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Artificial Sweeteners: The Real Skinny?

We already know that if you want to use a sweetener for whatever purpose, refined sugar is not what you should be using by choice. A far more viable option to refined sugar, either white or brown, is the unrefined natural cane sugar commonly sold in Mexico and the Caribbean and is sometimes available through health stores in the USA and Canada. Read on and learn whether you should be trusting any of the artificial sweeteners available.

A brief history of Artificial Sweeteners. Would you believe that the first artificial sweetener was put out to the public in 1903 and was actually discovered in 1879? Between 1903 and 2002 several artificial sweeteners were introduced to the North American public, each with its own unique promise of low calories and guilt-free consumption. What were they and when were they "invented and released" to the public? And just how safe are each of them to use?

Saccharin, discovered in 1879 by Constantine Fahlberg, a chemistry research assistant at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. It was used in industrial applications. In 1903 entrepreneur John F. Queeny and newly formed Monsanto began selling saccharin to food and beverage companies including Coca Cola. Also known as: acid saccharin, sodium saccharin and calcium saccharin. The major enticements to saccharin were it was a cheap, no calorie sweetener, unique in that it could not be metabolized by the human body and was excreted in the urine. Teddy Roosevelt stated "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot." It became especially popular during WW II with the sugar shortage. In 1977 Canadian research demonstrated that high doses of saccharin caused cancer in rats and it was immediately banned in Canada but reintroduced later. The US FDE deemed more study was required and allowed it to remain on the market with the frightening warning label "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." New legislation in 2001 removed this warning label. Saccharin belongs to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides. Persons who are allergic to sulfa drugs can react to saccharin with skin eruptions, breathing difficulties, headaches and diarrhea. Saccharin is presently sold in the US as Sweet 'n Low and Sugar Twin, and in Canada as Sweet 'n Low. Saccharin can be considered relatively safe if you are not in any way allergic to sulfa drugs.

Cyclamate. It was discovered in 1937 by Michael Sveda, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and the patent was purchased by DuPont, later sold to Abbott Laboratories, making its debut in 1950 and was promoted as a no-calorie, diabetic-friendly sweetener. It was combined with saccharin in the original Sweet 'n Low formula. It is also known as calcium cyclamate and sodium cyclamate. Research during the 1960's showed evidence of bladder cancer and testicular abnormalities in laboratory rats and the US FDA banned it in 1969. Later research showed that cyclamate also caused DNA damage in the digestive organs of mice and rats. In 1978 Health and Welfare Canada declared a general agreement that cyclamates were no carcinogenic, based on more sophisticated lab testing that was available in previous years. It is presently being sold in Canada under the brand name "Sugar Twin".

Aspartame. Discovered accidentally in 1965 by James Schlatter, an employee of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle, while working on new drug formulations. Safety studies by both the G. D. Searle (the 'inventor) and later the FDA, particularly with the help of G. D. Searle's then CEO, Donald Rumsfeld, aspartame was approved in 1981. In 1985 G. D. Searle sold the rights to Aspartame to Monsanto, the company who has also given us Agent Orange, recombinant bovine growth hormone and a wide variety of chemicals and genetically modified plants. When first marketed aspartame was promoted as a 'no-calorie sweetener that could help with weight loss, diabetes maintenance, lower the incidence of cavities and reduce the risks associated with obesity; it was even given an endorsement by the American Dental Association.' Since its introduction independent research has show that aspartame has neuro-toxic and potentially deadly effects on the human body. The most common health risks linked to aspartame include visual impairment, seizures, headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, Fibromyalgia-like muscle pain, depression, speech impairment, tinnitus and memory loss. European researchers demonstrated in 2000 that formaldehyde, one of the breakdown products of aspartame, accumulates in the brain and other organs of regular users leading to immune, nervous system and genetic damage. These may consequently result in misdiagnoses as lupus, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and may as well lead to birth defects in children of aspartame users. In 2002 the original safety studies revealed that diketopiperazine, another aspartame breakdown product and a known carcinogen, produced brain tumors in lab animals and was now showing up in brain tumor tissue removed from humans. Despite this preponderance of evidence of the damaging effects of aspartame it presently remains approved and on sale in Canada and the US. In fact, Health Canada recently declared aspartame 'safe' for use by pregnant women. In the US and Canada it is marketed as aspartame, Nutrasweet and Equal, and as Spoonfuls in the US. A combination of aspartame and acesulfame potassium has been available since 1995 under the name Twinsweet. Neotame. In 2002 neotame (the latest incarnation of aspartame) was released with full FDA approval.

