Sweetener erythritol linked to heart attack and stroke, study says

According to a new study carried out by the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, the sugar replacement erythritol could be linked to a significant increase in risk of heart attack and stroke, at completely normal doses.    

Erythritol is a type of carbohydrate, called a sugar alcohol, that nowadays is commonly used as a sugar substitute thank to its characteristics (it is not digested and therefore has almost zero effects on blood sugar and very few calories). Erythritol is found naturally in some foods, and it can also be produced through fermentation for commercial purposes.  

Erythritol’s safety has been confirmed by numerous health authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization, and is currently approved for use in more than 60 countries.    

However, according to this study, recently published on the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine, 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.  

The scientists analyzed over 4 000 individuals in the US and Europe, finding that those with higher blood erythritol levels were at an “elevated risk of experiencing a major adverse cardiac event such as heart attack, stroke or death.”  

Moreover, the researchers studied the effects of adding erythritol to either whole blood or isolated platelets, demonstrating that erythritol significantly increases platelets aggregation, a central action in the formation of thrombi that can lead to heart attack or stroke.    

However, the study aroused some perplexity. First, it cannot be ruled out that the rise in erythritol levels is a consequence of the conditions that cause cardiovascular disease (for example being overweight) and not a cause of it. Furthermore, other scientists highlighted that it would be better to verify the effects of erythritol on other certain risk indicators such as cholesterol.    

Although it is premature to suggest abandoning the use of erythritol, it is necessary - and urgently, given the diffusion of these sweeteners - to find out more.