Why caution may be warranted when consuming artificial sweeteners

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Representational Image

"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".

A new study conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Manitoba's George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation, along with the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, suggests that artificial sweeteners may be linked with long-term weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. "I think we are at a place where we can say that they don't help".

"Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized", said lead author Dr. Meghan Azad, Assistant Professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba.

Turns out, Azad picked up on patterns. A previous study found that 25% of American kids and 41% of adults reported consuming them, mostly once a day.

In nine studies, participants who consumed the greatest amount of nonnutritive sweeteners had a 14-per-cent higher risk of Type 2 diabetes than those who consumed the least.

If you are trying to lose weight, it might be better to avoid artificial sweeteners. "Low-calorie sweeteners are a tool to help provide sweet taste without calories to address one aspect of calorie intake", said Robert Rankin, President of the Calorie Control Council.

Azad's study didn't look into what it is about artificial sweeteners that could be triggering increased risk of so many issues, it simply points to a link. Regularly eating or drinking sugar substitutes may also cause people to crave sweeter foods more often. It could be by justifying a second helping of dinner because they saved the 165 calories they would have got from a can of Coke.

This is quite the opposite of their intended use, since artificial sweeteners have been developed to combat obesity. They may sharpen a sweet tooth, for example, prompting you to eat more sugary foods, or they may make you feel virtuous but then overcompensate later. This could be tampering with metabolism and predisposes you to weight gain.

The study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) states that, "emerging data indicate that artificial, or non-nutritive sweeteners may have negative effects on metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite, although the evidence is conflicting", as quoted by PTI.

Azad and Sylvetsky Meni say that much more research needs to be done, including looking specifically at different sweeteners rather than grouping them together.

The neurologists at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, conducted a series of studies to establish the impact on health of artificial sweeteners.

But surely a diet pop is a wiser choice than regular pop?

Consumption of diet soda has skyrocketed over the past few decades.

You've been watching your sugar intake lately, so you select a diet soft drink from the office pop machine for a cool, refreshing pick-me-up.