Several Artificial Sweeteners Increase Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease Risks, Xylitol May Be Suitable for Diabetics

The safety of artificial sweeteners has long stirred a heated debate. Several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Experts advise choosing natural sugars whenever possible, while individuals with diabetes may want to consider xylitol.

Artificial sweeteners are used in food processing and beverages to replace real sugar. Common sugar substitutes include aspartame, saccharin, erythritol, neotame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, cyclamate, tagatose, stevia, and derivatives.

Increased Risk of Cerebrovascular and Cardiovascular Events

In February, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic published a study in the renowned journal Nature Medicine. They examined over 4,000 individuals from the United States and Europe and found that those with higher levels of erythritol in their blood had an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or death. Furthermore, erythritol was found to induce blood clot formation.

Additionally, a research team from France conducted a nine-year median follow-up study involving 103,388 French adults, which indicated an increased overall risk of cardiovascular diseases associated with total artificial sweetener intake. Specifically, aspartame intake was linked to an increased risk of cerebrovascular events, while acesulfame potassium and cyclamate intake were associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The research teams concluded that sugar substitutes do not provide any cardiovascular benefits. The study was published in September 2022 in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a new guideline on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), advising against using non-sugar sweeteners for weight control or reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases.

The WHO’s recommendations are based on a review of evidence suggesting that sugar substitutes do not provide any long-term benefits in reducing body fat. The review also indicates that long-term use of sugar substitutes may have potential adverse effects, such as an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, stated, “Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages. NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (sucrose and maltose) added to food and beverages. They also include sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates.

Which foods contain high levels of artificial sweeteners? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), high-intensity sweeteners are widely used in “sugar-free” or “diet” foods and beverages, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candies, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and many other food and beverage items.

Aspartame’s Potential Carcinogenic Effects

On June 20, 2023, an animal study report published in the Global Health Annual Report showed that aspartame significantly increased the incidence of leukemia (all types), lymphocytic leukemia, mononuclear cell leukemia, and total myeloid tumors.

A study published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine in March 2022 indicated that artificial sweeteners widely used in many global food and beverage brands, especially aspartame and saccharin, were positively associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. The high-dose intake of total artificial sweeteners, aspartame, and saccharin was associated with a 13 percent, 15 percent, and 13 percent increased risk of cancer compared to non-consumers, respectively.

Dr. Sean Lin, a viral specialist and former laboratory director at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, stated in an interview with NTD Television’s “Health 1+1” program that many previous studies were relatively simple and claimed that consuming artificial sweeteners would not cause cancer. However, recent observations of cancer indicators and more extensive experimental tools have provided scientific evidence of artificial sweeteners’ potential adverse health effects. He emphasized that relevant research findings should be given due attention by health management authorities.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced on July 14 that aspartame will be classified as a “possible human carcinogen.” The FDA, however, disagrees with the IARC’s decision.

The Epoch Times sent a request for comment to the IARC, but a response has yet to be received as of press time.

In 1974, the FDA approved aspartame as a sweetener (sugar substitute). Due to its low-calorie content and sweetness 200 times that of sucrose, many individuals with diabetes or those seeking to lose weight use aspartame as a sugar alternative.

Currently, aspartame is found in nearly 5,000 food products consumed globally, and its worldwide annual production ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 tons. Once inside the body, aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. These compounds can have a substantial impact on the central nervous system. Methanol, in particular, is a non-drinking type of alcohol commonly used in fuel, solvents, and antifreeze.

Dr. Lin suggests that people use natural sugars instead of artificial sweeteners because they are not hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of times sweeter and do not harm the taste buds.

He recommends that people with diabetes use xylitol, which can be metabolized normally and does not cause blood sugar or insulin spikes. “I believe xylitol may be a better sugar substitute and relatively safe for individuals with diabetes.”

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