New research from Cleveland Clinic found a commonly used artificial sweetener is associated with an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
The sweetener is called erythritol.
“It is used almost on a one-to-one basis as a replacement for sugar in many of the processed food,” explained Dr. Stanley Hazen, a physician scientist for Cleveland Clinic. “Because its flavor is very similar to sugar, it is used in combination with other artificial sweeteners since it gives a more natural flavor and what they call mouth feel.”
Hazen is the lead researcher for this study, which involved 4,000 people from the United States and Europe.
He said erythritol is made both inside the cells of our bodies and can be consumed as part of processed artificially sweetened foods.
His team discovered that those who have higher blood levels of erythritol are at higher risk for major adverse cardiac events over three years of follow-up.
They also learned from a separate study, where healthy volunteers were given a single serving of the artificial sweetener, that blood levels remained elevated above thresholds associated with risk for clotting for several days.
Hazen said this is cause for concern, especially since erythritol is typically used in foods targeting people who want to lose weight or who have diabetes.
And those same individuals are already at risk for cardiac events.
He said another issue is this ingredient isn’t always included on the label.
“Many times you find it on labeling, but there is no mandatory labeling requirement for erythritol. That’s because it has what we call ‘GRAS status’ or generally regarded as ‘safe status’ simply because it’s found in nature, but the amounts it’s found in nature are thousands of fold lower than what are being consumed currently,” said Hazen.
So, what does this mean for the general public?
Hazen said if you have obesity, diabetes, heart disease or are otherwise at risk for it, you should avoid foods with this artificial sweetener in them.