WASHINGTON — Sugary drinks are a popular target of health experts and even local governments. While many try to curb the public’s intake of sugar, a study finds a common alternative to these drinks may be just as bad. Researchers in France say artificially sweetened drinks also increase the risk for heart disease.
Until now, the study says artificial sweeteners have been considered a healthier choice than soft drinks and other beverages with a high volume of sugar. Looking at data from the French NutriNet-Santé study, the study authors examined how artificially sweetened drinks impact cardiovascular health.
Previous studies have linked sugary beverages to obesity and increased risks for cancer, diabetes, and even dementia. The effects of sugar have also been connected to poor cognitive development among children breastfed by parents who consume these drinks.
High consumption affects the heart
The new study examined health records from nearly 105,000 people, who participated in three web-based dietary surveys every six months. Researchers defined artificially sweetened beverages as any drink containing a non-nutritive sweetener. Meanwhile, drinks containing at least five percent sugar fell into the sugary beverage category. Study authors also divided the participants into three groups, non-consumers, low consumers, and high consumers.
The French team looked at the first reported incidents of cardiovascular disease between 2009 and 2019 among these groups. This included stroke, transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke), heart attack, acute coronary syndrome, or the need to have an artery unblocked.
Just under 1,400 participants had their first incident of cardiovascular disease during the follow-up checks. Comparing the results to non-consumers, researchers reveal both high consumers of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages had a higher chance of having heart problems.
Will governments take more action against artificially sweetened drinks?
Lead author Eloi Chazelas says the results may lead to more government regulation on both types of beverages. In the United States, some cities have already levied higher taxes on the purchasing of sugary drinks.
“Our study suggests artificially sweetened beverages may not be a healthy substitute for sugar drinks, and these data provide additional arguments to fuel the current debate on taxes, labeling and regulation of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages,” says Chazelas, a member of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at Sorbonne Paris Nord University in a media release.
Study authors add that research on a large group of participants will be needed to figure out how exactly these beverages impact the cardiovascular system.
The study appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.