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Ingredients

Link found between artificial sweetener erythritol and risk of cardiovascular events

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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Consumption of the sugar alternative erythritol can increase the risk of cardiovascular health problems, including heart attack, stroke, thrombosis and even death, new research shows.

People with a greater risk of developing heart disease could also be more likely to develop a stroke or heart attack with high amounts of erythritol in their blood, according to the researchers.

The report published in Nature, analysed the blood samples of 1,157 participants to assess their cardiovascular risk. Those with erythritol in their blood were found to be more likely to experience a cardiovascular event. Samples from 2,149 people in the US and 833 Europeans were also examined. The samples of those with cardiovascular disease were found to have higher plasma levels of erythritol in their blood.

The study also found that higher erythritol levels in the bloodstream resulted in a greater risk of clot formation.

The findings are particularly striking, the study authors say, given that erythritol’s zero-calorie, low-carb qualities are usually marketed towards people with diabetes and obesity, who already have a heightened cardiovascular risk.

The sugar alcohol is 70% as sweet as sugar. It is naturally found in a variety of fruits and vegetables in tiny quantities, such as peaches, pears, grapes, and watermelon as well as mushrooms and fermented foods like beer and cheese. However, given the amount of erythritol found in nature is so small, erythritol-based sugar substitutes sold on the market are more synthetic than natural, as they are made under lab conditions and are mixed with other chemicals.

“Sweeteners like erythritol, because they appear naturally, had minimal requirements to pass through the regulatory process, but there needs to be more in-depth research into long term effects,” said Dr Stanley L Hazen, Chairman for the Department of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Sciences, co-section head of Preventive Cardiology and co-author of the study.

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

Another part of the study examined the effect of consuming artificially sweetened drinks containing erythritol on healthy volunteers. According to Dr Hazen, upon drinking these beverages, “markedly elevated levels in the blood are observed for days – levels well above those observed to enhance clotting risks”.

The ingredient can be found in a range of sugar substitutes, including Splenda, Truvia and monkfruit sweeteners, and is also present in many low-calorie and low-sugar beverages and foods.

Because erythritol is less sweet than sugar, it tends to be added to processed foods in much greater quantities, the study’s authors explain. It’s even sometimes added to other sweeteners to give weight and volume to foods like sugar does.

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