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Artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, scientists have claimed.
A large-scale study showed they may also cause problems with metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite, while their perceived slimming abilities have been overblown.
But the findings were dismissed by industry bosses, who said no-calorie sugar substitutes – which include aspartame, sucralose and stevioside – had been “deemed safe” by health regulators across the world.
Scientists from the University of Manitoba, Canada, reviewed 37 studies following more than 400,000 people for an average of 10 years.
They found that scientific evidence does “not clearly support” its intended weight-loss benefits, one author of the paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said.
Ryan Zarychanski, a professor from the Canadian institution, said: “Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products.”
Evidence about the benefits and drawbacks of sweeteners was conflicting, however, the study said.
Lead author Meghan Azad said: “Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised.
“Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products.”
Doubt was cast on the report by the British Soft Drinks Association, which said the findings ran in opposition to other existing evidence.
Director general Gavin Partington said: “Low and no-calorie sweeteners have been deemed safe by all leading health authorities in the world, including the European Food Safety Authority.
“These claims, from the University of Manitoba, run contrary to the substantial body of scientific research which shows how low-calorie sweeteners can help people to reduce their calorie intake and manage their weight.”
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