Low-Calorie Sweetener Linked To Increased Risk Of Heart Attack And Stroke

By Bill Galluccio

June 7, 2024

A woman holding jar with gums and reading a Nutrition Facts label at the back.
Photo: Ekaterina79 / iStock / Getty Images

A common low-calorie sweetener has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A new study published in the European Heart Journal found that xylitol, a sugar alcohol that is used in sugar-free gum, toothpaste, baked goods, and many "keto-friendly" products, can double the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

While xylitol is produced by the human body and is also found in low levels in fruits and vegetables, it is used in much higher concentrations when added to foods.

"If you actually do the calculation, it literally takes a tonnage of fruit to be equivalent to one diabetic cookie that can have like nine grams of xylitol, which is a typical label amount," said lead author Dr. Stanely Hazen, chair of cardiovascular and metabolic sciences at Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute. "It would be like eating salt at the level of a salt lick."

Researchers gave healthy volunteers a drink with xylitol during the study and found their glucose levels increased 1,000-fold.

"When you eat sugar, your glucose level may go up 10% or 20%, but it doesn't go up a 1,000-fold," said Hazen. "Humankind has not experienced levels of xylitol this high except within the last couple of decades when we began ingesting completely contrived and sugar-substituted processed foods."

The same research team also found that Erythritol, another low-calorie artificial sweetener, was associated with a similar risk of cardiovascular problems in a study last year.

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