While many consumers try to make healthy choices and remain mindful of their sugar intake, a new study may have many reexamining a popular zero-calorie sweetener.
According to a new study recently published in Nature Medicine, erythritol, a sugar alternative that’s become popular among those who follow a keto diet, may increase the risk of heart concerns, like heart attack or stroke.
Erythritol is the primary ingredient in artificial sweeteners like Truvia, which are often recommended to patients struggling with metabolic diseases, like type 2 diabetes or obesity. There are no calories and these products don’t affect blood sugar levels. However, there have been few in-depth studies about how these sweeteners can affect consumers’ health long term.
What are the health risks?
The researchers analyzed blood samples from over 1,100 people who were at an increased risk of heart disease between 2004 and 2011.
Initially the study wasn’t designed to specifically look at erythritol’s effect on consumers’ health. Instead, the team was interested in identifying any compounds that can impact the risk for heart disease or stroke. Erythritol became the clear connection.
In this first group of participants, higher levels of erythritol were associated with greater risks of heart disease and stroke. To get more information on this link, the researchers then analyzed two more sample groups: more than 830 participants in a 2018 European sample and over 2,100 people in a U.S. sample. The outcome remained the same -- erythritol proved to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, or death two-fold within three years.
The researchers explained that the sweetener was linked with an increased risk of blood clots. For those struggling with metabolic health issues, zero-calorie sweeteners are believed to be a healthier alternative. However, this group is also more likely to suffer from blood clots, making the risks of erythritol all the more pressing.
All consumers could be at risk
While the health risks for consumers struggling with heart health issues are higher, the study also found that healthy consumers should be mindful of their erythritol consumption.
Eight participants with no history of major health concerns were involved in the last part of the study. After having a drink with 30 grams of erythritol (the average amount in a pint of keto ice cream), levels of the sweetener skyrocketed, and blood tests revealed a much higher risk of blood clots than when the study began. The risk remained steady for two to three days after the experiment.
Moving forward, experts are calling for more research in this area, as well as greater consumer awareness of the associated health risks.