The intake of artificial sweeteners like, aspartame, sucralose and stevia have become widespread and increasing.
"There's no clear evidence for benefit from the artificial sweeteners, and there is a potential that they have a negative impact, but we need more research to figure it out for sure", said Meghan Azad, an epidemiologist at the University of Manitoba and lead author on the paper. Seven of the studies were randomized controlled trials that involved 1,003 people followed for six months on average.
Researchers from the University of Manitoba's George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation found an association between artificial sweeteners and long-term weight gain, increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Ryan Zarychanski, a professor from the Canadian university involved in the study, said: "Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products".
Artificial sweeteners don't do anything for weight loss, a new review states, contradicting the theory that using these gives the same sweetness as sugar, but without the added calories.
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"Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized", said lead author Dr. Meghan Azad, whose team at the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba is also now looking into how consuming artificial sweeteners while pregnant may influence weight gain, metabolism and gut bacteria in children. Some researchers speculate that the sweeteners interfere with a person's microbiome, a collection of gut bacteria crucial for the absorption of nutrients.
Azad and Sylvetsky Meni say that much more research needs to be done, including looking specifically at different sweeteners rather than grouping them together. A previous study found that 25% of American kids and 41% of adults reported consuming them, mostly once a day. However, the recent years have seen a host of studies emphasizing the downsides of artificial sweeteners.
It's been said time and time again: dieters turn to diet soda or other sugar-free products but end up compensating for zero-calorie drinks by eating more. She uses a variety of artificial sweeteners in her coffee, tea, cereal, on bitter fruit, in smoothies and in baking.
One problems with some of the artificial sweetener research is that it had been funded by industry.
"However, consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners has been paradoxically associated with weight gain and incident obesity".
There's no evidence that artificial sweeteners alter the way the body processes sugar, she noted, and some research has shown that sugar substitutes do not make a person crave candies more.