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Artificial Sweeteners May Increase Risk of Heart Disease & Stroke, Says Study

New research suggests artificial sugar substitutes may have serious health consequences.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman

Many foods and beverages use artificial sweeteners like Equal and Splenda to achieve the taste that consumers adore, minus the calories. If you love diet soda or you're a sucker for packaged sweets that market themselves as diet or sugar-free, chances are you're consuming more of these sugar substitutes than you realize. And that might be something you want to consider the next time you go grocery shopping, because a new study has found a link between artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

In the study, published in The BMJ, researchers took a look at results from 103,388 French adults who were a part of the NutriNet-Sante cohort. When asked, 37.1% of participants claimed they consumed food, beverages, and tabletop sweeteners that contained artificial sweeteners. On average, they were reportedly consuming 42.46 milligrams of artificial sweeteners each day, which is around the same as a packet of tabletop sweetener. Senior author Mathilde Touvier, MD, of the Sorbonne Paris Nord University, told Medscape Cardiology, "Higher consumption in this study was a mean of 77 mg/day artificial sweetener, which is about 200 mL of soda—just a bit less than one standard can of soda."

Researchers found that various artificial sweeteners were being consumed, but the majority appeared to be aspartame, which made up 58% of the artificial sweetener intake that was reported; acesulfame potassium, which made up 29%; and sucralose which made up 10%.

pouring sweetener tablets into tea

After a follow-up that occurred an average of nine years later, researchers noted that those who consumed artificial sweeteners increased their risk of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular events by 9%. Beyond that, researchers also found that aspartame was more likely to be associated with cerebrovascular events, while acesulfame potassium and sucralose were associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

"This lines up with other research suggesting a higher risk of heart disease and stroke among high users of artificial sweeteners," Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, and co-author of Sugar Shock, tells Eat This, Not That! "While this study wasn't designed to show cause and effect, the fact that several studies have pointed to the same health risks raises a big red flag."

When it comes to how artificial sweeteners potentially increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, Cassetty suggests various possibilities, concluding, "Ultimately, we don't have solid answers for why artificial sweeteners may be raising the risk of heart disease and stroke, but we have a lot of evidence suggesting they aren't helpful and they may be harmful."

If you want to cut back on artificial sweeteners in your diet, Cassetty has some advice. "If you drink diet sodas every day, you can start by reducing the number of them you have in a day and then go to every other day…[but] at some point, you want to be mostly drinking water."

"You can also use a step-down approach when it comes to your coffee or tea," Cassetty says. "Start by reducing the number of packets you put in your drink and then try to get to the point where you're not using any sweeteners."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée