Friday, July 12, 2024

Artificial sweeteners and heart health: A bitter reality check for Indians

Artificial sweeteners have been proposed to cause a higher risk of cardiovascular events in terms of stroke and heart attacks. From various studies, it has been proven that artificial sweeteners increase the chance of cardiovascular events by 9 per cent, warn experts.

People suffering from diabetes or obesity often use artificial sweeteners, also known as non-sugar sweetness (NSS), as an alternative to sugar.

Previously, it was believed that using NSS could help achieve weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels until the release of the latest guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO guidelines now recommend against the use of non-sugar sweeteners to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable illnesses like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

“One reason could be that some of the artificial sweeteners increase the propensity of some of the clotting agents like platelet aggregation, which initiates clot formation and leads to heart attack or stroke,” Dr Udgeath Dhir, Director and Head of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery (CTVS), Fortis Memorial Research Institute, told IANS.

The second reason could be that these artificial sweeteners induce some inflammation in the gut, which leads to an unhealthy vessel wall, and patients who are already diabetic, and hypertensive are already at risk of having heart disease, which further aggravates and adds fuel to the fire.

“Artificial sweeteners must be taken with a pinch of spice rather than going for more healthy alternatives. Artificial sweetener is not an answer for bringing down your blood sugar and once we know that they are at a higher risk one should be watchful before using these artificial sweeteners,” Dr Dhir advised.

He said that some of the artificial sweeteners like aspartame are more associated with the risk of stroke and sucrose and stevia are more associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and all.

Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be associated with increased CVD risk.

“According to various studies, these are associated with an increased risk of dyslipidemia, abdominal obesity, high blood glucose, insulin resistance and hypertension. Vascular dysfunction has been observed in experimental studies (in rodent models),” said Dr. Bhawna Attri, Consultant–Endocrinology, Sarvodaya Hospital.

Systematic reviews have found short-term benefits of weight loss from using NSS, but there is no evidence of long-term benefits in reducing body fat.

In fact, there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.

“Specifically, the use of saccharin has been associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer, although the evidence supporting this is limited,” said Dr. Charu Dua, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad

Experts believe there is a need for our own country’s guidelines on non-sugar sweeteners, especially as their consumption in India is increasing.

“For long-term health benefits, I recommend reducing free sugar intake in our diets and switching to natural alternative sources of sugar, such as fruits and dates, rather than increasing the consumption of NSS,” said Dr. Charu Dua, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.

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