4. Artificial Sweeteners Make 'No Difference' to Health

There have been so many controversies regarding the usage of artificial sweeteners that, whether their usage is beneficial compared to sugar-based sweeteners. A comprehensive systematic review that appeared in The BMJ points out that there is no compelling evidence to indicate important health benefits of non-sugar sweeteners, and potential harms cannot be ruled out. In all, the scientists assessed 56 research papers that compared no intake or lower intake of non-sugar sweeteners with higher intake in healthy adults and children with or without overweight or obesity.

They investigated a range of parameters, including oral health, kidney and cardiovascular disease, cancer, blood sugar levels, behavior, mood, and, importantly, weight and body mass index (BMI). Perhaps surprisingly, for most health outcomes, there seemed to be no significant differences between people who consumed non-sugar sweeteners and those who did not. In some smaller studies, they found weak evidence that the use of non-sugar sweeteners helped reduce BMI and blood sugar levels, but it was not compelling.

Similarly, the scientists saw small reductions in weight gain for individuals who consumed low levels of non-sugar sweeteners, but the evidence was equally shaky. It was a similar story in children: Artificial sweeteners reduced weight gain slightly but did not affect BMI.

When the team looked at studies that focused on obese and overweight individuals, there was no good evidence of any benefits of non-sugar sweeteners. The researchers also looked for any evidence of side effects or adverse events. Here, the data was equally inconclusive; the authors wrote, "potential harms could not be excluded."

Because non-sugar sweeteners are more popular than ever, understanding the benefits or risks — even if they are relatively minor — could be important for the population. Whether these sweeteners slightly reduce obesity risk or marginally increase diabetes risk, researchers need to uncover the facts.

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