Vu Ngo, D.C., MSACN, CCSP, CPT
Best to Avoid Artificial Sweeteners for Now
Nutrition as a field of scientific study is relatively new, and there are plenty of topics of concern that still need further research until we can accept them. With the lucrative potential for nutritional products on the market in a society that is increasing in weight and chronic disease, I think that we as consumers must be better informed about the dietary choices we make. I try to eat healthy and am very conscious of the information I come across, and the amount of information and misinformation available in this digital age is enormous. I see new sugar and sweetener substitutes on the shelves all the time when I go shopping, and honestly, it’s really hard to determine on the spot whether it is a marketing scheme or if it would be a healthy alternative. While I may have access to a large research database at my disposal to help scrutinize the sweeteners seen on the store shelves, that is not something readily available to the majority of consumers. Although, standing in front of the shelf and reading PubMed on the phone might not always be realistic. I will present here where current research stands on the use of artificial sweeteners, and the current evidence provides ample reason to avoid these artificial sweeteners.
Common FDA approved artificial sweeteners that a consumer can find easily in stores and in products include aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine (DeMare, 2018). Aspartame is formed from aspartic acid phenylalanine bound together by methanol (Hull, 2005). Each of these components in aspartame can produce serious health risks, with aspartic acid being a neuroexcitor and also being able to disrupt the endocrine system, phenylalanine can be cause mental retardation in babies with phenylketonuria, seizures, elevated blood plasma, and insomnia, and lastly methanol is not only a neurotoxic, carcinogen, and free radical, but it can be broken down into formic acid and formaldehyde which cause optic nerve damage, DNA replication disruption, and birth defects (Hull, 2005). Sucralose is a chlorine containing compound, called a chlorocarbon, and is reported to be chemically stable and does not break down within the body (Hull, 2005). Saccharine is benzoic sulfimide, and in laboratory testing using the FDA maximum daily intake, has demonstrated that mice develop glucose intolerance after a 12 week trial compared to those that were not fed saccharine, and has been identified as being due to the alteration of the normal gut microflora in the large intestine (Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 2015). The same study on volunteer human subjects, and more than half of that group developed the same symptoms as the mice (Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 2015).
With just these examples of the negative effects of artificial sweeteners, it is already clear that they should not be approved for human consumption. Many symptoms take time to develop, but once they are already in full bloom, the treatment may not be as straight forward as taking an antibiotic or probiotic. While the FDA has approved the use of these artificial sweeteners, they have also listed the numerous side effects in their use (Hull, 2005). We have all heard that the general public is always looking that quick fix, or the magic bullet, and these large corporations likely capitalize on that. There may be some truth to their claims, but the research clearly shows that artificial sweeteners can be harmful to human health. It is absolutely prudent and necessary to avoid these artificial sweeteners and see how ongoing research will answer the question of their safety and efficacy.
Better alternatives to sugar are available, such as erythritol and Stevia, and these will be discussed separately.
DeMare, S. R. (2018). Another Reason to Ditch Artificial Sweeteners (Premium). Latitudes Online, pp. 1-1.
Hull, J. S. (2005, Feb/Mar). The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners. Total Health, 27(1), pp. 30-32.
Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. (2015). More Scrutiny for Artificial Sweeteners. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, p. 32.