Sweetener Tied to Bigger Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

Cleveland Clinic researchers warn about xylitol
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2024 2:19 PM CDT
Sweetener Tied to Bigger Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/TopMicrobialStock)

An artificial sweetener used in baked goods, sugar-free candy and gum, and even toothpaste is tied to increased cardiovascular disease, per a series of new studies out of the Cleveland Clinic. In the research published Thursday in the European Heart Journal, scientists note that the sugar substitute xylitol, often used for weight loss or consumed by diabetics, has been linked to greater risk for heart attack and stroke, per a release.

  • Study 1: Researchers looked at plasma samples saved from 3,000-plus fasting patients from an earlier study, who'd been tracked over three years; some had suffered a heart attack or stroke. The scientists found that those individuals who'd had a cardiovascular event had high levels of xylitol in their blood, per the Washington Post.

  • Study 2: Using human whole blood and platelets, the scientists found that xylitol led to platelet clots in patients' blood. This phase also revealed that xylitol boosted how fast clots formed at the sites where mice models had suffered arterial injuries.
  • Study 3: Ten subjects in this study were given a xylitol-sweetened beverage to consume, while another 10 drank a glucose- or sugar-sweetened drink. Those who had the former "showed a marked increase in clotting ability of their blood right after they ingested it," per the Post. That effect wasn't seen in those who drank the glucose-infused beverages.
  • So much for 'natural': Sugar alcohols like xylitol are produced naturally by the human body, but that doesn't mean you can just consume them in bulk. "Even though it is a natural compound, it's used in a very unnatural way, at a level that is massively, massively higher than could ever appear under normal conditions," study co-author Stanley Hazen, of the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, tells the Post.
  • Trends: Nearly $1.2 billion in xylitol products were sold in 2021, with an expected $1.5 billion or so growth by 2030, per the Custom Market Insights research firm.
  • Researcher's reaction: "We were trying to discover the next cholesterol, another pathway that contributes to heart disease that's naturally occurring in our bodies," says Hazen. "And we think that's what we have," in both xylitol and erythritol, another sugar alcohol that the same researchers last year found presented a similar cardiovascular risk.
  • Pushback: "The results of this study are contrary to decades of scientific evidence substantiating the safety and efficacy of low-calorie sweeteners such as xylitol by global health and regulatory ‎agencies," says Carla Saunders, president of the Calorie Control Council.
(More discoveries stories.)

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