Study Links Xylitol, a Common Sugar Substitute, to Increased Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

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An artificial sweetener known as sugar alcohol has never sounded like the healthiest thing for people. In a study published in the European Heart Journal, Cleveland Clinic researchers report that higher amounts of xylitol, a type of sugar alcohol, can increase risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events. 

The researchers said they found the associations in a large-scale patient analysis, a clinical intervention study, and preclinical research models. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that don’t contain alcohol. Xylitol occurs naturally in small amounts in fibrous fruits and vegetables, corn cobs, trees, and the human body. It’s used as a sugar substitute because its taste is comparable to sugar but has fewer calories. The Cleveland Clinic team found a similar link between another sugar alcohol, erythritol, and cardiovascular risk last year. They said in a statement that xylitol isn’t as common as erythritol in keto or sugar-free products in the United States, but they noted it is common in other countries. 

This study shows the immediate need for investigating sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, especially as they continue to be recommended in combating conditions like obesity or diabetes. It does not mean people should throw out their toothpaste if it has xylitol in it, but they should be aware that consumption of a product containing high levels could increase the risk of blood clot-related events.

The findings raise enough concern to warrant further investigation. This new study adds another chapter to the evolving story of sugar substitutes and heart health. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness that these alternatives might not be as risk-free as once believed. Tadwalkar added it’s also important to note erythritol is more prominent in the United States within keto and sugar-free products, whereas xylitol finds wider use in other countries as well as in some sugar-free candies and chewing gums.

This new research prompts consideration of the long-term cardiovascular safety of various sugar substitutes. This heightened activity could raise the risk of clots forming unexpectedly, potentially leading to cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke.