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Healthy Sweeteners - Part One

The Not So Sweet Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

    People in America consume over fifty percent of artificial sweeteners produced in the world while attempting to avoid sugar, cut back on calories and lose weight. Studies have shown, however, that individuals who use these products more often than not gain weight while using them. When rats were given drinks with artificial sweeteners it impaired their ability afterwards to regulate caloric intake causing them to consume three times more calories than rats who had real sugar drinks containing no artificial sweeteners.

    Artificial sweetener use, compared to real sugar use, has been found to actually stimulate the appetite as well as increase fat storage and weight gain, at a more advanced rate than real sugar use. These chemical substances also become toxins in the body because they cannot be broken down and digested as food—anything the body ingests that it cannot break down becomes a toxin In addition, ingesting artificial sweeteners sends signals to the brain to prepare cell receptors for an insulin surge. When that energy boost doesn't come, the resulting letdown produces greater carbohydrate cravings. The overeating that results to satisfy these intensified carbohydrate cravings may lead to obesity.

     Artificial sweeteners may avoid calories, but they do nothing to break sugar addiction. The body’s thermostat remains set at a point where only increasing amounts of sugar will satisfy it. In addition, another harmful effect of artificial sweeteners is the impairment of cell communication. The brain’s perception of calories is thrown off by the imbalances produced in the body by these substances, whereas natural sweeteners from whole foods nourish the body and keep cell membranes free from toxic conditions that impair cell communication. 

     As much as we would all love to believe we can “have our cake and eat it too,” the reality is that “sugar-free” products containing artificial sweeteners can indeed adversely affect health in the long run. It is important to be an educated consumer with proper awareness and understanding to make wise choices to protect your health and the health of your family.


      Splenda® is the most recent and widely used artificial sweeteners to hit the market. It contains sucralose, which is approximately 600 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), twice as sweet as saccharin and 3.3 times as sweet as aspartame. This product has soared in popularity since getting approved by the FDA in 1998, even though no long-term independent tests were conducted beforehand. Though the FDA claimed it reviewed more than 110 animal and human safety studies, only two were human studies and the longest one conducted was just four days in length with only 36 human subjects.

    The marketers of Splenda® claim in their advertisements that it is more “healthful” because it is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar.”  The truth is that it is produced by changing the structure of the sucrose molecule into a chlorocarbon known as sucralose by adding three chlorine molecules. The problem with this altered sugar molecule, which does not occur in nature, is that the body does not possess the ability to properly metabolize it. 

     The manufacturer’s claim that it has “zero calories” is misleading. The reality is that sucralose is largely unrecognized by the body as a food and is consequently unlikely to be digested and utilized as energy for cells. As stated earlier, anything the body ingests that it cannot break down becomes a toxin. Manufacturers actually do admit, based on their limited animal data, that the body may possibly absorb an estimated 15 percent of it although how much is then excreted or how much may be stored is an unknown. In one human study, one of the eight participants did not excrete any sucralose even after three days, which meant the chemical was being absorbed in the body. Recent Japanese studies have discovered that up to 27 percent of sucralose can be broken down, releasing chorine in the body. Chlorine is a known carcinogen, (cancer-causing agent).

       Independent researchers also know that sucralose is a chlorocarbon with a chemical structure very similar to that of pesticides such as DDT and that these chlorocarbons have been known to cause damage to organs, genes and reproductive health. In tests using rodents with smaller amounts of sucralose than “safe” levels approved by the FDA, results revealed 40 percent shrinkage of the thymus gland (a gland foundational to the immune system), along with enlarged livers and kidneys.  
     In September of 2008, disturbing conclusions regarding the use of Splenda® from a Duke University study were published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. The study found that Splenda® reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent and increased pH acidity in the intestines (the intestines must maintain a very high acidic environment in order to properly function).  And significantly increased a glycoprotein in the body (a marker of long-term blood glucose levels used to access glycemic control in diabetic patients), which interferes with the bioavailability (absorption of the good qualities) of drugs and nutrients. In this same study, it was verified that sucralose is absorbed by fat in the body, contrary to previous claims, which increases fat storage cells and obesity. 

     The bottom line is that long-term effects on the human body with Splenda® have yet to be determined and the degree to which a person may experience these side effects is dependent on their individual biochemistry. Unfortunately, by the time a person realizes they are one of the individuals who absorb more of it with negative repercussions, the damage is already well underway.  Here are just some of the types of side effects that have already been reported by those who have used Splenda®.

