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General Health Articles

The Dangers of Artificial and Natural Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are chemical creations that simulate the effect of sweetness. Although some are derived from natural products, none are natural. The chemicals that they are made up of and the chemicals that result when your body breaks them down can cause serious damage to your health.

These sweeteners are found in many foods, especially diet soft drinks/sodas. They are also present in other prepared foods like yogurt, icing on cake, frozen dinners, chewing gum and candy, gelatin desserts, multivitamins, wine coolers, and even as an additive in some fruit juices. When trying to avoid them make sure to look very carefully at the contents on the label. Sometimes aspartame is not listed; be especially careful when a food product claims to be sugar-free because most will have some form of artificial sweetener added.

Conclusive evidence from the most recent studies shows that artificial sweeteners actually make you gain weight by stimulating the appetite causing overeating, and, by lowering the body's temperature, making metabolism slower and less efficient. Naturally-derived alternatives like stevia (see below) unfortunately have the same effect.

Aspartame

This sweetener is sold as Equal, Nutra-Sweet, Spoonful, and other names. Numerous studies since its introduction have found problems with human consumption of this product. When the body breaks it down it produces aspartate and glutamate, called excitotoxins, which are toxic in large amounts to nerve cells. They destroy neurons, which transfer information through electrochemical signals in the nervous system. Excitotoxin damage plays a key role in the case against aspartame. 

There is a huge amount of controversy over the safety of aspartame, with many studies and experiments showing damaging and toxic results when consumed. Many researchers still maintain that it is a dangerous substance that acts as a powerful neurotoxin, while the manufacturers maintain that the chemical components and byproducts are safe in small doses. There have also been many accusations of falsified test results from several independent researchers, and questions about the precise nature of the FDA's acceptance of aspartame for general consumption.

Although sometimes claimed to be useful for dieting, aspartame can make you crave carbohydrates, and so you end up gaining weight instead of losing it. The chemicals it is made up of and the byproducts they create in your body are powerful enough to change your body's chemistry. Besides being dangerous for anyone already suffering from a neurological disease like Parkinson's, it can cause immediate effects like seizures. Other symptoms of aspartame poisoning are listed under the chemicals that produce them below.

Aspartame is composed of:

Aspartic acid, an amino acid, which is essential in small amounts. Too much throws the balance off and ends up breaking down the neuron transmission which is the basic part of brain function.

Phenylalanine, another amino acid, is also part of brain function. When ingested, phenylalanine builds up in the brain and inhibits the production of serotonin, which is essential in controlling your body's natural clock. This can lead to sleep problems, mood disorders, and depression. Some people are not able to break down phenylalanine because of a genetic disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU). This can be deadly if excessive amounts of phenylalanine build up in the brains of these people.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is the most dangerous ingredient in aspartame. Methanol breaks down under heat into formic acid and formaldehyde, a highly toxic substance.

Once formaldehyde is ingested it takes a long time for the body to remove it. This means that it can reach dangerous levels. Methanol occurs naturally in certain fruit juices, but in very small amounts and with ethanol, which breaks it down.

Formaldehyde causes many serious problems: it is known to cause cancer, it interferes with DNA replication, it can cause damage to the retina, including blindness, and causes birth defects.

Tests on animals in laboratories are not accurate. Because humans lack certain enzymes that help with the breakdown of methanol in animals, we are much more susceptible to its toxic effects.

Symptoms of Aspartame Poisoning

(There are at least 92 reported side effects associated with aspartame comsumption).

• Headaches

• Brain tumors

• Tinnitus

• Gastrointestinal problems

• Vision problems

• Trouble sleeping

• Numbness

• Chills

• Weakness

• Pains in hands and feet

• Abdominal pain

• Vertigo

• Epileptic seizures

• Neuritis

• Asthma-like symptoms

• Lapses in memory and memory loss

• Anxiety attacks

• Dizziness

• Depression

• Violent rages or outbursts

• Mood swings

• Emotional disorders…and more

Effects and Possible Effects on Associated Diseases

Because the damage they cause is complex, artificial sweeteners like aspartame can both imitate the symptoms of diseases and actually help to trigger them in people with a propensity for them, as well as making them substantially worse when already present.

