Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for Your Health?

By , Category : Food and Nutrition

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Artificial Sweeteners Bad for HealthThere are always concerns and potential dangers present when it comes to what we put in our bodies.

One substance that is found in most foods and beverages we consume is sugar. As you may know, too much sugar can be harmful to your body.

So what many people do is substitute it with artificial sweeteners, mainly for the sake of controlling caloric intake.

Since they are so prevalent in foods nowadays, we should really be asking what artificial sweeteners are doing to our health.

Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

We have this belief that when we substitute harmful substances with artificial ones, we will see a significant improvement in our overall health. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for artificial sweeteners. After passing a series of tests conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), artificial sweeteners continue to find their way into our food and drinks. The fact that they just barely sneak in should be enough of a red flag.

One of the benefits of using artificial sweeteners is said to be weight loss. However, the truth is you can actually gain more weight by consuming artificial sweeteners. In 2008, there was a study from Purdue University that compared rats eating yogurt sweetened with glucose (simple sugar) to rats eating yogurt containing a zero-calorie sweetener called saccharin.

The results from the study showed that the rats consuming the zero-calorie sweetener actually gained more body fat and more weight overall. Even after stopping the saccharin intake, they were not able to make up for this weight gain. These results bring up a valid question—how can a zero-calorie substance cause someone to gain weight?

The answer is simple; the intake of the chemicals that are in artificial sweeteners confuses your body’s sensory system. Sweet foods normally provide what we call a salient orosensory stimulus. This predicts that your body is about to take in a lot of calories. So when your digestive and ingestive systems get ready for that intake and they receive artificial sweeteners that are not followed up by a lot of calories, your internal sensory system gets confused. As a result, many people eat more and use less energy than they normally would.

Even though the study was conducted on rats, the researchers from Purdue noted that their findings also matched the evidence that people who consume more diet drinks are actually at a higher risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. In addition, they are also at risk of having more abdominal fat, higher blood pressure, and greater insulin resistance. This puts people at a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Phenylalanine

It is the largest compound of aspartame and it makes up about 50% of the artificial sweetener. Phenylalanine is an amino acid that is normally found in the brain. People with phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder, are unable to digest phenylalanine. It becomes dangerous mainly because this leads to higher-than-normal phenylalanine levels in the brain.

These high levels can cause your serotonin supply to decrease, which can lead to emotional disorders like depression. Even a single use of aspartame can raise your phenylalanine level.

Aspartic Acid

About 40% of aspartame is made up of aspartic acid. Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a neurosurgery professor at the Medical University of Mississippi, cited 500 different scientific references that show how excess free excitatory amino acids, like aspartic acid, found in our food are causing chronic neurological disorders.

Aspartate, which is in aspartic acid, acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Consuming too much of it can actually kill certain neurons of the brain by allowing an excess of calcium into the neuron cells. What then happens is that it triggers a large amount of radical damage, which kills the cells.

The blood barrier normally protects the brain from an excess influx of aspartate. However, it does not protect against high levels of this excitotoxin in the blood. High levels of aspartame that have been absorbed into the brain have been linked to a number of defects, such as memory loss, multiple sclerosis, headaches, vision problems, and dementia.

The Most Dangerous Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid

There are five types of artificial sweeteners that are extremely dangerous if consumed in excess, even to the point of being potentially fatal. Saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and neotame are the five most harmful artificial sweeteners that you should be aware of.

1. Saccharin

A sulfa-based sweetener with the primary ingredient benzoic sulfimide, saccharin has been known to cause nausea, diarrhea, and skin problems. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than regular sugar. Discovered in 1879 by Constantine Fahlberg, saccharin is one of the oldest, most widely-studied artificial sweeteners; it’s constantly under the microscope for its harmful effects.

It is recommended that you switch out saccharin from your diet and substitute it with natural sugars. You can find saccharin in chewing gum, diet soda, salad dressings, candy, canned fruits, baked goods, and even in some vitamins.

2. Sucralose

A synthetic additive that is created by chlorinating sugar, sucralose is best known to cause head and muscle aches, severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, bladder issues, skin irritation, dizziness, and inflammation. Constant research has illustrated that sucralose can cause the thymus gland to shrink, which is an important immune system regulator.

In addition, a recent study done by Duke University found that sucralose reduced healthy intestinal bacteria. The importance of healthy intestinal bacteria is its need in proper digestion. You can find sucralose in yogurt, protein bars, frozen desserts, syrups, baked goods, and diet beverages.

3. Acesulfame Potassium

A potassium salt containing methylene chloride, acesulfame potassium has been shown to cause nausea, headaches, mood problems, liver and kidney impairments, eyesight problems, and even cancer. Over 200 times sweeter than sugar, acesulfame potassium has gone through the least amount of research of the most dangerous artificial sweeteners.

Early studies have shown a connection between the sweetener and the development of cancer in laboratory animals. You can find it in soft drinks, diet iced teas, candies, marinated fish, rice pudding, ice cream, yogurt, and pickled vegetables.

4. Aspartame

Consisting of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol, aspartame is best known for causing headaches, anxiety, memory loss, arthritis, abdominal pain, nausea, depression, seizures, vision problems, brain tumors, and weight gain. The most researched of the common harmful artificial sweeteners, aspartame can taste up to 220 times sweeter than natural sugar.

Aspartame is used in over 6,000 different types of products in the U.S., including soft drinks, yogurts, desserts, fruits, nutrition drinks, cereals, and gum.

5. Neotame

Neotame is one of the more recent artificial sweeteners being used nowadays. It is said to be between 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Neotame may actually be more potent and more dangerous than aspartame. There has not been much research published to state why it is harmful to the human body; however, the chemicals that are present in aspartame are also present in neotame, so the side effects are also believed to be the same as aspartame.

It’s important to note, however, that because the sweetness level is astronomically higher than that of aspartame, many researchers are still skeptical in deciding whether it is safe to consume at all.

Some Best Sugar Alternatives

The best course of action is to turn to natural sweeteners instead of artificial ones. If you want a substitute for processed sugar, you can try using honey, organic maple syrup, molasses, date sugar, or brown rice syrup.

By turning to natural sweeteners, you’re not just doing your body a favor, but you can eventually help reduce the production of toxic artificial sweeteners by decreasing the demand.

Sources:
“Top 4 Most Dangerous Artificial Sweeteners,” FitDay web site; http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/top-number-most-dangerous-artificial-sweeteners.html, last accessed May 5, 2015.
Elkaim, Y., “Zero-Calorie Sweeteners Just As Bad As Sugar (Perhaps Even Worse) At Packing on FAT and a Host of Other Health Problems!” Yuri Elkaim’s Super Nutrition Academy web site; http://www.supernutritionacademy.com/artificial-sweeteners-side-effects/, last accessed May 5, 2015.
Mercola, J., “Neotame: Is This More-Dangerous-than-Aspartame Sweetener Hiding in Your Food?” Mercola.com, March 28, 2012; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/28/neotame-more-toxic-than-aspartame.aspx.
Seward, E., “Why Artificial Sweeteners are Bad For You and the Planet,” HowStuffWorks web site; http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/artificial-sweetners-unhealthy-eco.htm, last accessed May 5, 2015.
Schreiber, K., “Are Artificial Sweeteners Really Going to Kill Me?” Greatist web site, September 13, 2013; http://greatist.com/health/are-artificial-sweeteners-really-going-kill-me.




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Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »