Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t So Sweet

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I am 15 years old and my divorced parents share custody of me so I go back and forth between homes.  In my mom’s house, I am made to eat and drink foods that contain artificial sweeteners because she’s concerned about her weight.  My dad thinks sugar-free foods that contain these chemicals are dangerous and we are never allowed to eat them. I am smart in biology and health, so I don’t know whether to believe my mom or my dad.  But like my mom says, the government would never allow these artificial sweeteners in foods if they were bad for us. Right?”
–N.R.,  Gainesville, Florida

Answer: I applaud your insight and many Americans wrestle with this very question. I side with your dad on this issue. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (NutraSweet) are lab-created chemicals that are food-additives; they should not be considered “food.”

Some experts think that artificial sweeteners belong to a class of harmful chemicals called “excitotoxins” which can make brain cells fire like crazy, damaging or killing them. They can cause free radical damage in nerve cells. I wonder – if in time – we will find a connection between people who use excessive amounts of the pretty packets with those who experience conditions stemming from their head, for example, depression, panic attacks, seizures, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and even manic depression.

I am particularly annoyed that many diabetes educators promote artificial sweeteners to people with diabetes, Why? Because some preliminary studies point to their detrimental effect on blood sugar and pancreatic function. Even more disturbing, a Duke University study has concluded these compounds may actually contribute to obesity, not weight loss!

The artificial sweetener story gets confusing because a few studies insist that human consumption is safe. So here is some research which explains why I shy away from non-natural sweeteners:

–A 2008 study published in Preventative Medicine concluded that “Regular use of artificial sweeteners for 10 years or more was positively associated with urinary tract tumors.”

–In January 2009, the trial began for McNeil-PPC, Inc. versus the sugar industry. Makers of Splenda have to defend themselves against claims that they used false advertising or deceptive marketing campaigns in order to convince Americans that Splenda is natural and safe because it comes from sugar. (It may start out that way, but the end product does not occur in nature, hence the trouble.)

–A 2008 Duke University study published in The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health concluded that sucralose contributes to obesity, destroys your healthy camp of intestinal bacteria and may interfere with absorption of prescription drugs.

–A study by researchers at the University of Florida found that aspartame may increase the frequency of migraines by up to 50 percent.

–At higher temperatures, a compound in aspartame converts to formaldehyde and then to another chemical which could spark neurological symptoms that could be mistaken for multiple sclerosis.

Did You Know?
Stevia is a completely natural herbal sweetener sold at health food stores nationwide.