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February 27, 2023/News Releases

Cleveland Clinic Study Finds Common Artificial Sweetener Linked to Higher Rates of Heart Attack and Stroke

Research showcases the need for further safety studies

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New Cleveland Clinic research showed that erythritol, a popular artificial sweetener, is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Findings were published today in Nature Medicine.

Researchers studied over 4,000 people in the U.S. and Europe and found those with higher blood erythritol levels were at elevated risk of experiencing a major adverse cardiac event such as heart attack, stroke or death. They also examined the effects of adding erythritol to either whole blood or isolated platelets, which are cell fragments that clump together to stop bleeding and contribute to blood clots. Results revealed that erythritol made platelets easier to activate and form a clot. Pre-clinical studies confirmed ingestion of erythritol heightened clot formation.

Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D.

“Sweeteners like erythritol, have rapidly increased in popularity in recent years but there needs to be more in-depth research into their long-term effects,” said senior author Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., chairman for the Department of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Sciences in Lerner Research Institute and co-section head of Preventive Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic. “Cardiovascular disease builds over time, and heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. We need to make sure the foods we eat aren’t hidden contributors.”

Artificial sweeteners, such as erythritol, are common replacements for table sugar in low-calorie, low-carbohydrate and “keto” products. Sugar-free products containing erythritol are often recommended for people who have obesity, diabetes or metabolic syndrome and are looking for options to help manage their sugar or calorie intake. People with these conditions also are at higher risk for adverse cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.

Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar and is produced through fermenting corn. After ingestion, erythritol is poorly metabolized by the body. Instead, it goes into the bloodstream and leaves the body mainly through urine. The human body creates low amounts of erythritol naturally, so any additional consumption can accumulate.

Measuring artificial sweeteners is difficult and labeling requirements are minimal and often do not list individual compounds. Erythritol is “Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)” by the FDA, which means there is no requirement for long-term safety studies.

The authors note the importance of follow-up studies to confirm their findings in the general population. The study had several limitations, including that clinical observation studies demonstrate association and not causation.

“Our study shows that when participants consumed an artificially sweetened beverage with an amount of erythritol found in many processed foods, markedly elevated levels in the blood are observed for days – levels well above those observed to enhance clotting risks,” said Dr. Hazen. “It is important that further safety studies are conducted to examine the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners in general, and erythritol specifically, on risks for heart attack and stroke, particularly in people at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Authors recommend talking to your doctor or a certified dietician to learn more about healthy food choices and for personalized recommendations.

Disclosures: Dr. Hazen is named as co-inventor on pending and issued patents held by Cleveland Clinic relating to cardiovascular diagnostics and therapeutics.

The study was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the Office of Dietary Supplements, both of the National Institutes of Health, under grant award numbers P01 HL147823 and R01 HL103866 to Dr. Stanley Hazen. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 72,500 employees worldwide are more than 5,050 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,800 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 21 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2021, there were 10.2 million total outpatient visits, 304,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 259,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

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