Cancer, especially brain cancer, usually in the form of tumors. The incidence of brain tumors has increased tremendously in the last 25 years of the 20th century

• Studies have also shown that the increase in glutamate caused by excitotoxins allows cancer cells to become more mobile, causing cancer to metastasize more quickly

• Another study, tracking animals put on a life-time diet of aspartame, found that almost all had developed leukemia and lymphomas, especially of the brain. This same result was found by the originator of aspartame, G D Searle Company, when they developed it, but it was never published. The newer study also found the same diseases in animals exposed to formaldehyde, one of the break-down products of aspartame

• Many organs in the body operate with glutamate receptors which are flooded by glutamate caused by the excitotoxins. This causes imbalances in these organs as well and can lead to problems with the bowels and stomach, especially diarrhea and reflux, which can be made worse. Magnesium is essential in this process because without it the glutamate receptors become hyper-sensitive.

• Sudden increases in glutamate, again from excitotoxins, can cause strain to the heart which also uses the same receptors in its electrical system, including in the heart muscle itself, to function

• Birth defects

• Diabetes, because aspartame intensifies hypoglycemia, and also causes symptoms confused with diabetes like impaired vision and neuropathy

• Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

• Epilepsy

• Alzheimer's

• Parkinson's disease, which appears to be closely related to excitotoxin damage

• Neuroendocrine (hormone-producing cells) disorders

• Hypoglycemia

Sucralose

Sucralose is manufactured from actual sugar but is a completely man-made product. The process essentially chlorinates sugar, making, in the case of sucralose, a chlorocarbon. When the body metabolizes this it sends chlorine, a powerfully toxic element, directly into cells. Other chlorocarbons include carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene, and methyl chloride. All are highly toxic poisons.

Chlorocarbon Damage and Potential damage

• Causes general damage to cells in the body

• Damages the liver itself, which is responsible for cleaning toxins out of the body

• Interferes with the immune system

• Because of damage to the nervous system, they can also trigger birth defects and cancer

• Induces hypersensitivity reactions and diseases by throwing off the body's natural balance of nutrients, and by weakening or destroying the immune system that would normally protect it

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

This common sweetener is found in a huge number of prepared foods and sodas. It is commonly used in place of regular (refined) sugar.

High fructose corn syrup is created by modifying the sugar in glucose into fructose, another type of sugar.  The glucose is broken down in three steps by the use of added enzymes, two of which are genetically modified. This means those who want to avoid genetically modified food should avoid HFCS.

• Fructose does not stimulate the production of insulin as natural sugar does. Insulin controls the hormone leptin, which signals the brain to stop feeling hungry. If this message doesn't get through, the result is continued eating and weight gain

• HFCS interferes with the body's metabolism of copper, which is essential in small amounts (like so many other elements) in the formation of collagen and elastin: literally what holds the body together

• HFCS must be metabolized in the liver, where it is more quickly converted to fat than glucose, which can be metabolized by every cell in the body

• Fructose and HFCS are metabolized differently than other carbohydrates and carry a compound (acetyl Coenzyme A) that is the basis for fatty acid synthesis. This is another source of weight gain

• Studies by the American Heart Association say that diets high in sugar significantly increase the risk of hypertension, something made worse by HFCS

• Studies done at the University of California - Davis now link consumption of foods with HFCS to higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as increased abdominal fat

• According to the FDA, products with HFCS cannot be described as 'natural' because both the cornstarch base that is chemically changed and the fixing agent used in its production are artificially manufactured

• The cheap price of HFCS means that it is now used in record numbers of food types, and the consumption per capita in the USA of sweeteners is up 40% over the last forty years. Over 80% of the sweeteners is HFCS

