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Sweetener linked to increase in heart attacks, stroke and death

A sweetener in lollies and toothpaste has been linked to an increase in cardiovascular incidents.

A sweetener in lollies and toothpaste has been linked to an increase in cardiovascular incidents. Photo: Getty

A sweetener that replaces sugars in lollies and sweet foods – and is touted by Australian retailers as having health benefits – has been linked to higher rates of heart attack, stroke and death in a study.

Published in the European Heart Journal, researchers found that high levels of xylitol, a sugar substitute found in popular lollies and toothpaste, in participants’ blood increased the risk for disease and death.

Stanley Hazen, who led the study at the Cleveland Clinic, said the study shows the “immediate need for investigating sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners”.

“Especially as they continue to be recommended in combatting conditions like obesity or diabetes,” he said.

“It does not mean throw out your toothpaste if it has xylitol in it, but we should be aware that consumption of a product containing high levels could increase the risk of blood clot-related events.”

About 3000 participants from across Europe had their blood examined regularly, with a third who had the highest amount of Xylitol in their plasma more likely to experience a “cardiovascular event”, such as a heart attack.

Common additive

Xylitol is a common substitute used in sugar-free lollies, gums, baked products and toothpaste.

The Cleveland Clinic said that over the past decade, the use of sugar substitutes has increased significantly in processed and other sweeteners that they have studied have found similar links between health issues and high levels in blood.

The researchers confirmed their findings by conducting pre-clinical testing that found the sweetener “caused platelets to clot and heightened the risk of thrombosis” and that the clotting was significantly worse than those who ingested glucose.

Hazen said the study’s purpose was to find issues that “contribute to heart disease beyond the traditional risk factors like cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes”.

“Xylitol is one of them,” he said.

“The very people who are most at risk – those who are diabetic, obese or have metabolic syndrome – are the ones who are inadvertently reaching for an unhealthy option.”

In Australia

Across Australia, Xylitol is advertised as a “healthy, all-natural sweetener that contains many health benefits” in tooth decay and gum disease products and when sold as a sugar-free sweetener.

Xylitnol

Health shops around Australia sell Xylitol as a healthy alternative to sugar. Photo: Nirvana Health Products

“Forget the refined blues; embrace the natural sweetness of xylitol, the sugar alternative taking the health world by storm!” one health shop advertises.

“Xylitol, crafted from nature’s bounty, delivers precisely that: Guilt-free sweetness with a treasure trove of health benefits.”

Another advertises it as “the perfect all-natural sugar replacement”.

“Tastes like sugar, has no artificial ingredients, no aspartame and with less calories and carbs than sugar,” Sweetlife.com.au said.

“Ideal for a low-carb diet, keto-friendly, gluten and GMO-free.”

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