food and the environment (Inrae), the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam) and the Sorbonne Paris Nord University published Thursday, September 8, to be published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers, gathered within the nutritional epidemiology research team (EREN), have been interested in the consequences of the consumption of sweeteners on health. They analyzed the health data of 103,388 adults participating in the French NutriNet-Santé study with regard to their overall consumption of this type of food additive.

Researchers had already shown that sweeteners in drinks and in food were associated with a risk of cancer. This time, they looked at the associations between sweetener consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease).

Sweeteners are, for example, present in certain dairy products and a multitude of low-fat foods. The participants in the study, volunteers, notably provided information on their medical history, their physical activities, their lifestyle and their state of health. Their food consumption was also taken into account for 12 years in order to precisely assess their exposure to additives, and in particular to sweeteners.

From 2009 to 2021, they crossed the profiles of study participants with their consumption habits (alcohol, sodium, saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, sugar, fruits and vegetables and red and processed meat). They thus deduced that the consumption of sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. “Those who initially consumed more sweeteners had, over time, a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.“, noted Doctor Mathilde Touvier, director of research at Inserm and coordinator of the study.

Infarction, hypertension, stroke, the link had already been established for drinks with sweeteners, including aspartame. The researchers show here for the first time that this also applies to all foods containing sweeteners, sweets, so-called light yoghurts, and in general all low-fat dishes.

All of this is conditional, because the researchers have so far only established a “association”no causal link yet. “Consuming sweeteners from time to time will not be dangerous for your health”emphasizes Mathilde Touvier. “The important thing is not to consume it too often and in too large quantities.” But she warns: “Sugars are no better than sweeteners. The recommendations of health authorities are to try to limit the sweet taste in the diet overall, so both sugar and aspartame.”

These results still need to be confirmed by other large-scale studies. But they “do not support the use of sweeteners as safe alternatives to sugar”, underlines the authors of the study. Researchers now hope to understand what mechanisms sweeteners trigger in the human body.

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