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Your Healthy Family: Common artificial sweetener linked to heart attack, stroke

Posted at 7:19 AM, Mar 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-31 07:19:39-04

New research shows a common artificial sweetener is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

A Cleveland Clinic study focused on the artificial sweetener Erythritol. It's a sugar alcohol made inside the cells of our bodies, and can also be consumed through processed, artificially-sweetened foods.

“It is used almost on a one-to-one basis as a replacement for sugar in many of the processed foods. Because its flavor is very similar to sugar, it is used in combination with other artificial sweeteners since it gives a more natural flavor and what they call mouth feel," Dr. Stanley Hazen, the Lead Researcher on the study, said.

Dr. Hazen said his team studied more than 4,000 people in the U.S. and Europe, and found the ones with higher blood-erythritol levels were at elevated risk for a heart attack, stroke or death.

He said in a separate study where healthy volunteers were given a single serving of the artificial sweetener, blood levels stayed elevated above thresholds associated with risk for clotting for several days. Dr. Hazen said this is concerning, especially because erythritol is typically used in foods targeting people who want to lose weight or who have diabetes, and those same people are already at risk for cardiac events.

He said another issue is that this ingredient isn't always included on the food label.

“Many times you find it on labeling, but there is no mandatory labeling requirement for erythritol. That’s because it has what we call ‘GRAS status’ or 'Generally Regarded as Safe' status, simply because it’s found in nature. But the amounts it’s found in nature are thousands of fold lower than what are being consumed currently,” Dr. Hazen said.

He said if you are obese, have diabetes or heart disease, or are at risk for any of these conditions, you should avoid foods with this artificial sweetener.