10 Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

2
225
types of artificial sweeteners

Food Hacks

There are several types of artificial sweeteners that can be found in all sorts of beverages and food, from sodas through to pastries to toothpaste. The food industry loves them as it allows them to market their products as “light”, “diet”, “sugar-free”, and the likes. For consumers, providing the same sweet taste as ordinary sugar removes the guilt of extra calories, allowing people to feel that they choosing the healthy option. However, as more research is conducted, it appears that the health benefits of artificial sweeteners may be inflated and whats more, the dangers of artificial sweeteners are very real and growing more apparent as time goes by. If you are looking for a sugar replacement, we strongly recommend natural sweeteners of which there are many. For those interested in the dangers of artificial sweeteners, read on!

10 dangers of artificial sweeteners

Types of Artificial sweetener

Non-nutritive sweetener / high-intensity sweetener or more commonly known as artificial sweetener is an additive to food, more specifically “a sugar substitute”. There are many types of artificial sweeteners that are used to sweeten as well as enhance food flavor. Since artificial sweeteners are way sweeter compared to sucrose or common sugar, only small amounts are needed to attain the same sweetness level of sugar. Moreover, artificial sweeteners contain little to no calories at all, making it a favorable sugar substitute for those who do not want to increase the sugar levels in their blood.[1]

There are several regulatory agency-approved artificial sweeteners, which include Aspartame, Cyclamate, Saccharin, and Stevia among others.

  • Aspartame

Aspartame is a sugar substitute discovered by James M. Schlatter in 1965. It is odorless and looks like white powder. Aspartame is measured to be 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. It is often used as a sweetener in beverages, frozen desserts, gum, and gelatins. It is not a good baking sweetener though since it breaks down the amino acid in it when kept in high temperatures or when cooked. When consumed, aspartame gives a different aftertaste than sugar – it is slightly bitter, much like saccharin.

Since it is intensely sweet, only small amounts of aspartame are needed to enhance the sweetness of food and beverages. This makes aspartame useful in reducing a food’s caloric quantity.

Over the years, aspartame’s safety has been questioned as well as studied lengthily. There were claims that it is may have caused cancer, psychiatric issues, and neurological side effects.[2]

  • Cyclamate

Another artificial sweetener is Cyclamate. Cyclamate is measured to be around 30 to 50 times sweeter than common sugar. This made it the least effective among the list of artificial sweeteners. If used, it is often mixed with saccharin, another kind of artificial sweetener. Cyclamate is being used in more than 130 countries today However, Cyclamate is still currently banned in the United States. [3]

  • Saccharin

Saccharin is among the first artificial sweeteners synthesized by Fahlberg and Remsen in 1879. It is measured to be 300 to 500 times sweeter than common sugar. It is usually utilized to enhance the tastes and flavors of toothpaste, dietary beverages, dietary foods, cookies, candies, as well as medicines. It also has a metallic or bitter aftertaste like aspartame, but this is minimized by mixing it with other artificial sweeteners.

There were issues about it in the early years of its discovery since it was suspected to cause a bladder cancer (tested in rats). However, this was repealed in a few years since it was the bladder cancer claim was deemed unfounded in primate experiments.[4] Saccharin has been approved safe for use in many countries but the level of usage is restricted.

  • Stevia

Stevia is a broadly consumed kind of natural sweetener, especially in South America. It has been so for centuries now while Japan has been using Stevia since the 1970s. Stevia has been commonly used because of its zero calories and zero glycemic index characteristics. These characteristics were found unique to Stevia.[5] It is found to be 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Its legal status as a supplement and a food additive differs from one country to another. For instance, in the US, Stevia was banned in 1991 but then approved in 2008 due to several studies showing its safety.On the other hand, Stevia found its way to European countries when the European Union permitted it as an additive in late 2011.

Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

  1. Food regulatory agencies are not in agreement on safety

Regulatory agencies worldwide have not given their thumbs up to all of the artificial sweeteners around. Some are still banned, while only a handful is approved. Unfortunately, some unapproved artificial sweeteners are being sold to the public. Usage of these may either be dangerous or still need studies as harmful side effects of artificial sweeteners may be experienced.

