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A $2.2 billion industry to help people lose weight through artificial sweeteners may be contributing to type 2 diabetes, researchers have warned. The study, published in the journal Current Atherosclerosis Reports, also found that people who use low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) are more likely to gain weight, the exact opposite of what consumers expect.
This is despite controlled clinical trials showing that artificial sweeteners do lead to weight loss, the research added. "There has been a 200 per cent increase in LCS usage among children and a 54 per cent increase among adults in the past 20 years," said study researcher Peter Clifton from the University of South Australia.
Low calorie sweeteners are used in place of sucrose, glucose and fructose. They have an intense sweet flavour without the calories, but recent studies have highlighted potential adverse health effects. According to the researchers, a US study of 5158 adults over a seven-year period found that those who consumed large quantities of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users.
"Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar. They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favourite foods," Clifton said. "Artificial sweeteners also change the gut bacteria which may lead to weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes," he added.
Artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) are also linked with increased risks of death and cardiovascular disease, and strokes and dementia among older people, but it is not clear why.
Study researcher Clifton cites 13 studies which investigated the effects of ASB intake on the risk of type 2 diabetes, all of which found either no link or a positive one. One study found that substituting ASB for sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices was associated with a five to seven per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
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