The claim artificial sweeteners or low-calorie sweeteners (LCS), which were developed to replace sugar, also trigger health problems such as bladder cancer has long been controversial and remains inconclusive.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes widely used as alternatives to sugar. They’re used in place of sucrose, glucose and fructose.

However, the National Cancer Institute and other United States health agencies have said there's no sound scientific evidence any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems. A large number of studies confirm artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame and sucralose. It's also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia.

A new study from Australia challenges the claim artificial sweeteners don't cause cancer or other serious health problems. In a new study, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) contend that people who use LCS are more likely to gain weight, which is the exact opposite of what consumers expect.

There have been a 200 percent increase in LCS usage among children and a 54 percent increase among adults in the past 20 years, as per Prof. Peter Clifton of UniSA.

According to Prof .Clifton, a US study of 5,158 adults over a seven-year period found people that consumed large quantities of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users.

"Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar. They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favorite foods. Artificial sweeteners also change the gut bacteria which may lead to weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes," he said.

Artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) are also linked with increased risks of death, cardiovascular disease, strokes and dementia among older people but it's not clear why.

Prof. Clifton cited 13 studies that investigated the effects of ASB intake on the risk of type 2 diabetes. He explained these studies found either no link or a positive one. One study found substituting ASB for sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices was associated with a five to seven percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

"A better option than low-calorie sweeteners is to stick to a healthy diet, which includes plenty of whole grains, dairy, seafood, legumes, vegetables and fruits and plain water," Prof. Clifton added.

Artificial Sweeteners
Research does not indicate that artificial sweeteners can have any negative impact on health. Photo courtesy of Flickr, frankieleon