This Popular Sweetener Has Been Linked to Heart Attacks, Says New Study
Zero-calorie sweeteners have certainly gained popularity over recent years. They taste sweet, they don’t have any calories, and they don’t come with the same risks as sugar — such as blood sugar spikes and crashes. Some of these sugar substitutes are also popularly used in diet-focused foods, particularly in foods that are keto (short for the ketogenic diet, where a dieter follows an extremely low-carb diet in order to put the body in ketosis and uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates). While monkfruit and stevia are some of the popular sweeteners used, another is erythritol — a sugar alcohol synthesized from corn. And unfortunately, while this sugar substitute has garnered success for keto-friendly products on shelves, a recent study shows how this particular sweetener has been significantly linked to the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clotting, and more.
What the study says
The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, evaluated different human and animal lab research and found that erythritol was causing blood platelets to clot more easily. These clots can then travel through the blood and to the heart or the brain, triggering heart attacks or strokes.
While the researcher’s conclusions were about the effects of erythritol in the blood, these results weren’t the particular outcome that researchers were expecting. According to CNN, the researchers of this study were looking at unknown chemicals or compounds in a person’s blood that could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. They evaluated over 1,150 blood samples of people at risk of heart disease between 2004 and 2011, and then just under 3,000 blood samples through 2018.
In their evaluation, researchers found that those who had the highest amount of erythritol in the blood were associated with a greater risk of heart attack or stroke within a three-year period. While more research certainly needs to be done to understand erythritol’s effect on the body, the study did point out the substantial link between erythritol in the blood and heart attacks/strokes for anyone who is at a greater risk of heart disease.
Are all zero-calorie sweeteners bad?
While there has been some back-and-forth about whether sugar substitutes are good or bad for you, generally speaking, most are known to be safe. Recent research shows that zero-calories sweeteners don’t affect blood sugar levels and they aren’t linked to cancer risk.
However, while some zero-sugar sweeteners seem natural and safe — like stevia or monkfruit — many of these sugar alternatives are actually sold with erythritol in them, meaning your usual go-to sweetener could be putting you at risk. In some cases, these sweeteners can be sold “in the raw” without the added help of this popular sugar alcohol, but not always.
So if you are at a higher risk of heart disease and enjoy using zero-sugar sweeteners in your food, it may be wise to check the ingredients list of your product before purchasing.