Artificial sweetener erythritol linked to heart attacks and strokes, study finds

Erythritol, a calorie-free sugar substitute used to sweeten low-calorie, low-carb and “keto” products, is linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and death , according to a new study.

Cleveland Clinic researchers studied more than 4,000 people in the United States and Europe and found that those with elevated blood levels of erythritol were at high risk for these major adverse cardiac events. The research, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, also found that erythritol made blood platelets easier to form a clot.

“Our study shows that when participants consumed an artificially sweetened beverage with an amount of erythritol present in many processed foods, markedly elevated levels in the blood were seen for days on end – levels well above those seen to increase clotting risks,” said Dr. Stanley Hazen. , lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Sciences at the Cleveland Clinic, in a press release.

Sugar-free products containing erythritol are often recommended for people with obesity, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome as a way to manage sugar and calorie intake. Erythritol is one of the ingredients in Truvia calorie-free stevia sweetener, for example.

People with these conditions are already at higher risk for adverse cardiovascular events such as strokes.

In response to the study, Robert Rankin, executive director of the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low-calorie and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry, told CBS News that the results are “contrary to decades of scientific research showing calorie-free sweeteners like erythritol are safe, as evidenced by global regulatory approvals for use in food and beverages, and should not be extrapolated to the general population, as participants in the intervention were already at an increased risk of cardiovascular events.

While the study doesn’t definitively show causation, CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus says there’s “certainly enough data to worry about.”

“Most artificial sweeteners bind to your sweet receptors but are not absorbed. Erythritol is absorbed and has significant effects, as we see in the study,” says Agus.

Sweeteners like erythritol have “rapidly grown in popularity in recent years,” Hazen noted, and researchers say more study is needed to understand their long-term health effects.

“Cardiovascular disease develops over time, and heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. We need to make sure the foods we eat aren’t hidden contributors,” he said.

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