Evidence for Health Benefits of Artificial Sweeteners Weak: BMJ

Longer term studies are needed to clarify whether non-sugar sweeteners are a safe and effective alternative to sugar

2 min read

There is no compelling evidence to indicate important health benefits of artificial sweeteners, and potential harms cannot be ruled out, according to a review of over 50 studies published in The BMJ.

Growing concerns about health and quality of life have encouraged many people to adopt healthier lifestyles and avoid foods rich in sugars, salt, or fat, said researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany.


Foods and drinks containing non-sugar sweeteners rather than regular ("free") sugars have therefore become increasingly popular, they said.

Although several non-sugar sweeteners are approved for use, less is known about their potential benefits and harms within acceptable daily intakes because the evidence is often limited and conflicting.

The Study

To better understand these potential benefits and harms, a team of European researchers analysed 56 studies comparing no intake or lower intake of non-sugar sweeteners with higher intake in healthy adults and children.

Measures included weight, blood sugar (glycaemic) control, oral health, cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, mood and behaviour.

Studies were assessed for bias and certainty of evidence.

Overall, the results show that, for most outcomes, there seemed to be no statistically or clinically relevant differences between those exposed to non-sugar sweeteners and those not exposed, or between different doses of non-sugar sweeteners.

For example, in adults, findings from a few small studies suggested small improvements in body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels with non-sugar sweeteners, but the certainty of this evidence was low.

Lower intakes of non-sugar sweeteners were associated with slightly less weight gain (0.09 kg) than higher intakes, but again the certainty of this evidence was low, researchers said.

In children, a smaller increase in body mass index score was seen with non-sugar sweeteners compared with sugar, but intake of non-sugar sweeteners made no differences to body weight, they said.

No good evidence of any effect of non-sugar sweeteners was found for overweight or obese adults or children actively trying to lose weight.

We need more such long-term studies to get more effective evidence on this issue. However, at a time when artificial sweeteners are being promoted and advertised as an effective alternative to sugar, this study does compel us to think about whether we must be consuming them without restraint. As doctors, we do not advise unlimited usage of artificial sweeteners; it is not a replacement for a comprehensively healthy lifestyle. If needed, they must be consumed only in moderation. 
Neha Patania, a senior dietician at Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon, told PTI

The researchers point out that this is the most comprehensive review on this topic to date, and will inform a World Health Organization guideline for health experts and policy makers.

However, they stress that the quality of evidence in many of the studies was low, so confidence in the results is limited.

Longer term studies are needed to clarify whether non-sugar sweeteners are a safe and effective alternative to sugar, researchers said.

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