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New Studies on Artificial Sweeteners

Several recent papers raise new concerns about the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners. In one study, researchers showed that a sweeter-tasting, lower-calorie drink caused people to eat more food, to have higher blood sugar levels and to be more likely to gain weight and become diabetic than a less-sweet, higher-calorie drink (Current Biology, August 11, 2017). Researchers controlled the sweetness of the drinks with the artificial sweetener sucralose, and the calorie content by adding tasteless maltodextrin. Results of the study suggest that a sweeter-tasting, lower-calorie drink is more likely to lead to weight gain and diabetes than a less-sweet drink with more calories.

Two studies showed that people who take one diet drink a day are three times more likely than non-diet soda drinkers to suffer a stroke (Stroke, April 20, 2017) and are three time more likely than non-diet drinkers to become demented, with poorer memory, smaller brains and markers of accelerated brain aging (Alzheimer's & Dementia. published online March 5, 2017).

A review of 30 studies followed for up to 10 years showed that no-calorie or very low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside are associated with weight gain, increased waist circumference and higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart attacks (Canadian Medical Association Journal. Jul 17, 2017;189(28):E929-E939). The authors state, "Evidence . . . does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI (weight gain) and cardiometabolic (heart attack) risk." An earlier review of the world's scientific literature showed in animal studies that artificial sweeteners can cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and other health hazards (J Pharmacol Pharmacother, Oct-Dec, 2011;2(4):236–243).

Sugared Drinks Are Even Worse
One can of sugar-sweetened soda contains 25 to 50 grams of sugar, the recommended upper limit for sugar for an entire day. Many research papers have associated sugared drinks with:
• weight gain (BMJ, 2015;351:h3576)
• increased risk for diabetes (Diabetes Care, 2009;32:688–694)
• Alzheimer's disease in rats (J Nutr Health Aging. 2016;20:509–513)
• high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and strokes (Circulation. 2012;125:1735–1741; Am J Clin Nutr, 2009;89:1037–1042; J Gen Intern Med, 2012;27:1120–1126)

My Recommendations
I believe that regular consumption of either sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened drinks will be harmful to your health. The safest drink appears to be water. Unsweetened coffee and tea also appear to be safe. 

August 20th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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