A review of artificial sweeteners research has produced sour results. Consuming the substances may contribute to weight gain, and possibly to heightened type 2 diabetes risk, say nutrition scientists.

Recent studies highlight the potential adverse health effects of low calorie sweeteners, wrote Peter Clifton, Ph.D., from the University of South Australia. In one long-term U.S. study of more than 5,000 adults, people consuming large quantities of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users, for example.

Artificially sweetened beverages were also linked to increased mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke and dementia among older people, though the reasons were unclear. And faux sweeteners were found to change gut bacteria in a way that may lead to weight gain and increased type 2 diabetes risk, Clifton reported.

Meanwhile, the use of low-calorie sweeteners has skyrocketed. Such use has increased by 54% among adults in the last 20 years, he added.

“Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar,” he explained. “They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favorite foods.”

The solution may be to forgo low-calorie sweeteners in favor of a healthy diet, Clifton concluded. 

Artificial sweeteners have become a $2.2 billion industry, according to the researchers. The study was published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports.