Sugar Substitute Tied to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

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June 7, 2024 – High levels of xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener used in many reduced-sugar foods as well as gum and toothpaste, are linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death, says a new study published in the European Heart Journal.

The research team studied more than 3,000 people in the U.S. and Europe over 3 years and found that people with the highest amount of xylitol in their plasma were more likely to  have a problem with their heart or blood vessels.

To show the early effects of xylitol, researchers studied platelet activity in volunteers who consumed a xylitol-sweetened drink and a glucose-sweetened drink. The xylitol levels went up by 1,000 times in people after the xylitol drink but not after the glucose-sweetened drink.

Xylitol is naturally found in small amounts in fruit and vegetables, and it’s been used more as a sugar substitute over the past decade in processed foods, toothpaste, chewing gum, and other products.

“This study again 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,” Stanley Hazen, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Sciences at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, said in a news release. 

“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.”

A similar link between erythritol, another sugar substance, and problems with the heart and blood vessels was found last year by the same research team, the release said.

In a response to the study, the Calorie Control Council, a trade association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry, said xylitol has been approved for decades by government agencies. The study results may not apply to the general population because some people in the study already had a higher risk of having problems with their heart and blood vessels, it said.