Artificial sweeteners linked to weight gain and health problems, study claims
Consuming food and drink containing artificial sweeteners could lead to weight gain and heighten the risk of suffering from health issues including diabetes, scientists claim.
A large-scale study on the effects of the sugar substitute found it can potentially negatively impact on a person's metabolism, gut bacteria and appetite.
Sweeteners are widely used as a low-calorie alternative to sugar, but researchers fear its perceived slimming abilities have been overblown.
Instead it could lead to relatively increased threats of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, the study claims.
But the findings were dismissed by industry bosses, who said the no-calorie ingredient had been "deemed safe" by health regulators across the world.
Scientists from the University of Manitoba, Canada, reviewed 37 studies following more than 400,000 people for an average of 10 years to unpick the realities behind artificial sweeteners.
They found that scientific evidence does "not clearly support" its intended weight-loss benefits, one author of the paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said.
Ryan Zarychanski, a professor from the Canadian institution, said: "Despite the fact that millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products."
Evidence about the benefits and drawbacks of sweeteners was conflicting, however, the study said.
Lead author Meghan Azad said: "Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised.
"Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products."
Doubt was cast on the report by the British Soft Drinks Association, which said the findings ran in opposition to other existing evidence.
Director general Gavin Partington said: "Low and no-calorie sweeteners have been deemed safe by all leading health authorities in the world, including the European Food Safety Authority.
"These claims, from the University of Monitoba, run contrary to the substantial body of scientific research which shows how low-calorie sweeteners can help people to reduce their calorie intake and manage their weight."