• The epidemic of obesity is partly due to the increase in calorie intake which includes a large number of foods now made with sweeteners like HFCS

• A new study done at Princeton University shows a direct link between long term use of HFCS and obesity, especially with increased weight gain around the abdomen, as well as a rise in triglycerides

• A 2010 study done at the University of Bristol (UK) indicated that when fructose is present as children’s fat cells mature, those cells become fatter in belly fat and that these cells become less sensitive to insulin. The correlation between abdominal fat and higher risks of developing heart disease and diabetes is well established. So HFCS is certainly one of the leading causes of the rapid rise in both obesity and diabetes.

• The process of creating HFCS also creates reactive carbonyls, which are associated with free or 'unbound' molecules of fructose and glucose which are free radicals that cause cell and tissue damage that is linked to diabetes. Studies have also found that adding tea and compounds derived from tea can actually reduce the reactive carbonyls by as much as half.

• Some people think that refined sugar tastes better than HFCS, and there is a new trend to make carbonated drinks without it

• Carbonated soft drinks that are kosher do not have HFCS in them; also those made and sold in Canada and Mexico do not contain HFCS

Saccharin

A by-product of the coal-tar industry, saccharin is basically made up of benzoic sulfamide (sulfobenzoic acid) and has no food value. It passes through the body without being digested. Research is still being done on the effects of saccharin. There are many side effects and much is still not known about saccharin's full effect. The FDA now accepts it as safe, but from 1977 to 2000 products with saccharin were required to carry health warning labels.

• The body's reaction to the taste often triggers the release of insulin

• Studies in animals have shown that saccharin is carcinogenic

• Studies on humans suggest saccharin is carcinogenic, especially causing cancer in the bladder, but there is no final word

• Saccharin should not be given to infants (in baby formula and foods) because it has been associated with muscle dysfunction

• Because it contains sulfa compounds it can cause allergic reactions: diarrhea, trouble breathing, skin rashes, and headaches

• To make it water soluble it must be in the form of a sodium salt, which adds to the body's overall sodium intake

 

Natural Alternatives

Honey

Honey is the oldest sweetener used by man, long before sugar was refined from beets and later sugar cane. It is still one of the most widely used of all sweeteners. Honey has many other properties besides sweetness. It is a powerful antibacterial agent (see the Honey section).

• The honey used by humans is from the Honey Bee (Genus Apis); other bees produce honey with different tastes and consistencies, not all palatable

• Honey is composed of fructose and glucose, water and yeast

• As with all food processed for consumption, certified organic honey will be free of chemicals and residues used in extraction, purification, and cleaning. Contamination of non-organic honey can come from sulfa compounds and antibiotics used to kill bee diseases, pesticides used on pollen-producing crops, carbolic acid used to remove honey from the comb, and even chemicals used to kill the bees before taking their honey (though most systems of honey extraction encourage the bees to produce more than they need)

• Raw honey is taken directly from the hive with minimal processing, neither strained (to remove wax, yeast cells, and other large impurities) nor filtered (to remove pollen). Because it has pollen still in it, it is thought to lessen to the body's reaction to hay fever and other allergies. One of the remedies for hay fever and other forms of allergies is to start eating local raw honey a few months before the allergy season. This will help acclimate the body to the allergens and either lessen or eliminate the allergic reaction.

• Although it depends on the pollen from which it is produced, honey can contain minute amounts of vitamins and minerals, including ones that function as antioxidants

• Honey can also be processed by ultrasonication, which removes most of the yeast, preventing it from fermenting. This is essential in preserving honey and does not involve heat which would destroy beneficial enzymes

Stevia

Stevia, a plant related to the sunflower, is used more and more as a sugar substitute. The name covers a species with over 400 plants, all native to South and Central America. However not all produce sweetness, which is derived from the leaves. Stevia is now grown around the world, with China being the largest processor. Other names include sugar leaf, sweetleaf, sweet honey leaf, and sweet herb of Paraguay.

