Artificial sweetened beverages, a new study shows, can be just as bad for your heart as the sugar-laden type.
“Our study suggests that artificial sweeteners may not be a healthy substitute for sugary drinks, and these data provide further arguments for driving the current debate on taxes, labeling and regulation of sugary drinks and artificial sweetened beverages,” said lead author Eloi Chazela’s PhD student. and a member of the research group Business Epidemiology at the Sorbonne Paris Nord University, in a statement.
“We already know that sugary drinks are bad news when it comes to cardiovascular and other health effects,” said cardiologist Dr. Andrew Freeman, co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s nutrition and lifestyle group, who was not involved in the study.
“Many people said, ‘Well, maybe diet drinks and artificial sweeteners are better than sugary drinks. “But there has been recent evidence in the last couple of years that suggests there is potential harm, if you will, from artificial sweeteners, especially in women,” Freeman said.
Danielle Smotkin, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, emailed CNN that “low-calorie, calorie-free sweeteners have been considered safe by regulators around the world and there is extensive research, including a study by the World Health Organization, which shows that these sweeteners are a useful tool to help people reduce sugar consumption and manage weight.
“We support the WHO’s call for people to reduce sugar in their diets and we do our part by creating innovative drinks with less sugar or zero sugar, clear calorie labeling, responsible marketing methods and smaller pack sizes,” said Smotkin.
Association, not causation
The volunteers were divided into three groups: non-users, low consumers and high consumers of diet or sugary drinks. Sugary drinks included soft drinks, fruit drinks and syrups that were at least 5% sugar and 100% fruit juice. Diet drinks contained only non-nutritious sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose and natural sweeteners such as stevia.
During the follow-up from 2011 to 2019, sugar and diet drinking habits were compared separately with all first cases of “stroke, transient ischemic attack, heart attack, acute coronary syndrome and angioplasty”, the study says.
The authors said that they eliminated early cases of heart disease in the first three years, adjusted for a “range of confusers” that can distort data and found a small but statistically significant result.
Compared with people who did not drink artificial sweetened beverages, there was a maximum of 20% greater risk of cardiovascular disease at any particular time. There was a similar result for higher consumers of sweet drinks compared to non-users, the researchers found.
However, the authors said that the study could only show a link between the two, not a direct cause.
“Establishing a causal link requires replication in other large-scale potential cohorts and mechanistic studies,” the authors say.
The Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low-calorie food and beverage industry, made the following statement:
“Epidemiological studies, even those based on large sample sizes, are subject to potential pitfalls including reverse causality [subjects choose low and no calorie sweeteners (LNCS) as a tool to manage their weight after becoming overweight/obese] and residual confusion [inability to control for factors that influence health outcomes], which the researchers noted. “
A growing amount of research
Not having more definitive studies in place is a major limitation, researchers have said, as it is impossible to determine whether the compound is due to a specific artificial sweetener, a type of beverage or another hidden health problem.
“We know that people who consume diet drinks are sometimes already overweight or obese, so you have to wonder what other confusers and lifestyles may already exist,” says Freeman.
“We also know that you know when you take in something sweet your body triggers insulin release and a number of other things that can sometimes lead to weight gain.”
This is still not the first time diet drinks have been associated with heart problems.
That study found that the risks were highest for women without heart disease or diabetes and women who were overweight or African American.
“What are these diet drinks?” asked Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and public health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, who was the lead author of the 2019 study.
Before these answers are available, Freeman asks his patients to choose their drinks wisely.
“I tell them that the perfect beverage for consumption remains water, probably always will be,” Freeman said. “And maybe with a very close second of unsweetened tea and unsweetened coffee.
“And the rest should probably not be consumed regularly – if at all.”
What to do if you are addicted
Do not go cold turkey. A tough love strategy is difficult and can put you at risk, so CNN contributor Lisa Drayer suggests a more gradual withdrawal.
Drink water, even if it is carbonated. Water is the perfect hydration for the human body, experts say. If this is not your favorite drink, try adding a little sparkle.
“Try infusing fruit in water – you can buy a jug, fill it with water, then add slices of oranges, lemons, strawberries, watermelon or whatever fruit you want so that the water is infused with the fruit flavor and gives your sweetness a palate,” she said.
If you find that you are also addicted to crackers and liquor from soda, give in – carbonated water, that is.
Switching “with seltzer / sparkling water can help you cut down,” Drayer added. “Eventually, you can replace soft drinks with seltzer or sparkling water if you crave carbonated.”
Try a short challenge without sugar. Because our taste buds turn every two weeks, we can teach ourselves to crave less sweet things in a short amount of time, according to Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
She suggests trying to challenge two weeks without sugar. Once past the initial intense sugar cravings, your taste buds will adapt to finding “natural foods with sugar more satisfying,” she said.