Zero-Calorie Sweetener Erythritol Linked to Heart Attack and Stroke: Study

A sugar substitute widely used in reduced-sugar products has been linked to an increased risk of blood clotting, stroke, heart attack and death, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, according to a CNN report.

The sweetener in question is called erythritol and is often used to add bulk or sweeten stevia, monkfruit, and keto products.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Stanley Hazen, who is also the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Diagnostics and Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, said, “The degree of risk was not modest.”

The research found that people with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke if they had the highest levels of erythritol in their blood.

“If your blood level of erythritol was in the top 25% compared to the bottom 25%, there was about a two-fold higher risk for heart attack and stroke. It’s on par with the strongest of cardiac risk factors, like diabetes,” said Hazen.

In addition to the increased risk of cardiovascular events, laboratory and animal research conducted as part of the study suggested that erythritol could cause blood platelets to clot more readily. Clots can break off and travel to the heart or brain, triggering a heart attack or stroke.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, who was not involved in the research, said, “This certainly sounds an alarm.”

“There appears to be a clotting risk from using erythritol,” Freeman went on to say. “Obviously, more research is needed, but in an abundance of caution, it might make sense to limit erythritol in your diet for now.”

Responding to the study, the Calorie Control Council, an industry association, disputed the findings, saying “the results of this study are contrary to decades of scientific research showing reduced-calorie sweeteners like erythritol are safe, as evidenced by global regulatory permissions for their use in foods and beverages.”

Robert Rankin, the council’s executive director, added that the results “should not be extrapolated to the general population, as the participants in the intervention were already at increased risk for cardiovascular events.”

The European Association of Polyol Producers, which represents the industry that makes erythritol, declined to comment on the study, saying it had not yet reviewed it.

Despite the controversy, it is important to remember that more research is needed before making any firm conclusions.

Nevertheless, individuals with existing risk factors for heart disease may wish to limit their intake of products containing erythritol until more information is available.