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Migraines
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Allergic reactions
  • Blood sugar increases
  • Asthma
  • Sinus problems
  • Bladder and Kidney conditions
  • Weight gain

     Lastly, there are numerous other chemicals besides chorine used in the complex five-step process of synthesizing sucralose, according to Dr. Janet Starr Hull’s recent book “Splenda®:  Is It Safe?”  

  1. Sucrose is tritylated with trityl chloride in the presence of dimethylformamide and 4-methylmorpholine and the tritylated sucrose is then acetylated with acetic anhydride,
  2. The resulting TRISPA (6,1',6'-tri-O-trityl-penta-O-acetylsucrose) is chlorinated with hydrogen chloride in the presence of toluene,
  3. The resulting 4-PAS (sucrose 2,3,4,3',4'-pentaacetate) is heated in the presence of methyl isobutyl ketone and acetic acid,
  4. The resulting 6-PAS (sucrose 2,3,6,3',4'-pentaacetate) is chlorinated with thionyl chloride in the presence of toluene and benzyltriethylammonium chloride, and
  5. The resulting TOSPA (sucralose pentaacetate) is treated with methanol (wood alcohol, a poison) in the presence of sodium methoxide to produce sucralose.

     In the absence of long-term human studies on the safety of Splenda in the body, is it worth being a guinea pig in an experiment in which you might end up a negative statistic?


     Aspartame is the chemical name for artificial sweeteners that go by the brand names of NutraSweet®, Equal®, Spoonful®, and Equal-Measure®.  It first came on the market in 1981 and has since become the most commonly used artificial sweetener in the United States with approximately two-thirds of adults consuming aspartame products. Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose. The United States consumes over 80 percent of the world’s supply of aspartame and it is used in more than 6,000 different foods in our markets. 

   Three basic compounds comprise aspartame, the first of which is phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that converts in the body to tyrosine, a precursor to the manufacturing of brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine that regulate food intake and influence mood. Though normally found in the brain, it can become a dangerous excitotoxin (known to cause damage to the brain)  when concentrated at high levels without the balancing effect of other amino acids. Excess amounts of phenylalanine have been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer and other problems indicating brain biochemistry impairment have been reported. Aspartame is comprised of 50 percent Phenylalanine.

      Aspartic acid, which comprises 40 percent of aspartame, is a crystalline amino acid found in proteins and occurring naturally in sugar beets and sugar cane. In concentrated amounts, it acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, meaning that it excessively stimulates neural cells resulting in over production of free radicals. Too much of it in the brain will actually kill brain neurons and cause brain damage.

     Approximately 10 percent of aspartame is comprised of methanol, a wood alcohol that is a major component of antifreeze and is used in various other solvents as well. It is a precursor in the body to formaldehyde, which has been classified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency on Research for Cancer. It is believed to accumulate within the cells, and react with cellular proteins such as enzymes and DNA. Low doses of formaldehyde are known to change the brain structure, producing malformations similar to what has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, a nationally recognized neurosurgeon and lecturer who has authored three books on nutrition and wellness, formaldehyde accumulates near DNA and causes serious damage. "Drinking even one diet cola a day can cause formaldehyde buildup in cells, so that the amount of the toxin increases daily," he writes in his book, “Health and Nutrition Secrets.”

      The FDA approved the use of aspartame in spite of various studies that demonstrated the development of brain tumors in laboratory rats that were given NutraSweet® and the absence of tumors in the control group who received none. It was also approved in spite of various other detrimental effects associated with its use such as dizziness, seizures, headaches, rashes, nausea, intestinal discomfort, skin rash, nervousness, memory loss and other brain impairment. The FDA continues to vouch for its safety saying it is "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved."  Much acrid debate  has been exchanged between those who support its approval and those who believe that clear evidence of the dangers of aspartame use were ignored while credence was given to possible fraudulent studies conducted by research scientists who were funded by those with ties to the company.

     Controversy and scandal aside, it is undisputable that a host of documented problems exist with aspartame use, as many leading physicians and scientists have appeared before the U.S. Congress to present grave concerns over a number of serious health conditions associated with its long-term use. Since its introduction as a food additive in 1981, aspartame has accounted for more than 75 percent of all complaints reported to the FDA's Adverse Reaction Monitoring.

