A new alarm bell on the use of sweeteners comes from a very recent study carried out by a team from the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, and published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine (Witkowski et al, Nature Medicine, 2023). In fact, as emerges from the research, erythritol, a well-known and used sweetener, seems to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Sweeteners, few calories but many effects on the body
Few calories, glycemic index equal to 0 and high sweetening power, sweeteners used instead of sugar really seemed to be the solution to problems such as diabetes and obesity without giving up cakes and pastries. In a short time, sweeteners have thus acquired fame and appreciation, being included in the formulations of products indicated as healthy and light. However, precisely because of this great use, it is appropriate to investigate the effects of sweeteners on health. Indeed, zero glycemic index does not mean zero effects on the body. Just think of aspartame, a very common artificial sweetener, which, however, as it seems from studies, can, following constant use, increase the risk of developing cellular degeneration. Also beware of other sweeteners, such as stevia, which alters the intestinal microbiota, saccharin and sucralose, which reduce glucose tolerance and even increase blood sugar.
The natural sweetener erythritol
The research scientists we are talking about today focused on studying the effects of another sweetener, erythritol. Erythritol is not classified as an artificial sweetener since it is produced by fermenting corn and is therefore considered a natural sweetener. Erythritol has a sweetening power equal to 70% that of sugar and has a glycemic index of zero. These characteristics have made erythritol a widely used substitute for sugar. But, precisely because erythritol is widely used, it is also necessary to be sure that it is safe. The American research of the Cleveland Clinic tries to clarify this aspect.
Erythritol increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, the study
American scientists have recruited 4000 people, both in America and in Europe. The volunteers underwent blood tests to assess erythritol levels. Then, the volunteers were followed up for three years to assess their health over time. The study concluded that having higher amounts of erythritol in the blood also means having a higher risk of developing a heart attack or stroke within three years. The scientists also performed a laboratory study in which erythritol was placed in contact with blood samples and isolated platelets. Platelets are fragments of cells that, when there is damage to the walls of the circulatory system, become activated, grouping together to stop bleeding. Well, contact with erythritol made platelets activate more easily, thus increasing the risk of blood clots forming.
The study must continue to better clarify what happens in the blood when erythritol is ingested. At present, in fact, both thanks to the study conducted on volunteers and the one conducted in the laboratory on blood samples, it can be hypothesized that erythritol increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but the cause-effect relationship has not yet been established with certainty. In fact, it must also be considered that people who consume large quantities of foods with erythritol have in turn an increased risk of developing a heart attack and stroke, often presenting diabetes or obesity. Therefore, the study will continue but, at the moment, waiting for science to clarify, a good choice may be to limit foods containing sweeteners, not only aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, but also erythritol.