It might be time to let go of the worries that there are long-term health risks with using artificial sweeteners. In November 2022, a study in Nutrients analyzed data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), which logged mortality data of diets of nearly 16,000 people between 1988-1994 and almost 49,000 people between 1999-2018. The study found that the health risks associated with low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) are a fallacy: (1)
There was no indication that aspartame, saccharin, or all LCS had any impact on overall cancer mortality.
On Feb. 2, 2023, powerlifter and nutritional scientist Dr. Layne Norton took to his YouTube channel to explain the findings of this study more closely. He suggests that reverse causality — a cause-and-effect contrary to a common presumption — may have influenced how many viewed artificial sweeteners’ impact on health. Check it out below:
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Norton dissected the section of the study that noted that people who use low-calorie sweeteners are more likely to be obese. The study found an association between low-calorie sweetener consumption and increased body weight, but that doesn’t mean that the low-calorie sweeteners are the cause of those increases. As Norton said, “people who are obese are more likely to use these substances,” referring to artificial sweeteners.
The study’s data included subjects who had intentions of losing weight within the previous 12 months they were involved. Those who wanted to lose weight were likelier to use low-calorie sweeteners to help consume fewer calories.
Hence, the reverse causality of blaming artificial sweeteners for increased cancer mortality, when those risks are actually more associated with obesity itself. Basically, people trying to lose weight consumed more low-calorie sweeteners instead of items with added sugar; they weren’t obese because of their artificial sweetener consumption.
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Low-Calorie Sweeteners > Water?
Norton shifted to data found in a meta-analysis in JAMA Network Open that found that low-calorie sweetener consumption was linked to a higher rate of successful weight loss than water. (2)
Artificially sweetened beverages outperformed water for weight loss.
People with a sweet tooth who drank water instead of artificially sweetened beverages were likelier to satisfy their sugar craving elsewhere, failing to lower their calorie intake. This doesn’t mean that artificially sweetened beverages burn fat; it is just suggestive that using artificially sweetened beverages in place of sugary drinks impacts overall caloric consumption. That’s simply because caloric deficits lead to weight loss.
So, breathe easy next time you’re concerned about the long-term health implications of grabbing a diet soft drink. The latest science suggests that there aren’t any cancer-related risks to consuming artificial sweeteners in moderation.
Fulgoni, V. L., 3rd, & Drewnowski, A. (2022). No Association between Low-Calorie Sweetener (LCS) Use and Overall Cancer Risk in the Nationally Representative Database in the US: Analyses of NHANES 1988-2018 Data and 2019 Public-Use Linked Mortality Files. Nutrients, 14(23), 4957.
McGlynn, N. D., Khan, T. A., Wang, L., Zhang, R., Chiavaroli, L., Au-Yeung, F., Lee, J. J., Noronha, J. C., Comelli, E. M., Blanco Mejia, S., Ahmed, A., Malik, V. S., Hill, J. O., Leiter, L. A., Agarwal, A., Jeppesen, P. B., Rahelic, D., Kahleová, H., Salas-Salvadó, J., Kendall, C. W. C., … Sievenpiper, J. L. (2022). Association of Low- and No-Calorie Sweetened Beverages as a Replacement for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA network open, 5(3), e222092.
Featured image: @biolayne on Instagram