The fact that some artificial sweeteners are approved in some countries but not others indicate that there is disagreement on the research and the dangers of artificial sweeteners.

For instance, Acesulfame potassium is being widely used as an artificial sweetener in over 4,000 products in the US alone. It is approved for usage in the US, but not in other countries as they have deemed it still needs more scrutiny and studies for the possible carcinogenic[6] side effects that it may bring. Some studies also suggest possible negative effect in prenatal development[7] and tumor growth[8].

2. Diseases linked to Artificial sweeteners

Being “artificial” has many drawbacks especially used incorrectly or excessively. In the case of artificial sweeteners, studies upon studies confirm the dangers of artificial sweeteners and show strong links to various diseases such as chronic kidney disease[9], Type 2 Diabetes[10], metabolic disorders[11], and neurologic effects[12].

3. Chemical ingestion

Artificial sweeteners are named such since they are artificially developed to mimic the sweetness that naturally made sugar can produce. Unlike their natural counterparts, artificial sweeteners are not packed with the calories that contribute to weight gain, obesity, and the likes. However, this is all too good to be true as artificial sweeteners also come with their own issues such as chemical ingestion. Since they are “artificial” in nature, it is not a surprise that they are developed using synthetic or man-made substances. This is potentially harmful as the body is not designed to deal with such substances.

However, this is all too good to be true as artificial sweeteners also come with their own issues such as chemical ingestion. Since they are “artificial” in nature, it is not a surprise that they are developed using synthetic or man-made substances. This is potentially harmful as the body is not designed to deal with such substances. [13]

4. Increased sugar cravings

While artificial sweeteners are popular for giving a sweet taste without consuming actual sugar, the likelihood of increasing sugar cravings is still unavoidable. One study from the University of California concluded that artificial sweeteners might not completely satisfy the brain’s desire for “natural caloric sweet ingestion”.[14] Artificial sweeteners, since they have little or no calories in them, may not be that effective in managing cravings for sweetness.

5. Risks for Pregnant Women

Pregnancy is a very delicate time when everything consumed by the mother should be scrutinized well. One research study [15] has shown that artificial sweeteners exposure when pregnant could possibly affect the fetal development and increase cancer risks. Another study, the Danish National Birth Cohort[16], has found out that regular daily intake of soft drinks sweetened artificially may expose pregnant women to preterm delivery.

6. Risks for Children

There are a number of studies showing the negative effects and consequences of high sugar diet in children and the potential relationship with ADHD.   Many parents will opt for foods and/or beverages that are artificially sweetened to allow children to still consume the sweet food and/or beverages that they like. However, it is unfortunate that there are little to no studies that reveal the effect of artificial sweeteners or their probable long-term effects in children’s health.

It is highly suggested that children and pregnant women avoid consuming artificial sweeteners. If unavoidable, moderation is recommended as research and studies are still minimal regarding its health effects on children and pregnant women.

7. Weight Gain

To think that weight gain can be attributed to artificial sweeteners, at first seems absurd and paradoxical. Afterall,  artificial sweeteners do not have any calories at all. Many people reach for zero sugar soft drinks specifically to lose weight.

However, there is an increasing body of evidence linking changes in our gut bacteria to weight gain. Several diseases have been linked to unhealthy gut bacteria and obesity is now thought to be caused not just by bad diet and lifestyle, but also by the composition of our gut flora.

Artificial sweeteners directly effect the composition of our gut bacteria. Research conducted on mice showed that sweeteners significantly altered the bacteria composition leading to the mice becoming glucose intolerant. (17) It is also thought that these changes in bacteria composition and an associated increase in bad bacteria are why weight gain was observed in mice.

While a direct link between weight gain and sweeteners in humans has yet to be established, the damage they cause your gut bacteria is proven, and as such, they should be avoided.

