Non-sugar sweeteners may cause diabetes, heart disease – WHO

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised against use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). WHO also cautioned that Non-sugar sweeteners may also cause diabetes, and heart disease in some adults.

This is contained in the World Health Organisation (WHO) new guideline on NSS, released on Monday.

The organisation said that the recommendation was based on the findings of a systematic review of the available evidence.

WHO added the findings suggested that use of NSS did not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children.

According to the statement, results of the review also suggest that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS.

It said that the effects were an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults.

WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, Mr Francesco Branca, said that replacing free sugars with NSS would not help with weight control in the long term.

“People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intakes, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars like fruit or unsweetened food and beverages.

“NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health,’’ he said.

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Branca said that the recommendation applied to all people except individuals with pre-existing diabetes.

The statement said that the recommendation also applied to all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that were not classified as sugars found in manufactured foods and beverages sold on their own.

“Common NSS include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.

“The recommendation does not apply to personal care and hygiene products containing NSS, such as toothpaste, skin cream and medications.

“Also to low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols), which are sugars or sugar derivatives containing calories and are, therefore, not considered NSS,’’ it said.

It said that the link observed in the evidence between NSS and disease outcomes might be confounded by baseline characteristics of study participants and complicated patterns of NSS use.

The statement said that the recommendation had been assessed as conditional, following WHO processes for developing guidelines.

“This signals that policy decisions based on this recommendation may require substantive discussion in specific country contexts linked, for example, to the extent of consumption in different age groups.

“The guideline is part of the existing and forthcoming guidelines on healthy diets that aim to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, improve dietary quality and decrease the risk of NCDs worldwide,’’ the organisation said.

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