Can artificial sweeteners increase your risk of cardiovascular disease?

A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found a direct link between artificial food sweeteners and cardiovascular disease. In fact, it was found that some participants in the study developed coronary heart disease (heart attack or angina) and cerebrovascular disease (stroke) caused by their artificial sweetener intake.

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They are used widely in many processed foods, which include:

  • Soft drinks and energy drinks 
  • Lollies
  • Canned foods
  • Spreads 
  • Some dairy products

You will see artificial sweeteners in varieties of food and drinks labelled as “diet” or “sugar-free”. 

The NutriNet-Santé study is a web-based research database that began in 2009 in France to study the association between nutrition and health as well as various dietary behaviours and patterns.

103 388 participants were involved in this particular study. Researchers assessed dietary intake and consumption of artificial sweeteners through repeated 24-hour records from 2009 to 2021. 

The types of artificial that were studied included: 

  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin)
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
  • Acesulfame potassium or ace-K (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet, Sunett).
  • Sucralose (Splenda). 
  • Advantame 
  • Neotame (Newtame)
  • cyclamates 
  • saccharin 
  • thaumatin 
  • neohesperidine dihydrochalcone
  • steviol glycosides

Clinical findings 

Artificial sweeteners in foods and drinks consumed by millions on a day-to-day basis should not be considered a safe or healthier option to sugar or natural sweeteners (such as honey, fruit juices, maple syrup and molasses) as indicated by the results of this study. 

That being said, large quantities of natural sugars can also be harmful to your health. However, together with a balanced diet and daily exercise, it is recommended to consume natural sugars as opposed to artificial sweeteners. Moderation is key.

Controversy has always surrounded the use of artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s, certain research suggested potential links to cancers. Harvard School of Public Health has always advised concern regarding artificial sweeteners and the development of type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

Dr Vicken Zeitjian, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, commented on this study, stating that: 

“The link between artificial sweeteners and coronary artery disease/stroke is not surprising given that artificial sweeteners are associated with diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and obesity.”