     According to research by Dr. Janet Starr Hull, there is at least 92 different health side affects associated with the consumption of aspartame. Dr. Hull, author of the book “Sweet Poison – How the World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener is Killing Us,” has dedicated the past ten years to sharing with others her life-threatening experience and natural recovery from aspartame poisoning.  She holds a Doctorate in Nutrition and a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and is the creator of the Aspartame Detox Program. To find out more about these documented side effects as well as other information and research on aspartame, go to this web link:  http://www.sweetpoison.com/aspartame-side-effects.html

     Obviously, not everyone who consumes aspartame will experience these symptoms nor will its effects be immediate even if they do. The probability of toxic effects is greater in those with chronic illnesses, particularly of the digestive and immune systems. The health of a person’s liver also plays a part in how well these toxic substances may be eliminated from the body. Anyone who suspects aspartame or any other artificial sweetener could be causing health concerns should stop using it for at least 60 days to give it time to get out of the system and then evaluate whether there is any improvement of the symptoms.


      Saccharin, generally known by its trademark name Sweet’N Low®, is actually a natural plant derivative accidentally discovered in 1879 by a student researcher working on plant studies at a John Hopkins University lab. Though it is no longer sourced to its origin and now contains anti-caking agents and emulsifiers, it is still safer and has fewer side effects than more modern artificial sweeteners. Certainly no other chemical additive has been tested in as many laboratories and with as many species of animals for as many generations as saccharin and still be deemed safe for human consumption.

     The FDA lifted the warning in 2001 that had been on Saccharin’s label since 1960, which stated it caused cancer in laboratory animals and could be hazardous to health.  These findings were apparently based on experiments conducted in which rats were given the equivalent of hundreds of sodas a day for a lifetime. Subsequent studies failed to yield any real evidence that the use of saccharin is connected to cancer in human beings. Extensive new evidence in studies over the past 20 years, coupled with relatively safe use for over a century, have led major health organizations to support its safety.

     The history behind how cancer warnings came to be printed on saccharin packets only to be removed years later is an interesting one, fraught with political maneuvers.  Without elaborating on the details, it seems that saccharin was sacrificed to make room in the market for the newer, more profitable sweetener, NutraSweet®. The saccharin/cancer scare came around the time the original NutraSweet® manufacturer was first applying for its patent in 1969. When he received that approval eight years later, he purchased his only competition - the chemical company that originally manufactured saccharin. The cancer warnings were printed on saccharin packets the very year NutraSweet® came onto the market and were removed the year after the owner sold the company.

     There is some possibility of allergic reactions with saccharin due to it belonging to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides. These compounds can cause allergic reactions in individuals who cannot tolerate sulfa drugs. Reactions can include headaches, breathing difficulties, skin eruptions, and diarrhea.


     Even though saccharin may be less harmful than aspartame, no artificial sweetener is a good choice to make for the health of your body. They not only have no nutritional value, but they are generally toxic to the body in some way. Although the same thing could be said concerning white refined sugar, if there had to be a choice between the two, it would be better to choose refined sugar. Fortunately, healthier options are available which will be covered next month in part two of this article.

Copyright © 2008-2015 Lucinda Bedogne, CNHP, CNC

Reader Comments...
2009-08-19 12:12:37
"Hello Tamara,

     Thank you for your question and interest in natural health.

     I would probably choose stevia as the most natural sweetener since it is an herb. It also does not elevate blood glucose levels and it is one of the few sweeteners that does not promote acidity in the body. You will find it listed on the "alkaline" side, rather than "acidic" side of a pH chart.

     I use liquid stevia to sweeten beverages (you can make fresh lemonade or limeade by using 4-8 drops of liquid stevia with the juice of a lemon or lime) and a few drops will sweeten a bowl or oatmeal or something like that as well. However, it does not always lend itself to use in baking as well as some of the other natural sweeteners. Xyitol would be a close second to what I would consider a healthier choice of sweetener. It can be used in the same amounts as sugar in a recipe. My favorite liquid sweetener is Agave nectar.

Thanks again for your question. May God bless you. "
        - Lucinda

2009-08-01 23:38:07
"What do you recommend as a sweetener?"
        - Tamara

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