Monday, April 8, 2013

Sweating The Sweeteners

One problem that Americans face is the amount of sweets they consume.  Nearly everything sold at the grocery store, restaurants, and convenience stores are sweetened somehow and with something.  Moreover, sweeteners come in all sorts of chemical combinations and have a plethora of hype surrounding their safety and desirable efficacy.  This creates confusion among the general population and allows for misleading information to persuade the consumer to choose certain brands over others.  So what is the truth and what should we avoid?
 A general guideline with any food is if it looks fake and tastes fake, it probably is fake. Fake food, as you probably may know, can cause health complications over time.  Aspertame, for instance, was a combination chemical created in the 1960's as a sugar substitute, which the FDA and SCF both found it to be safe for human consumption.  However, Aspertame is a neurotoxin and a possible carcinogen.  Overuse of Aspertame can lead to serious symptoms, such as migraines, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, insomnia, heart palpitations, and memory loss, just to name a few.  Many people go with actual symptomatic withdrawals when reducing or eliminating it from their diet; thus it may be difficult to stop using it completely.  Aspertame has also been shown to increase weight gain because of its effect on biochemical responses to nutritional sustenance.  In the worst case scenarios, Aspertame can be linked to tumor growth, although substantial research has not proven such a fact.
Besides Aspertame, Acesulflame is another artificial sweetener with a controversial background.  Discovered in the late 1980's, Acesulflame potassium is used in many processed foods, especially low-calorie and special diet foods.  Although it is safer than Aspertame, it does pose some health risks.  Diacetic acid, an organic compound used to make Acesulflame, can create ketoacidosis when consumed in large doses.  Ketoacidosis occurs when the accumulation of keto acids form in the blood and reduce the pH level of the body.  Ketoacidosis can cause halitosis, kidney and/or liver damage, blood disorders, and even death.  Because the body's pH is decreased, other health problems could emerge, including migraines, neurological disorders, central nervous system damage, and tumor growth.  Acesulflame potassium can also increase the risk for potassium poisoning, especially in children.
Saccharin, or benzoic sulfinide, is the oldest sweetener used in America.  Its chemical origins are petroleum based and are not biodegradable.  Saccharin was found to cause significant health problems in laboratory animals, including cell mutation, chromosomal denigration, and various types of cancer in the 1980's through the 1990's.  Large doses over a long extent of time proved to be fatal in rats as well.  However, the FDA still approves Saccharin as a safe artificial sweetener.
Another sweetener is Neotame, although research remains sparse on its biotoxicity.  In a few recent animal studies, body weight was reduced when amounts of Neotame were increased due to decreased food consumption.  Long-term human studies have yet to take place, but enough in vivo and in vitro studies have provided the FDA with enough evidence to approve Neotame for human consumption.  However, it is important to note that its proprietor, Monsanto, funded and executed all of the studies on their sweetener.  Some skeptics believe that Neotame is as toxic as Aspertame.  Neotame, or 3-Dimethylbutyl acetate, is a flammable chemical used in rubber manufacturing, is not biodegradable and has shown up in toxic degraded concentration (chemical breakdown) in aquatic ecosystems.  Neotame in concentrated form is hazardous to human health and poses a risk to the environment as well.  Neotame's Assessment Report indicates that it can cause hypoactivity, lethargy, hypothermia, intestinal lesions, diarrhea, excessive urination, liver degeneration, chromosomal damage, blood disorders, and reduced food consumption in laboratory animals.  No studies have indicated it causes cancer.
Stevia is probably one of the most popular of sweeteners listed as natural.  Originating from the South American plant Stevia rebaudiana, was used as medicine by the indigenous people of South America until its discovery as a no-calorie sweetener alternative and dietary supplement as early as the 1980's.  Since then, the market for Stevia exploded; various companies around the world started manufacturing Stevia extract and like substances for commercial gains.  S. rebaudiana biodegrades and does not bioaccumalate or pose biotoxicity risks to the environment.  Stevia plants can be grown in personal gardens and some specialty stores can carry flavored tinctures or liquid extract.  Studies have shown contradiction between toxicity and non-toxicity results in vivo and in vitro.  Stevia extract was banned in the United States in the 1990's as a food additive, however, the FDA labeled Stevia-like products made by large corporations Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS).  Stevia-like products can contain other ingredients such as dextrose and other flavorings besides Stevia extract.  No long-term studies have been done on Stevia-like products.                  Sucralose has received a lot of controversy over the last forty years.  It is a stable, biodegradable, non-bioaccumalative chemical derived from chlorinated sugar, which has been extensively tested for safety.  It has been deemed safe by many organizations and agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization and the FDA.  Moreover, Sucralose poses no threat to the environment or aquatic systems, is not carcinogenic, and does not degrade the liver or the kidneys.  However, some studies have indicated that high amounts of Sucralose does reduce intestinal flora, increase pH levels, and damage DNA in vivo.  No health concerns attributed to Sucralos consumption have been found in humans thus far.    
Artificial sweeteners are hard to avoid, but knowing which ones to avoid will help the American consumer choose their food wisely.  Being able to choose a responsible manufacturer allows for consumers to take control of the products on the market; manufacturers want brand loyalty and will do whatever it takes to achieve it.  It is up to people like us to educate others and stick up for the public's welfare and environmental safety.