Health alert as sugar substitute 'could double the risk' of heart attack and stroke

Woman refuses a bowl filled with sugar cubes
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Health experts are raising alarms over the safety of Xylitol, a widely-used low-calorie sugar substitute, after a study in the European Heart Journal associated it with a heightened risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular deaths.

The Cleveland Clinic-led research scrutinised the ingredient commonly found in an array of food products. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that serves as a sweetening agent and offers up to 40% fewer calories than sugar.

Naturally occurring in modest quantities in fruits and vegetables, Xylitol is also produced by the human body. Consumers can find this compound in items such as sugar-free gum, sweets, baked goods, toothpaste, and products marketed as "keto-friendly". This revelation follows last year's findings by the same team, which revealed a similar concern regarding Erythritol, another popular sugar alternative, reports the Mirror US.

Amidst growing popularity of sugar substitutes driven by obesity worries, Dr Stanley Hazen from the research team said: "We're throwing this stuff into our food pyramid and the very people who are most likely to be consuming it are the ones who are most likely to be at risk [of heart attack and stroke, such as people with diabetes.]"

In a groundbreaking study as reported by NBC News, practitioners examined the blood levels of naturally occurring Xylitol in more than 3,000 fasting participants. Findings revealed that individuals with Xylitol levels in the top quarter nearly doubled their risk of suffering from heart attack, stroke, or death within three years against those in the lowest quartile.

To understand this correlation, researchers introduced Xylitol to mice, mixed it with lab plasma and served a Xylitol-infused drink to ten healthy individuals. The results displayed an activation of platelets which play a crucial role in blood clotting, leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Hazen said: "All it takes is Xylitol to interact with platelets alone for a very brief period of time, a matter of minutes, and the platelet becomes supercharged and much more prone to clot."

Although these discoveries are significant, additional research is necessary to fully grasp the impacts of these components. Warnings have been given by Dr Hazen to his patients to avoid Xylitol, identifiable by its 'itol' suffix.

He has recommended the use of petite amounts of sugar, honey or fruits as alternatives for sweeteners. Despite this, he remarked that the likely ingestion of Xylitol from toothpaste and a single piece of gum probably poses no substantial risk.

The study, however, did have several limitations. For example, the measurement of naturally occurring Xylitol in participants' blood was observational, indicating only a correlation between the sugar alcohol and heart risk. It does not establish that Xylitol directly caused the increased incidence of heart attack, stroke, or death.