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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bonnie Verhunce

What the Average Consumer Needs to Know About Artificial Sweeteners

In light of the obesity epidemic of recent decades, it is clear our sugar intake has increased drastically, including our intake of artificial sweeteners. There are many who believe that artificial sweeteners are the solution to our obesity epidemic, but are they really a lesser evil?

Did you know that aspartame was initially developed as a medical treatment for stomach ulcers? [1] This means your tabletop sweetener or that can of diet coke you’ve just consumed was originally intended to be a prescription drug.

Aspartame and saccharine are the most common artificial sweeteners encountered on a daily

basis, and they can usually be found in your breakfast cereal, diet sodas, tabletop sweeteners and more. While they may well be low in calories, what is the price you pay for the alternative? Medical studies have indicated a possible connection between aspartame and migraines [2], and headaches [3]. Sucralose, an active compound in many commercial sweeteners on the market, has also recently been found to trigger migraines [4].

Depression can also manifest from the consumption of artificial sweeteners. Regular dosages of aspartame have been found to decrease serotonin levels, which is the main cause of depression in the brains of mice [5]. Individuals suffering from mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, are advised against the regular consumption of artificial sweeteners, since they are more sensitive to the adverse effects of aspartame [6].

There have been numerous studies and discussions about the carcinogenic properties of artificial sweeteners. Whether aspartame or saccharine causes cancer is the subject of much debate, with numerous studies yielding inconclusive results. One Argentinean study [7] cites aspartame usage as the main cause of urinary tract tumors. Others suggest the FDA re-evaluate their position on the safety of aspartame in light of recent studies on animals, linking cancer risks to artificial sweetener consumption [8].

Additional health risks may be caused by the consumption of artificial sweeteners. One possibility is that the long-term intake of aspartame may impair the liver’s antioxidant status and could lead to liver injury [9]. Those suffering from fibromyalgia should also be cautious with their aspartame intake, since it may induce a curable but chronic pain [10].

Many switch over to artificial sweeteners for weight loss purposes. However it may be the sweeteners themselves that contribute to obesity. With the rise of the obesity epidemic correlating with the use of artificial sweeteners, studies have been conducted to ascertain whether there is a link. Some theories postulate that sweeteners such as aspartame induce hunger cravings, causing us eat more and therefore gain weight, but results thus far have been contradictory and inconclusive [11]. References [1] R.G. Bianchi, E.T. Muir, D.L. Cook, E.F. Nutting, J Environ Pathol Toxicol. 1980 Jun-Jul;3(5-6):355-62. [2] R.B. Lipton, L.C. Newman, J.S. Cohen & S. Solomon, Headache. 1989 [3] S.K. Van den Eeden et al, Neurology. 1994 Oct;44(10):1787-93. [4] M.E. Bigal & A.V. Krymchantowski, Headache. 2006 Mar;46(3):515-7. [5] R.P. Sharma & R.A. Coulombe Jr., Food Chem Toxicol. 1987 Aug;25(8):565-8. [6] R.G. Walton, R. Hudak & R.J. Green-Waite, Biol Psychiatry. 1993 Jul 1-15;34(1-2):13-7. [7] M.M. Andreatta, S.E. Muñoz, M.J. Lantieri, A.R. Eynard, A. Navarro, Prev Med. 2008 Jul;47(1):136-9. Epub 2008 Apr 8 [8] J. Huff & J. LaDou, Int J Occup Environ Health. 2007 Oct-Dec;13(4):446-8. [9] M. Abhilash, M.V. Paul, M.V. Varghese, R.H. Nair, Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6 Suppl 63):S131-3. Epub 2010 Dec 22. [10] R. Ciappuccini et al., Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6 Suppl 63):S131-3. Epub 2010 Dec 22. [11] F. Bellisie & A. Drewnowski, Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;61(6):691-700. Epub 2007 Feb 7.

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