Sweeteners may not be risk free

People hoping to lose a few pounds by substituting artificial sweeteners for regular sugar may end up disappointed, suggests a fresh look at past research.

The review of 37 studies suggests the use of so-called non-nutritive sweeteners could be linked to weight gain and other undesirable outcomes like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

“From all that research, there was no consistent evidence of a long term benefit from the sweetener, but there was evidence for weight gain and increased risks of other cardiometabolic outcomes,” said lead author Meghan Azad, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and stevioside are growing increasingly popular as evidence mounts that sugar is fueling the obesity epidemic, Azad and colleagues write in CMAJ.

The artificial sweeteners are chemically different than sugar. They activate receptors on the tongue that lets the brain know the person is eating or drinking something sweet.

Past research on these sweeteners shows a mixed bag of results, including links to weight gain, as well as links to weight loss, according to the authors of the new review.

For the analysis, they looked through the medical literature for studies examining possible links between artificial sweeteners and weight or health issues like obesity.

The researchers found seven randomized controlled trials, which are considered the gold-standard of medical research. Some of the trials, for example, compared people who drank artificially sweetened beverages to people who drank water. The researchers also found 30 studies that followed people using the sweeteners over time.