Sunday, April 17, 2011

Artificial : Can Artificial Sweeteners Like Sucralose Sour Your Health? by Jerry Brainum

“Better living through chemistry”—the official slogan of the DuPont company back in the 1950s and ’60s—implied that chemicals make life easier for all. Of course, that includes rich profits for chemical megaconglomerates such as DuPont. Few could reasonably argue that the advent of new chemicals has provided notable benefits for humankind. Drugs have eradicated fatal diseases. Still, the word chemical arouses suspicion—especially if a chemical substance is synthetic. Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of artificial sweeteners.

Numerous Internet sites warn of the dangers of artificial sweeteners, implying that you’d be better off sticking to natural sweeteners, such as sucrose (table sugar), honey, fructose and stevia. The idea is that, as natural sweeteners, they’re all safer than their artificial counterparts.

Critics suggest that the human body isn’t meant for artificial sweeteners and that using them constitutes a risk. Conveniently ignored in such pontifications are the established dangers of eating too much refined sugar. Most health authorities now say that today’s obesity epidemic results mainly from intake of two processed substances: high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats. Too many simple carbs, such as sucrose, increase blood triglyceride, or fat, levels and set the stage for such health problems as the metabolic syndrome, which affects about 25 million Americans.

By far the most vilified of artificial sweeteners is aspartame. Aspartame consists of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and small amounts of methanol, or wood alcohol, which is undeniably toxic—in large amounts. Anti-aspartame forces are fond of pointing that out, but according to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it takes 200 to 500 milligrams of methanol per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight to produce enough of its metabolite, formite, to convert into toxic formaldehyde in the body. You’d have to drink 600 to 1,700 cans of aspartame-sweetened diet soda to accumulate that level of formite. The body metabolizes formaldehyde into S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMI, which is a natural antidepressant and a precursor of creatine synthesis.

Rumors persistently link aspartame to numerous maladies—everything from headaches to brain tumors. When such claims are investigated, they never prove true. So the biggest mystery of artificial sweeteners is what motivates people to lie about them.

The biggest fears about them, however, relate to cancer promotion. Let’s take a closer look at the issue.

Artificial Sweeteners
and Cancer

Saccharin—the first artificial sweetener—was introduced in 1879. Although it was used without significant health problems for nearly 100 years, a series of studies involving rats indicted saccharin as a possible carcinogen.


A Health Danger?

The latest artificial sweetener to come under fire is sucralose. Discovered in 1976 by a British company investigating uses of sugar, sucralose was unlike previous artificial sweeteners because it was actually made from sugar, specifically sucrose. Sucralose contains three chlorine ions instead of the three hydroxyl (hydrogen and oxygen) groups sucrose has. That means the body can’t digest or assimilate sucralose. Even so, its sweetness is 600 times greater than that of sucrose; aspartame is 180 to 200 times sweeter.

The rats in those studies got diets averaging five percent saccharin—a dose far higher than any human being would ever take. That led one strain of rats to show higher rates of bladder cancer, but the rats used in the studies were frequently infected with a bladder parasite called Trichosomoides crassicauda, which made them more susceptible to bladder cancer.

The mechanism that causes bladder cancer in rats doesn’t apply to humans. Indeed, the rodents also developed bladder cancer when they got ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, in doses similar to those of saccharin. Why? Rats have more-concentrated urine than humans. Consequently, crystals form relatively easily and irritate the bladder tissue. That leads to tumor formation. Monkeys that were fed similar levels of saccharin developed no bladder cancer, and there’s no evidence that the sweetener causes human bladder cancer.

The forerunner of today’s artificial-sweetener scare occurred in 1970, when a sweetener called cyclamate was linked to cancer. Like saccharin, cyclamate caused bladder cancer in rats, and it was banned in the United States. It had been ubiquitous in everything from sodas to candy. Subsequent studies failed to find any evidence that cyclamate promoted bladder cancer in humans, but it’s still banned in the U.S.

Aspartame was introduced in 1981 after animal studies showed that it had no cancer-causing effects, even in high doses. Most cancers are related to damaged DNA, which leads to cell mutations. No evidence exists that sweeteners such as aspartame, cyclamate, saccharine, acesulfame-K and sucralose damage DNA.

In 1996, however, a physician theorized that the increasing rate of brain tumors since 1980 was related to aspartame use. The theory was based on an FDA study of 320 rats, 12 of which developed malignant brain tumors after two years on feed containing aspartame. Another theory was that aspartame became mutagenic when combined with nitrates, chemicals that form naturally in the body.

Critics of the aspartame-brain tumor link argued that the introduction of aspartame and the increased incidence of brain tumors was merely coincidental, an “ecological fallacy.” There was no proof that people with brain tumors had taken any more aspartame than anyone else. Even the rodent brain tumors couldn’t be confirmed in later studies. A study of children with brain tumors showed no relationship between the disease and aspartame, whether consumed by the children or their mothers.

Aspartame does have problems, but none are related to health. It’s unstable under high-temperature conditions and breaks down in acidic solutions, such as fruit juices. Because it has limited shelf life, it isn’t an ideal sweetener.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

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