Artificial sweeteners could be linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease, according to a new review.
The evidence has been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which revealed that sweeteners, while designed to aid weight loss, could actually have negative effects on metabolism, appetite and gut bacteria.
However, the authors from the University of Manitoba stressed that there aren’t enough long-term studies on this data and, consequently, more research is needed to prove whether this association is valid.
To better understand how artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners affected health markers, scientists compared studies among adults and adolescents, studying BMI, weight and obesity, among other end points.
No consistent effect was observed regarding weight loss, and in some studies sweeteners were actually associated with weight gain, increased waist circumference and higher rates of obesity, hypertensio, type 2 diabetes and heart events.
“Evidence […] does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk,” said the researchers.
The study team believes the findings call into question the benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management, especially as so few long-term studies exist regarding their effects.
“Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised,” said lead author Dr. Meghan Azad.
“Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products.”
Azad’s team is now working on a new study designed to understand how sweetener consumption in pregnant women influences weight gain, metabolism and gut bacteria.

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