Consuming large quantities of common low-calorie sweetener Xylitol is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, a study has revealed.

Low-calorie sweeteners are commonly used as sugar substitutes in processed foods, with assumed health benefits. Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol found in plants, is a sugar substitute used in candies, gums, baked goods, and toothpaste. It is known to reduce the risk of tooth decay and cavities.

Researchers of the latest study published in the European Heart Journal confirmed the link between high Xylitol consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Their findings are based on a large-scale patient analysis, preclinical research models, and a clinical intervention study.

The patient analysis involved estimating the three-year risk of cardiovascular events in more than 3,000 patients in the U.S. and Europe. "A third of patients with the highest amount of xylitol in their plasma were more likely to experience a cardiovascular event," the news release stated.

The findings from patient analysis were confirmed by pre-clinical testing that showed that xylitol is responsible for clots and elevates the risk of thrombosis. When the team tracked the platelet activity of people who ingested a xylitol-sweetened drink and compared it with those on a glucose-sweetened drink, they found that clotting ability significantly increased after ingesting xylitol.

"Xylitol is associated with incident MACE (major adverse cardiovascular event) risk. Moreover, xylitol both enhanced platelet reactivity and thrombosis potential in vivo," the researchers concluded.

Although the platelet function of the participants returned to normal levels by the next day, the risk remains high for individuals who consistently consume foods containing xylitol.

"It's not hard to imagine that someone with diabetes could eat products containing xylitol every day, throughout the day. So, that risk would remain if you continued to ingest xylitol. The very people who are most at risk for clotting events like heart attack and stroke — people with diabetes — are the very same people who are most likely to be ingesting xylitol in high levels and further increasing that risk without knowing it," said Dr. Stanley Hazen, who led the study.

The researchers caution that the study does not show a causal effect but an association between the two. They recommend further studies to estimate the long-term cardiovascular impact.

"This study again shows the immediate need for investigating sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, especially as they continue to be recommended in combatting conditions like obesity or diabetes. It does not mean throw out your toothpaste if it has xylitol in it, but we should be aware that consumption of a product containing high levels could increase the risk of blood clot-related events," Dr. Hazen said in a news release.