Artificial sweeteners linked to weight gain, finds new research

Artificial sweeteners are found in a plethora of products from cough syrups to salad dressings, but new research claims that the sugar alternative could actually lead to weight gain.

The chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity are linked to consuming artificial sweeteners, according to the new large-scale study on the effects of the sugar substitute.

The research was conducted by scientists from the University of Manitoba, Canada and reviewed data from 37 studies which analysed more than 400,000 people for an average period of 10 years.

“The results showed a statistically significant association between consumption of artificial sweeteners and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease, as well as increased weight gain,” lead author of the study, Dr Megan Azad said.

By contrast, soft drinks industry executives said artificial sweeteners had been “deemed safe” by health regulators including the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic food additives that provide a sweet taste to mimic sugar, while containing significantly fewer calories. Many products which contain them are commonly labelled as ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘diet’ and have intended weight loss benefits which are disputed by the new research.

“Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products,” says the Canadian Medical Institution’s Professor Ryan Zarychanshi.

However, the study says the evidence was conflicting with Dr Azad adding: “caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised.”

“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,” Dr Azad added.

Director of the British Soft Drinks Association, Gavin Partington said: “These claims, from the University of Manitoba, run contrary to the substantial body of scientific research which shows how low-calorie sweeteners can help people to reduce their calorie intake and manage their weight.”

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