Study Finds Association Between Popular Low-Calorie Sweetener

Study Finds Association Between Popular Low-Calorie Sweetener and Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Study Finds Association Between Popular Low-Calorie Sweetener and Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke 

Understanding Common Low-Calorie Sweeteners: Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives

- In the quest for healthier lifestyles, many people turn to low-calorie sweeteners as a substitute for sugar. These sweeteners promise to deliver the sweetness we crave without the added calories and negative health impacts associated with sugar consumption. However, recent research suggests that the benefits and risks of these sweeteners are more complex than previously thought.
Popular Low-Calorie Sweeteners

1. Aspartame: Found in many diet sodas and sugar-free products, aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It's widely used because it doesn't contribute to tooth decay and has negligible calories.

2. Sucralose: Known by the brand name Splenda, sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. It’s heat-stable, making it suitable for cooking and baking.

3. Stevia: Derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, this natural sweetener is popular for those looking for a plant-based alternative. It's 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories.

4. Saccharin: One of the oldest artificial sweeteners, saccharin is 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. It's often found in diet drinks, candies, and medications.

5. Erythritol: A sugar alcohol, erythritol is about 60-70% as sweet as sugar but has a significantly lower caloric value. It's used in a variety of low-calorie and sugar-free products.

Benefits of Low-Calorie Sweeteners

Low-calorie sweeteners provide several potential benefits: 

- Weight Management: By reducing the calorie intake from sugar, these sweeteners can help in managing weight.

- Blood Sugar Control: They do not raise blood sugar levels, making them a popular choice for people with diabetes.

- Dental Health: Unlike sugar, low-calorie sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay.

Recent Findings and Health Concerns

- Despite these benefits, recent studies have raised concerns about the safety of some low-calorie sweeteners. For instance, a recent study linked the common sweetener erythritol to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The research suggests that while erythritol is generally considered safe in moderate amounts, excessive consumption could potentially lead to cardiovascular issues.

- Other studies have indicated potential side effects and health risks associated with artificial sweeteners, such as: 

- Gut Health: Some artificial sweeteners may alter gut bacteria, potentially leading to digestive issues and impacting overall health.

- Metabolic Effects: There is ongoing debate about whether these sweeteners might affect insulin sensitivity and metabolic processes.

- Cancer Risks: Although largely discredited, earlier studies suggested a link between some artificial sweeteners and cancer. Current research generally considers these sweeteners safe within recommended limits.

Natural Alternatives

For those looking to avoid artificial sweeteners, several natural alternatives can provide sweetness without the associated health risks: 

- Honey: While still a form of sugar, honey has additional health benefits, such as antimicrobial properties.

- Maple Syrup: Another natural sweetener that contains antioxidants and minerals, but should be used in moderation due to its high sugar content.

- Agave Nectar: Sweeter than honey and sugar, agave nectar has a low glycemic index but is high in fructose, which can be problematic if consumed in large amounts.

- Monk Fruit Extract: This natural sweetener has zero calories and is much sweeter than sugar, making it a good alternative for those avoiding both sugar and artificial sweeteners.

- While low-calorie sweeteners offer a way to enjoy sweet foods and beverages with fewer calories, it’s important to consume them in moderation and stay informed about potential health risks. As research evolves, so too should our understanding and approach to these sugar substitutes. Balancing the use of low-calorie sweeteners with natural alternatives and maintaining an overall healthy diet remains the best strategy for long-term health.

Study Links Common Low-Calorie Sweetener Xylitol to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Study Links Common Low-Calorie Sweetener Xylitol to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

- A recent study has found that xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener commonly found in reduced-sugar foods, gum, and toothpaste, may nearly double the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death in individuals who consume it at high levels.

- Dr. Stanley Hazen, senior study author and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Diagnostics and Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, noted the dramatic increase in xylitol levels in healthy volunteers who consumed a typical xylitol-sweetened drink. “Levels went up 1,000-fold,” Hazen explained. “When you eat sugar, your glucose level may increase by 10% or 20%, but not by 1,000-fold.”

- Hazen pointed out that human exposure to such high levels of xylitol is a recent phenomenon, coinciding with the rise of processed foods using artificial sweeteners over the past few decades.
Potential Health Risks of Xylitol and Erythritol

- Similar findings were reported by the same researchers in 2023 for another low-calorie sweetener, erythritol, commonly used in stevia, monkfruit, and keto-friendly products. Laboratory and animal studies indicated that both erythritol and xylitol could cause blood platelets to clot more easily, leading to potentially life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

- Dr. Matthew Tomey, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, commented on the significance of the research. “These experiments are interesting but alone do not prove that platelet abnormalities account for the link between xylitol and clinical events,” Tomey said.

- Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, expressed concern over the findings. “We use aspirin or drugs like clopidogrel to counter platelet activity in heart attack patients. These sugar alcohols appear to enhance platelet activity, which is concerning,” Freeman said.
Industry Response and Recommendations

- The Calorie Control Council, an industry association, criticized the study, asserting that it contradicts decades of evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of low-calorie sweeteners like xylitol. Carla Saunders, the council's president, stated, “These findings are a disservice to those who rely on alternative sweeteners to improve their health.”
What is Xylitol?

- Xylitol is as sweet as sugar but contains less than half the calories. It is widely used in products such as sugar-free gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, cough syrups, and chewable vitamins. Xylitol is also added to various food items like candy, baked goods, sauces, and peanut butter.

- Naturally occurring in small amounts in foods like cauliflower, mushrooms, and berries, commercial xylitol is typically produced from corncobs, birch trees, or genetically engineered bacteria. Despite being marketed as a natural sweetener and suitable for low-carb and keto diets, the high levels used in processed foods raise concerns.
Study Findings and Future Directions

- The study, published in the European Heart Journal, aimed to identify blood chemicals that could predict the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or death within three years. Researchers analyzed blood samples from over 3,000 individuals at risk for heart disease, discovering that high levels of xylitol and erythritol were linked to adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

- “There’s a receptor on our platelets that recognizes these molecules and signals for increased clotting,” Hazen explained. “While our taste buds cannot differentiate between sugar and these sweeteners, our platelets can.”

- The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against using artificial sweeteners for weight loss and called for more research on their long-term effects.

- Mount Sinai’s Tomey emphasized the importance of a balanced diet and lifestyle. “While this study sheds light on the safety of sugar substitutes, it’s essential to maintain a sincere commitment to healthy eating and living,” he said.

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