Sugar Substitutes May Be Linked to Brain Illness, Study Suggests

Some people swear by diets based totally on sugar-free foods and beverages. Others are not so sure whether such a radical approach is good for health. And as more research is done and published on the subject, it seems more and more obvious that the latter might be right not to stick to diets totally free of sugar.

A newly published, long-term study suggests that artificially sweetened beverages aren’t better for you than sugary drinks. In fact, they might be worse, as artificial sweeteners seem to be linked to a higher risk of stroke and dementia.

According to the research, the adult subjects involved who drink at least one artificially sweetened beverage per day were three times more likely to develop dementia or have a stroke than those participants who had such beverages less frequently. The study published by a team from the Boston University School of Medicine is only the latest in a line of research projects which have raised alarm bells over the supposed health benefits of artificially sweetened foods.

Some previous studies have found that most sugar substitutes actually hinder, instead of helping, the process of weight loss. They have also been proven to leave people hungrier, as they lack some of the nutrients present in real sugar. But while gaining weight unknowingly is concerning, the possible negative effects that consuming artificial sweeteners might have on the brain are a lot more serious and harder to reverse.

The new Boston study used data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, a two-phase research project which focused on the development of stroke and dementia. During the initial seven-year period, a large sample group was asked to report on their eating habits through food frequency quizzes, which were used to determine the subjects’ artificial sweetener consumption.

Over the next 10 years, the team followed the health of the participants closely to study the development of dementia or stroke. Out of the 2888 participants observed for the stroke research, 97 actually developed the condition. As for the 1484 who participated in the dementia branch, 81 were affected in the 10 year period, 61 of which developed Alzheimer’s.

While it is important not to abuse any sweetened drinks – regardless of what kind of sugar they are full of – the fact remains that the study found no direct connection between common sugar and the development of the brain illnesses (stroke and dementia). When it comes to artificial sweeteners though, while the risk of developing these illnesses was definitely increased by the consumption of sugar substitutes, only a relatively small number of participants developed them. So further research is thus necessary in order to determine the amount of risk people take by using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.