A popular no-calorie sweetener has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack strokefinds a new study.
The sugar substitute known as erythritol occurs naturally in small amounts in some plants, such as grapes and mushrooms, but is also produced industrially and added to foods in higher concentrations. In particular, it is often used to sweeten low-calorielow-carb and “keto” products, which are typically high-fat and low-carb.
For the study, published February 27 in naturopathy (opens in new tab)researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio evaluated more than 4,000 Americans and Europeans who underwent cardiac assessment and found that those with the highest blood concentration of sweetener had an increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the following three years The New York Times (opens in new tab). Notably, the majority of participants already had some form of cardiovascular disease or demonstrated risk factors for developing future heart problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
“People try to do something healthy for themselves, but they can accidentally do harm,” said the study’s co-author dr Stanley Hazen (opens in new tab)a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told the New York Times.
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In laboratory experiments, erythritol increased the activity of platelets, a type of blood cell that sticks together to form clots, causing clots to form faster. Similarly, mice injected with erythritol formed clots faster after injury than mice injected with saline, the team reported. They also took blood samples from people who drank a drink sweetened with erythritol and found their blood levels of the sweetener peaked within hours and stayed high for two days — high enough to potentially affect their blood clotting, the wrote authors.
Increased clotting has the potential to a Heart Attack or stroke because blood flow is constricted when blood clots form, the study says.
“Any way you look at it, it showed the same signal,” Hazen told the New York Times.
However, it’s worth noting that the study had some limitations, notably that many participants were over 60 years old and already had heart disease, meaning they were already at some risk of heart attack and stroke. While the study showed a link between clot formation and erythritol, it didn’t show that the compound actually caused strokes and heart attacks in humans.
“(This study is) extremely important and will likely prompt immediate changes in our consumption.” Greg Nely (opens in new tab)a professor of functional genomics at the University of Sydney who was not involved in the study said The Washington Post (opens in new tab). “We don’t fully understand the health implications of industrial foods, and just because something is sold as ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe or good for us to consume it on an industrial scale.”
The study authors concluded that “studies evaluating the long-term safety of erythritol are warranted.”