Artificial sweeteners linked to weight gain over time

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While those watching their weight may opt to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, researchers are now warning that these products may not necessarily be beneficial in the long run.

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Academics from the University of Manitoba's George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation conducted a systematic review of 37 studies that followed over 400,000 people for an average of 10 years.

They found that consumption of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, is widespread and increasing, and that there is a link between artificial sweeteners and relatively higher risks of weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.

"Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products," said report author Dr. Ryan Zarychanski. "We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management."

Furthermore, the researchers stated that emerging data indicates that artificial, or nonnutritive, sweeteners may have negative effects on metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite, although the evidence is conflicting.

In response to the findings, lead author Dr. Meghan Azad advised people to really consider whether they need to eat products with artificial additives.

"Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterized," she said, adding that more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products.

The full study has been published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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