Thursday, Dec 17th, 2009
Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have revealed results from a study outlining some of the effects of artificial sweeteners on the body. Conducted on a group of 3,000 women, the results indicated that those who drank two or more artificially-sweetened beverages a day doubled their risk of more-rapid-than-normal kidney function decline.
The study accounted for various other risk factors including the woman’s age, her blood pressure, if she smoked, and if she had any other pre-existing conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. The 11-year study evaluated the effects of all sweetened drinks on progressive kidney decline and discovered that two or more diet drinks leads to a two-fold increase in rapid kidney decline incidences.
Though study results did not show any correlation between sugar- or corn syrup-sweetened drinks and the onset of rapid kidney decline, these ingredients are implicated in causing diabetes and obesity and should not be perceived as safe merely because they did not have a direct correlation in this particular study topic.
High sodium intake was also implicated in the study as promoting progressive kidney decline. Since diet soda contains excessive amounts of sodium, higher than sugar soda, it is no surprise that diet sodas were the primary offenders in the study. However it is unclear from this particular study which ingredient plays the larger role in progressive kidney decline, the artificial sweeteners or the sodium content.
Studies on aspartame
When aspartame was first approved in the 1970s under the name “NutraSweet”, studies were submitted as supposed proof that the artificial chemical was safe. The FDA initially approved the chemical in 1974 for use in a limited number of foods based upon the studies submitted by G.D. Searle Co., the company that invented aspartame.
Following a discovery made shortly thereafter by a research psychiatrist who found that aspartic acid, a primary ingredient in aspartame, caused holes to form in the brains of mice, the FDA decided to form its own internal task force to investigate the initial claims made by the Searle Co.
What the agency discovered was a series of falsified claims, compromised study results, and missing information. The claims made in favor of aspartame were so dubious and the evidence so faulty that the FDA decreed that a grand jury should investigate Searle Co.’s claims. Unfortunately, the case failed to move forward when U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Conlon failed to initiate any legal action. Conlon was later hired by the law firm that represented Searle Co.
Investigation revealed that aspartame had caused tumors, seizures, brain holes, and death in many of the studies. All negative findings had been altered or scrubbed from the final reports delivered to the FDA when aspartame was first reviewed.
Time and time again the question over whether aspartame is safe has led to investigations that never go anywhere. Studies are continually released in support of the chemical’s safety even though they fail to address the results of other studies that show it to be harmful.
Other artificial sweeteners
A study published in the January, 2008 issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health revealed that the newer artificial sweetener, sucralose, alters gut microflora and inhibits the assimilation of dietary nutrients.
Commonly marketed as being “made from sugar”, sucralose had undergone no long-term human studies to verify its safety in humans. Like aspartame, initial studies revealed negative reactions by lab animals on whom it was tested, indicating that there could be the same potential problems in humans.
The EU Food Commission, Canadian health officials, and the U.S. FDA all rejected the initial studies submitted by McNeil Nutritionals, the marketers of sucralose, because of the negative results. However they encouraged the company to continue researching until they “got it right”. McNeil simply lowered the levels of sucralose used in their studies until an acceptable limit was found. After several tries, sucralose was finally approved.
Stevia, a safe alternative
A great many varieties of artificial sweeteners have been approved, many scandalously, despite the fact that safe, natural alternatives exist. Stevia, for instance, is a sweet herb from South America that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Claiming inadequate safety research, the FDA has long refused the herb from being included on the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list.
Up until last year, all forms of stevia could only be sold as dietary supplements. The extract could not be labeled as a “sweetener” and it could not be included in any food items.
Once the parent companies of both Pepsi and Coca-Cola discovered how to manipulate and patent a segment of stevia, however, it suddenly became safe to use as a sweetener and is now sold on grocery store shelves in packets similar to the artificial sweeteners. The FDA reluctantly added the natural stevia extract to the GRAS list as well.
Stick with natural and unprocessed
When it comes to health, a person’s best bet is to avoid artificial sweeteners altogether. There are plenty of preferable, safe alternatives such as stevia which will allow for a little extra sweetness without all the harmful side effects.