Millions of people drink diet sodas because of the belief that they help with weight loss. A new study has shown this conviction is a myth: the beverages actually promote weight gain. In addition, they are also linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management.
In the first few decades after artificial sweeteners debuted on the market, they were viewed as an easy method of reducing daily calorie intake. Products containing sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, sold under the brand names of Splenda, Equal and Sweet ‘N Low, were wildly popular. Diet sodas and desserts labeled “sugar-free” were eagerly snatched up at supermarkets because they were considered by many as a guilt-free way to indulge a sweet tooth.
While products containing artificial sweeteners continue to be widely used, in recent years, as research has indicated they may have adverse health effects, Americans are increasingly worried about their safety. A new review of studies published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal gives more cause for concern. It examined the chemicals’ long-term effects on health, and the results weren’t pretty.
Scientists at the University of Manitoba’s George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation looked at 37 studies that followed 406,000 users of artificial sweeteners for an average of 10 years. Seven of the studies were randomized clinical trials, the gold standard in research, which included 1,007 people who were followed for approximately six months.
Analysis of the data failed to prove either a short-term or a long-term benefit. The six-month trials didn’t show that artificial sweeteners had a consistent weight loss effect. Moreover, the 10-year observation studies revealed links to modest gains in weight and body mass index, as well as increased waistline size, a problem associated with a heightened risk of several chronic diseases. The longer studies also showed an ominous connection to somewhat higher likelihoods of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
“Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products,” said author Ryan Zarychanski, assistant professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba. “We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management.”
“Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized,” said lead author Meghan Azad, assistant professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba. “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.”
In an interview with Olive Oil Times, Carolyn Dean, medical doctor and naturopath, didn’t mince words in giving her opinion about the research. She is a Medical Advisory Board Member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association.
“This study, which exposes the false claims of synthetic sweeteners, should have the industry quaking in its boots. It was extremely comprehensive, including 11,774 citations. The results were the opposite of what the synthetic sweetener industry advertises. Every practitioner who recommends synthetic sweeteners should be informed that they are harming their patients.
“We have to go back to a simple dietary restriction of sugars to achieve health rather than substituting synthetic sweeteners. These chemicals may be harmful in themselves and also give people a false sense that using them permits ‘cheating’ with high caloric treats.”