According to a report by the World Health Organization, non-sugar sweeteners do not contribute to weight loss and could potentially be associated with long-term health risks.
Newly released guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) advises against using non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) as a means to achieve weight reduction. The WHO’s report, based on a comprehensive review of evidence, indicates that long-term consumption of these sweeteners may carry potential health risks.
The report, which examined over 280 studies encompassing both low- and no-calorie synthetic sweeteners (such as aspartame) and natural extracts (like stevia), reveals that substituting sugar with NSS does not yield any long-term benefits in terms of reducing body fat for individuals of any age, including adults and children.
Furthermore, the review suggests that prolonged use of these sweeteners could be associated with a slightly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and premature mortality in adults. The WHO’s recommendations, disclosed on Monday (May 15), serve as a call for caution regarding the utilization of non-sugar sweeteners.
The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that the evidence linking long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) to the risk of disease or premature death is not strong enough to draw definitive conclusions. This is partly due to the complex usage patterns of NSS and the underlying characteristics of the study participants, which may have influenced the review’s outcomes. As a result, the WHO has categorized its recommendation as “conditional,” indicating that there is still uncertainty regarding the advantages of implementing it.
Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO’s Director of Nutrition for Health and Development, stated that replacing free sugars with NSS does not contribute to long-term weight control. He emphasized the importance of exploring alternative approaches to reduce free sugar intake, such as consuming foods naturally containing sugars, like fruits, or opting for unsweetened food and beverages.
The WHO’s guidance on sweeteners is applicable to everyone except those with pre-existing diabetes. Additionally, the recommendations do not extend to medications and personal care products like toothpaste, which may contain small amounts of sweeteners for improved taste.
During their assessment, the health agency examined studies comparing the body weights of individuals consuming regular sugars with those using sweeteners. The reviewed randomized control trials, considered the gold standard with a placebo group for comparison, indicate that in the short term, replacing sugar intake with NSS may lead to weight reduction without impacting cardiovascular or metabolic health.
Long-term observational studies indicate a correlation between prolonged consumption of sweeteners and a higher likelihood of obesity, increased body mass index (BMI), which serves as an indirect measure of body fat, as well as an elevated risk of certain diseases and premature death.
The guidelines highlight that individuals who already consume minimal amounts of sugar are unlikely to experience any weight loss benefits if they switch to sweeteners. Instead, they may potentially encounter the undesired effects associated with the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), as stated by the WHO.
The WHO assessed the overall certainty of the reviewed evidence as “low.” Consequently, the organization calls for further research to ascertain the specific mechanisms by which NSS may have adverse effects on human health. Nonetheless, the WHO emphasizes that plausible mechanisms for these detrimental effects have been identified and validated in animal studies, underscoring the importance of considering potential links between NSS and human diseases. These mechanisms include alterations in taste perception, the release of metabolic hormones by the body, and changes to the gut microbiome. However, it remains unclear whether the observed changes in laboratory rats would translate to similar effects in humans.