October 1, 2013 by Dr. Sana Keller
In response to a recent, local newspaper article touting the benefits and safety artificial sweeteners, I felt it necessary to provide (as Paul Harvey would have said) ‘the rest of the story.’ I realize this post is a longer than my usual posts—my apologies for that! I hope it is helpful in clearing up misconceptions related to artificial sweeteners. Please share with those you love.
The article began with the comment, “There is a lot of information and misinformation about artificial sweeteners available and that can make it a challenge on what to take away as fact or fiction.” I completely agree.
Because of this abundance of information on artificial sweeteners, it is helpful to look for information and research based on scientific studies (studies that are NOT based on manipulated data from huge food and drug corporations with a vested interest in selling their product). This provides a much more sound foundation from which to make important decisions concerning our health, as in this case of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of artificial sweeteners.
Ralph G. Walton, MD (Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine) reports in his “Survey of Aspartame (NutraSweet®) Studies: Correlation of Outcome & Funding Sources” that “of the 166 peer reviewed medical literature studies surveyed for funding source and study outcome, 74 had NutraSweet® industry related funding (NutraSweet® Company, Ajinomoto, or the International Life Sciences Institute Nutrition Foundation) and 92 were independently funded. 100% of the industry funded research attested to aspartame’s safety, where as 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem. A bibliography supplied by the NutraSweet® Company included many studies of questionable validity and relevance, with multiple instances of the same study being cited up to 6 times. Questions are raised both about aspartame’s safety and the broader issue of the appropriateness of industry sponsorship of medical research.
Food for thought: Why did the parent company of aspartame, Ajinomoto, change the name of Aspartame to AminoSweet? If a product is safe without cause for concern, there would be little reason to do so.
A 1995 document from the Department of Health and Human Services lists Reported Symptoms attributed to Aspartame in complaints submitted to the FDA. Headache was listed in 21% of the 1847 complaints, with dizziness and change of mood at 11% and 10%.
The structure of aspartame is not as simple as being “made out of two amino acids” as the article states; rather two isolated amino acids in aspartame are fused together by its third component, methanol. In this structure, methanol bonds the two amino acids together, but when released at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the methanol (also known as wood alcohol) becomes a poisonous free radical. Methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde. Methanol is a neurotoxin and a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). It can also interfere with DNA replication and cause birth defects.
Andrew Weil, MD (Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine of the College of Medicine, University of Arizona where he is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health) recommends avoiding aspartame. Julian Whitaker, MD (Founder and Director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute) recommends the same.
As for the concept that artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) being good with weight management, a 1986 study of over 78,000 women ages 50-69 monitored artificial sweetener usage and relative weight gain. This study, published in the Preventive Medicine Journal, found that those using artificial sweeteners were significantly MORE LIKELY than those not using artificial sweeteners to gain weight over time, with the study conclusion showing that the data did NOT support the common assumption that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain. The San Antonio Heart Study followed 3,682 adults over a 7-8 year period in the 1980’s and found similar findings. A 1980’s study by the American Cancer Society found a significantly greater weight gain among artificial sweetener users when compared to non-users. A 2013 study out of Yale University found that eating artificially-sweetened products may sabotage efforts to reduce overall calorie intake by causing people to consume higher calorie options later on. These are just a few examples of such studies.
Studies of artificial sweetener use among diabetics have shown that aspartame RAISES insulin levels as much as sugar. A 2007 study published in the Diabetes Care Journal concluded that ‘considering the lack of evidence on the aspartame utilization in patients with type 2 diabetes, we consider that these clinical observations…raise important concerns regarding the safety of aspartame as suggested…” H.J. Roberts, MD, Diabetic Specialist, member of the American Diabetes Association, and world expert on aspartame poisoning has found poorer diabetic control in diabetics (both on insulin and oral drugs) as well as aggravation of diabetic complications such as retinopathy, cataracts, and neuropathy among his patients regularly consuming aspartame in foods and beverages.
We should not consider the above independent study findings (completed by entities without ties to the artificial sweetener industry) as “weird scares” or “unfounded” as referenced in the article. There is nothing weird or unfounded about them.
There are safer, healthier sweetener options are available, such as pure stevia extract, coconut palm sugar (lower glycemic index), small amounts of raw honey and pure maple syrup. I encourage important health-related decisions to be made from a position of evidence-based information instead of the typical industry-driven (and often self-serving) position. Here’s to your long, healthy life…
Sana Keller, MS, RN, CNC, MH, HHP
Photo credits: 123rf.com, healthnutrition.com, ahalffast.com, gatewaymedicalweightloss.com, blog.omega3innovations.com, modernhealthymom.com