Study questions health benefits of artificial sweeteners

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Study questions health benefits of artificial sweeteners

A team of European researchers has found that there is conflicting evidence regarding the actual benefits and drawbacks of using sugar alternatives in foods and drinks. (Photograph: Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock)

Mon. 18 February 2019


LONDON, UK: By providing a sweet taste without the calories and other deleterious side effects of sugar, artificial sweeteners have often been lauded for their supposed health benefits and benefits to oral health. A new systematic review, however, suggests that these sweeteners and other sugar alternatives may not actually be as healthy as they are generally thought to be.

Often marketed as a healthier alternative, products such as sugar-free soft drinks have become increasingly popular in recent years. The demand for these options is often driven by health and quality of life concerns, as obesity and oral diseases have been repeatedly linked to an excessive intake of added sugar.

A number of sugar alternatives have been approved for widespread commercial use in innumerable foods and drinks. Though they are generally perceived to be a healthier option than sugar, their actual benefits and drawbacks are not exactly clear owing to a limited and conflicting body of evidence.

A team of European researchers, led by the University of Freiburg in Germany, aimed to develop their understanding of these benefits and drawbacks by conducting a systematic review of 56 studies that compared a high intake of sugar substitutes with either a lower intake or complete avoidance.

The results of their study showed that, overall, there were no statistically or clinically relevant differences between study participants who had a high intake of artificial sweeteners and those who abstained. Additionally, a number of the reviewed studies indicated that there was an association between a higher intake of sweeteners and slightly more weight gain, and slightly less weight gain for those with a lower intake. However, the certainty of this evidence was low.

Overall, there was no definitive evidence that sugar alternatives aided overweight or obese adults or children who were actively attempting to lose weight.

A spokesperson for the British Dental Association told the British Dental Journal: “We don’t recommend any ‘sugar-free’ alternatives to fizzy drinks other than milk and water. We remain concerned that many soft drinks either encourage a sweet tooth, or come with high levels of acidity that harm oral health.”

“Every Christmas, Coca-Cola spin doctors try their best to claim there’s a ‘healthy option’ for teeth while marketing low- or no-sugar products more acidic than vinegar or lemon juice. When nearly half of teenagers are showing signs of dental erosion, dentists know many of these brands have as little place as a festive tradition as their sugar-laden stablemates,” the spokesperson continued.

The study, titled “Association between intake of non-sugar sweeteners and health outcomes: Systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials and observational studies”, was published online on 2 January 2019 in the British Medical Journal.

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