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Do You Use Artificial Sweeteners? Doctors Explain Why It Poses Health Risk

WHO issued a warning against the long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners since this can cause diabetes and mortality.

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Do you use artificial sweeteners like stevia, aspartame, and saccharin regularly?

If you do, were you aware that the World Health Organization has recently issued a warning against their long-term use, citing concerns of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even death?

FIT spoke to Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo, Senior Consultant Endocrinologist and Diabetologist at Delhi's Apollo Hospitals, and Dr Anurag Aggarwal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, at Faridabad's Fortis Escorts Hospital, to understand the impact of different types of artificial sweeteners.

Read on to know what these experts think about the 'potential risks' of artificial sweeteners.

Do You Use Artificial Sweeteners? Doctors Explain Why It Poses Health Risk

  1. 1. So, What's The Deal With Artificial Sweeteners? 

    According to Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo, endocrinologists have been aware of controversies or side effects surrounding artificial sweeteners for years.

    He went on to explain how with the help of meta-analysis of several trials, it was found that the use of non-sugar sweeteners for the purpose of losing weight is, in fact, ineffective.

    “Those who consistently used NSS showed no reduction in body fat or body weight.”
    Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

    Substituting sugar with sugar-less substances such as stevia, the difference in calorie intake is not much, added Dr Aggarwal. An individual may actually end up consuming more food than required to make up for those lost calories leading to an overall increase in calorie intake.

    Further, adverse effects such as increased incidents of Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and increased morbidity were identified in individuals using non-sugar sweeteners on a daily basis, explained Dr Wangnoo.

    Are Some Artificial Sweeteners Worse Than The Others?

    Different kinds of sweeteners such as aspartame sucralose, saccharin, and xylitol are harmful in different ways, and should be banned, asserted Dr Wangnoo.

    “Particularly the use of aspartame in aerated drinks like Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi is absolutely a big no because they can cause development of diabetes in the younger generation.”
    Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

    He elaborated by explaining how people often consume these drinks thinking they are avoiding calorie intake or weight gain. However, aspartame, the NSS present in these products, triggers certain neurotransmitters in the body causing it to be insulin resistant and causing increased risk of developing diabetes over a period of time.

    "Consistent consumption of aspartame can lead to urinary bladder injuries and malignancies," Dr Aggarwal added.
    Expand
  2. 2. Are Naturally Occurring Non-Sugar Sweeteners Also Harmful?

    For example, Stevia is a plant-based sweetener that is often thought to be a healthy alternative. However, as experts explained, preservatives are required to process even naturally occurring alternatives thereby making them harmful as well.

    "Over the years, I have not prescribed any such sweeteners to my patients. Even stevia, which is a plant-based sweetener, should be avoided since preservatives are added to process it."
    Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

    But What About Individuals With Diabetes?

    The story is slightly different here. Artificial sweeteners can be helpful for those with pre-existing diabetes.

    For them, artificial sweeteners help curb any increase in sugar levels in the blood since such an increase can lead to issues with metabolism and cause harm to kidneys.
    “For individuals who are not diabetic, artificial sweeteners are better avoided."
    Dr Anurag Aggarwal

    On the other hand, Dr Wangnoo advised against the use of artificial sweeteners even for those with diabetes.

    "No NSS should be recommended for any kind of patient except for those that are pre-existing in commercial products such as toothpaste or medicated syrups and tablets."
    Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo
    Expand
  3. 3. What Did The WHO Recommend In Place Of Artificial Sweeteners?

    The guidelines suggest that instead of using different kinds of alternatives for sugar such as stevia, aspartame, and sucralose, individuals can consume naturally occurring sugar such as in fruits, explained Dr Aggarwal.

    “The WHO guidelines are encouraging individuals to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”
    Dr Anurag Aggarwal

    He added that these guidelines push individuals to make meaningful changes to their diet and liefestyle for a prolonged lifestyle.

    “People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” Francesco Branca, the WHO’s Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, said in a statement.

    “(Non-sugar sweeteners) are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”

    However, this recommendation does not apply to those with pre-existing diabetes. It also does not include personal care and hygiene products containing these sweeteners.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

So, What's The Deal With Artificial Sweeteners? 

According to Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo, endocrinologists have been aware of controversies or side effects surrounding artificial sweeteners for years.

He went on to explain how with the help of meta-analysis of several trials, it was found that the use of non-sugar sweeteners for the purpose of losing weight is, in fact, ineffective.

“Those who consistently used NSS showed no reduction in body fat or body weight.”
Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

Substituting sugar with sugar-less substances such as stevia, the difference in calorie intake is not much, added Dr Aggarwal. An individual may actually end up consuming more food than required to make up for those lost calories leading to an overall increase in calorie intake.

Further, adverse effects such as increased incidents of Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and increased morbidity were identified in individuals using non-sugar sweeteners on a daily basis, explained Dr Wangnoo.

Are Some Artificial Sweeteners Worse Than The Others?

Different kinds of sweeteners such as aspartame sucralose, saccharin, and xylitol are harmful in different ways, and should be banned, asserted Dr Wangnoo.

“Particularly the use of aspartame in aerated drinks like Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi is absolutely a big no because they can cause development of diabetes in the younger generation.”
Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

He elaborated by explaining how people often consume these drinks thinking they are avoiding calorie intake or weight gain. However, aspartame, the NSS present in these products, triggers certain neurotransmitters in the body causing it to be insulin resistant and causing increased risk of developing diabetes over a period of time.

"Consistent consumption of aspartame can lead to urinary bladder injuries and malignancies," Dr Aggarwal added.
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Are Naturally Occurring Non-Sugar Sweeteners Also Harmful?

For example, Stevia is a plant-based sweetener that is often thought to be a healthy alternative. However, as experts explained, preservatives are required to process even naturally occurring alternatives thereby making them harmful as well.

"Over the years, I have not prescribed any such sweeteners to my patients. Even stevia, which is a plant-based sweetener, should be avoided since preservatives are added to process it."
Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo

But What About Individuals With Diabetes?

The story is slightly different here. Artificial sweeteners can be helpful for those with pre-existing diabetes.

For them, artificial sweeteners help curb any increase in sugar levels in the blood since such an increase can lead to issues with metabolism and cause harm to kidneys.
“For individuals who are not diabetic, artificial sweeteners are better avoided."
Dr Anurag Aggarwal

On the other hand, Dr Wangnoo advised against the use of artificial sweeteners even for those with diabetes.

"No NSS should be recommended for any kind of patient except for those that are pre-existing in commercial products such as toothpaste or medicated syrups and tablets."
Dr Subhash Kumar Wangnoo
0

What Did The WHO Recommend In Place Of Artificial Sweeteners?

The guidelines suggest that instead of using different kinds of alternatives for sugar such as stevia, aspartame, and sucralose, individuals can consume naturally occurring sugar such as in fruits, explained Dr Aggarwal.

“The WHO guidelines are encouraging individuals to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”
Dr Anurag Aggarwal

He added that these guidelines push individuals to make meaningful changes to their diet and liefestyle for a prolonged lifestyle.

“People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” Francesco Branca, the WHO’s Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, said in a statement.

“(Non-sugar sweeteners) are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”

However, this recommendation does not apply to those with pre-existing diabetes. It also does not include personal care and hygiene products containing these sweeteners.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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