8. Metabolism Disruption

A study by Purdue University showed that frequent artificial sweetener consumption, especially in beverages, might lead to overeating and metabolism disruption[18]. It is thought that food and beverages, which are artificially sweetened, impede with the learned responses of the body that control glucose homeostasis and energy which will eventually lead to the disruption of the body’s normal metabolism.

9. Memory Loss

Another possible side effect of artificial sweeteners is memory loss. Some studies[19] have shown that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners in beverages could damage the brain’s cerebellum thereby leading to memory loss. Artificial sweeteners are apparently “neurotoxic” since it attacks the neurons in the brain.

10. Hormone Issues

From the same scientific literature review by Purdue university, it was shown that consuming artificial sweeteners regularly has a spill-over effect on the insulin hormone. When your tongue tastes a sweet flavor, with or without calories, the body will release insulin similar to when you actually eat sugar. Insulin release would trigger blood sugar spikes that will cause increased cravings. Artificial sweeteners inhibit the body from creating GLP-1. GLP-1 is a hormone that regulates the levels of blood sugar in the body as well as manages satiety. These two hormones combined could easily cause you to feel pangs of hunger that will lead to overeating.

Conclusion

When researching this article, we really couldn’t not find any significant positive benefits of artificial sweeteners that would even get close to counterbalancing the negatives. Sure, they are better for your teeth. That is certain. Diabetics can certainly use them to manage sugar intake, which given the dangers of sugar to diabetics is certainly a positive. But as a means to reduce your calorie intake as part of a weightloss program, they are probably counterproductive. When you consider all the potential dangers, we see no reason why they should be consumed at all. This is especially the case as there are alternatives. If you want to avoid sugar, but still crave sweetness, then we recommend natural sweeteners of which there are many. Just avoid artificial sweeteners period.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact. The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion – they are safe for consumption.

    Regarding aspartame specifically, scientists and regulatory agencies around the globe have repeatedly reaffirmed this ingredient’s safety. In fact, the EFSA recently conducted an in-depth risk assessment on aspartame, and deemed it safe for general consumption and pregnant women, as well as ruled out alleged neurological effects. In sum, low-calorie sweeteners and beverages containing these ingredients are safe and can be enjoyed with confidence.

    • Ameribev,

      Many thanks for your thoughtful and genuine response. I cannot claim to know whether sweeteners are or are not dangerous. My website tries to aggregate research and then make a judgment call as to the balance of probabilities. We are not always right.

      However, I would question your line of argument.

      Your first assertion (apologies, I paraphrase) is that government agencies have said sweeteners are safe and therefore that is the best advice, so ignore the negative scientific research. I would always challenge this assertion irrespective of the argument.

      Government agencies are political institutions to their core and come with political agendas. This always corrupts science. You only have to look at the scandal currently unfolding in Europe around the promotion of diesel cars over petrol/gasoline. This is a perfect example of politics corrupting science within government agencies. This is not to say government agencies are always wrong, but just that their de-facto status as the only authority on matters of science is just plain wrong. Government agencies are always reactive, towing the consensus line until the point where that the ‘consensus’ view is no longer, and they change their view to the new consensus.

      In regards to aspartame, there is plenty of research indicating its potential dangers. Just google. I am not scientifically capable of discerning which research is of questionable value of not. I suspect neither are you. However, I am capable of a simple cost-benefit analysis exercise.

      The only people who will receive a significant benefit from controlling sugar levels are diabetics. For everyone else, if you think that artificially sweetening your coffee of drinking a diet free soda constitutes a weight-loss program, then think again. At best sweeteners are a very marginal health benefit. However, if the negative research is right, then they represent a serious medical risk not just because the recent research links sweeteners to all sorts of ailments, but because the link is so subtle ( and why the research is so conflicting).

      When you summarize it in a cost benefit analysis way you get this statement:

      Artificial sweeteners are probably ok, they will sweeten your coffee, they won’t help you lose weight in any meaningful way, and BTW, there is a small chance they may kill you.

      I simply cannot see a decent argument why you should even bother with sweeteners.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here