Acesulfame potassium, also known as acesulfame-K, potassium acesulfame, ace-K and ACK, appeared on the North American scene in 1988 and has been sold under the names Sunett, Sweet One, Swiss Sweet and Sweet & Safe. It was discovered in 1967 by Karl Clauss, a chemist working for the Hoechst Group of Germany. Based upon safety studies by Hoechst (the inventor), the FDA approved limited use of acesulfame potassium in 1988 despite protest by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that it had not been properly tested for safety. Like its precursors, saccharin and cyclamate, it is promoted as a non-nutritive sweetener. Non-nutritive means that it is not metabolized by the body, therefore does not provide any caloric content, and is excreted in the urine 'harmlessly'. The Hoechst Group studies suggest that this additive might cause cancer in rats and CSPI has continued to protest the inadequate safety studies originally done. Other studies demonstrated that one of the breakdown products, acetoacetamide, affected the thyroid gland in rats, rabbits and dogs; that rats in particular developed fast-growing benign tumors when fed acetoacetamide daily. Although it is marketed as a sugar alternative, acesulfame potassium may have a similar effect to sugar in that it can stimulate insulin release and could be problematic for those with syndrome-x, hypoglycemia or diabetes. It is most commonly seen in Canada as acesulfame-K; in the US it's sold under the names Sunett or Sweet One.

Splenda. With the reputations of aspartame and acesulfame potassium somewhat tarnished, it was ripe for a new kid on the block: enter sucralose. It was discovered quite by accident by graduate student Shashikant Phadnis at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, while researching ways to use sucrose in chemical formations, in 1976. It was approved by Health Canada in 1991 and by the US FDA in 1999. British Sugar Company Tate & Lyle collaborated with Johnson & Johnson (J&J), in 1980, to create an artificial sweetener from chlorinated sucrose through the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Specialty Products. The FDA's own studies indicate that sucralose can cause lymphatic cell mutations in mice; nevertheless, the FDA gave full approval to Splenda in 1999. It is promoted by J&J 'as a calorie-free, carbohydrate-free sweetener that is save for diabetics, children and pregnant women' as it 'does not break down the body but, like others before it, passes harmlessly through the body. Both the FDA and independent Japanese research contradict that claim, however, and show that up to 40 percent of consumed sucralose is absorbed by the body and with an undetermined amount concentrating in the liver, kidneys and/or gastro-intestinal tract. Further independent research on rats, mice and rabbits demonstrates liver and kidney enlargement as well as structural irregularities of the colon. Other animal research reveals that sucralose can cause up to 40 percent shrinkage of the thymus gland, a decreased red blood cell count, reduced fetal weight and growth rate, genetic damage and birth defects. The FDA has stated that 'aside from any direct toxicity from sucralose itself, it may also contain trace amounts of heavy metals, arsenic, methanol and other chlorinated saccharides (sugars) but that these contaminants are considered acceptable within current manufacturing guidelines.' It is available in Canada and the USA under the names sucralose and Splenda.

Alternatives. As otherwise noted, unrefined cane sugar is available with a little bit of effort and is a healthy, viable option, although it is not low-calorie. Other wholesome alternatives are organic rapadura or sucanat sugar, unrefined sugar cane juices that retain their naturally occurring nutrients and full flavor. Another is organic and mineral rich molasses, which stimulates release of serotonin. Grade C organic maple syrup contains vitamins and minerals. Raw organic honey contains protein and B complex (raw honey should not be given to young children). Finally, organic grain syrups such as barley or rice retain up to half of the original whole grain nutrients.

The major problem with these wholesome, natural and very healthful alternatives is that they are naturally occurring and thus can never be patented. There thus is no incentive for drug and/or chemical companies to market these items; so the search for 'patents and profits from the unsuspecting public' goes on - .and on - ..and on. The worst part of this? We are now into our 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st generation of observing and documenting what is happening to human beings because of these 'harmless, non-nutrient, zero calorie' sugar substitutes. We have documented birth defects and DNA alterations. What does the future hold, 1-2-3 generations into our future, for the more distant results of obviously widespread, albeit minor, genetic alterations and birth defects? How healthy are your great grandchildren going to be? What are they going to look like with DNA alterations as well as birth defects? What are the long-term ramifications for the human race? Don't you believe its time to make a healthy decision for you and your children and grandchildren? As a closing thought, it is already proven that there are, at the very least, digestive problems with the genetically modified grains. Where will this all end?


Disclaimer: This article in no way should be taken as 'medical advice' on any product, condition or course of action, nor does it constitute in any way 'medical advice' endorsing any specific product, specific result, nor any possible cure for any condition or problem. This article is meant as a source of information upon which you may base your decision as to whether or not you should begin using any vitamin, mineral and/or herbal supplement for better health, or begin using a 'greens' product as a dietary supplement.

If in doubt, or if you have questions, you should consult your physician and, if possible, consult a second physician for a possible different opinion. The author does not bear any responsibility for your decisions nor for the outcome of your actions based upon those decisions.

This article may be freely copied and used on other web sites only if it is copied complete with all links and text, including the Authors Resource Box, intact and unchanged except for minor improvements such as misspellings and typos.

About the Author

This article is Copyright 2005 by and Loring Windblad. Loring Windblad has studied nutrition and exercise for more than 40 years, is a published author and freelance writer.


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