Artificial sweeteners: No help, possible harm?

Research we're watching


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Close to a third of Americans say they use artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. Popular examples include aspartame (Equal, Nutra-Sweet), sucralose (Splenda), and stevia (Truvia, Pure Via). They're all available in packets and are also added to soda, yogurt, and other foods.

But do these sugar substitutes actually help you lose weight? New research suggests they do not. In fact, these zero-calorie additives may have the opposite effect — and possibly even increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

Researchers reviewed 37 studies that included a total of more than 400,000 people. But only seven were "gold standard" randomized controlled trials, which compared people who used artificial sweeteners with a control (placebo) for six to 24 months. Those studies found no clear proof that the fake sugars helped overweight people shed pounds.

The other studies revealed possible links between artificial sweetener use and high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. The reasons behind these trends aren't fully understood. Some researchers believe sugar substitutes may leave the brain unsatisfied, leading to unhealthy cravings and overeating. The study appeared in the July 17, 2017, Canadian Medical Association Journal.