• As recently as December 2008 the FDA gave stevia GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, ending a previous ruling that it was an unsafe food additive (1991), which is thought to have been done under pressure from artificial sweetener producers

• In South and Central America stevia has been used to control type II diabetes, and with no known side-effects

• Stevia has been used for centuries by the people in its native regions to cure indigestion

• Stevia has little or no effect on blood glucose

• Only the leaf of the plant is sweet, and can be eaten directly or used in foods

• Japan was the first to develop stevia extracts extensively, in the 1970s. It now accounts for approximately 40% of the artificial sweeteners used in that country

• There are claims that stevia added to chicken feed has made eggshells stronger, which could be applied to treatments for osteoporosis, but studies are inconclusive and still going on

• Studies in humans are inconclusive about stevia's effect on hypertension, with some claiming a beneficial result and others disputing this

• Studies in animals indicate that stevia improves the body's use of insulin

• However recent studies show that stevia acts in the same way as artificial sweeteners by over-stimulating the appetite and slowing the metabolism - both of which make you gain weight instead of losing it

Agave Nectar

This is a questionable and controversial sugar substitute. Also called agave syrup, it is derived from the agave plant and mostly produced in Mexico. The sap of the plant is heated to produce a form of fructose and a much smaller amount of glucose.

• Often highly refined, it has a higher glycemic index than HFCS and is not recommended for diabetics

• Almost all of the natural minerals have been stripped out during processing, making it questionable as a 'natural' alternative

• The high level of fructose can cause problems with decreased fructose absorption, high levels of triglycerides, excessive levels of insulin in the blood, as well as insulin resistance, and uric acid formation

Molasses

Although a by-product of sugar cane and sugar beet production, it contains large amounts of the vitamins and minerals normally stripped from refined sugar. These allow your body to better process the sugars without having to take the vitamins and minerals from other tissue.

• Blackstrap molasses (from cane) contains magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium

• Sugar beet molasses is used chiefly as an additive for animal feed, and contains different minerals as well as some chemicals left over from processing.

Palm Sugar

Palm sugar is made from the sap of the palmyra palm (often called Javanese sugar) or date palm, and also now from coconut and sago palms. It tends to have large uneven crystals.

• Because its manufacture is mainly a cottage industry, its color and consistency can vary greatly depending on where it is made

• Various kinds have been used throughout south and south-east Asia for centuries

• One Indian variety is used to clear the lungs of phlegm and, when mixed with milk, to cure a sore throat

Date Sugar

Not really a sugar, this is made by grinding up dried dates, which are loaded with sugar. The benefit is that trace minerals and vitamins are present from the fruit that are essential to your body's processing of the sucrose that results, as well as some fiber. This slows down the metabolism of the sugar which is essential for maintaining even levels of blood sugar.

• It can be used in equal measure for baking

• It cannot be used in coffee or tea because it contains insoluble bits of the ground fruit it is made from

Luo Han Guo

Derived from the fruit of an herbaceous perennial vine in the gourd family, Siraitia Grosvenori, this is also called Lo Han, Lo Han Kuo, and other names. It is mainly cultivated with difficulty in certain parts of southern China, where it is usually encountered in fried form in specialist herbal stores. Because its production was always local and in small quantities, it didn't become part of the traditional group of Chinese medicinal herbs.

• In the local traditional medicine of the area of production this herb has been used to treat sore throats and coughs, usually in herbal teas and soups

• It was also used to treat fever and heat sickness

• The factors causing sweetness in Luo Han were only first studied in detail in 1975, and further studies in the 1980s led to more attention being paid to it

• The sweetness comes from glycosides in both the fresh and dried fruit of the plant, which is made into a powder

• The final product is about 250 times sweeter than sugar by weight; rarer, more pure forms, can be as much as 400 times sweeter

• It has a low amount of calories (low food energy)

• The Chinese also associate Luo Han Guo with longevity, because of the large proportion of long-lived people in the area where it's grown


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