Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Health Care and Artificial Sweeteners

More than ever, people are consuming large amounts of sugar as part of their daily diet according to the Mayo Clinic. But in excess, sugar can take its toll. Eating large amounts of sugar adds extra calories, which can cause weight gain. So many people opt for artificial sweeteners — also referred to as sugar substitutes or low-calorie sweeteners — as a way to enjoy their favorite foods without as many calories.

According to eDocAmerica, Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low) was the first, and is perhaps the most controversial of the artificial sweeteners. In 1977, the FDA actually proposed banning saccharin because of studies indicating that it caused cancer in animals. The case for continuing its use was successfully argued in Congress and it was allowed to be used as long as products containing saccharin had a warning label. Saccharin then underwent additional study, and while a link with cancer in rodents was still evident, this link was felt to be related to a mechanism that wasn't relevant to humans. In May 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services removed saccharin from its list of cancer-causing chemicals. Currently, the warning label on saccharin-containing products is not required. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, considers it "highly imprudent" to remove saccharin from the list of potential carcinogens. In their opinion, additional study is necessary to confirm the safety of a product potentially affecting "tens of millions" human beings.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) is another artificial sweetener according to eDocAmerica. Like several other artificial sweeteners, aspartame has been suspected of having links to cancer. In the mid-1990's a concern was expressed that aspartame may be responsible for a rise in the incidence of brain cancer in the United States. The National Toxicological Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted animal studies to investigate this concern and found no link between aspartame and cancer. Later, in 2005, a European group reported that aspartame was responsible for causing leukemia and lymphoma in laboratory rats. Following a re-evaluation of the data, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) refuted this conclusion. In a 2006 study, U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers studied a large number of adults 50 to 69 years of age over a five-year period and found no evidence that aspartame posed any risk. At this time, the Food and Drug Administration considers aspartame to be safe. The watch dog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, isn't so convinced. They have recommended additional study to evaluate its safety.

According to eDocAmerica, Acesulfame-K (Sweet One, Sunette, and Sweet 'n Safe) Although ascesulfame-K is approved by the FDA, the jury seems to be out in regard to the safety of this sweetener. Most of the studies evaluating its potential for causing cancer have been criticized because of methodological flaws. Two studies involving laboratory rats, however, did suggest that the additive could cause cancer. This compelled the Center for Science in the Public to urge the FDA to require better testing before permitting the use of acesulfame-K. Its manufacturer, Hoechst, a German chemical company, points out that almost 100 studies have been conducted on acesulfame-K and that it has consistently been shown to be safe for human consumption. It is currently being used in more than 5,000 food, beverage and pharmaceutical products in over 100 countries around the world. Neotame, the sweetest of all the artificial sweeteners, is used much less than the others. It was approved by the U.S. FDA in 2002. Neotame is produced by the same manufacturer of aspartame (NutraSweet Co.) and is chemically similar. One important difference between the two is that since it is not metabolized into phenylalanine, it is considered to be safe for those with pheylketonuria (PKU). While the Center for Science in the Public Interest gave its cousin, aspartame an "avoid" rating, perhaps because only tiny amounts of neotame are needed to sweeten foods, it has received a "safe" rating.

Sucralose (Splenda), according to eDocAmerica, is another artificial sweetener. At one time, its manufacturer (McNeil Nutritionals) used the slogan "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar" to market sucralose. In its production, the sugar used is so chemically altered, however, that the US Sugar Association was able to require them to stop using this slogan. While artificial, and in spite of concerns posted on the internet, the Center for Science in the Public Interest considers it to be safe. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of sucralose is that it contains chlorine, a known carcinogen. Despite this, no studies to date have demonstrated a link between sucralose and cancer. The FDA reviewed studies related to sucralose and determined that it does not pose carcinogenic, reproductive, or neurological risk to human beings. A number of symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, nausea, hives, wheezing, cough and depression have been attributed to sucralose ingestion, but again, none of these have been confirmed in scientific studies. Its safety may, to some degree, be due to the fact that less than a quarter of the sucralose consumed is actually absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. From available data, sucralose appears to be the safest of the available artificial sweeteners.

According to the Mayo Clinic, artificial sweeteners are chemicals or natural compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without as many calories. Because the substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, it takes a much smaller quantity to create the same sweetness. Products made with artificial sweeteners have a much lower calorie count than do those made with sugar. Artificial sweeteners are often used as part of a weight-loss plan or as a means to control weight gain.
People with diabetes may use artificial sweeteners because they make food taste sweet without raising blood sugar levels. But keep in mind that if you do have diabetes, some foods containing artificial sweeteners, such as sugar-free yogurt, can still affect your blood sugar level due to other carbohydrates or proteins in the food. Some foods labeled "sugar-free" — such as sugar-free cookies and chocolates — may contain sweeteners, such as sorbitol or mannitol, which contain calories and can affect your blood sugar level. Some sugar-free products may also contain flour, which will raise blood sugar levels. Also, remember that foods containing sugar substitutes may also contain calories that may undermine your ability to lose weight and control blood sugar.

Artificial sweeteners, according to the Mayo Clinic, are often the subject of stories, presented in the popular press and on the Internet, claiming that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, however, there's no scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer. And numerous studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are safe for the general population. Aspartame does carry a cautionary note, however. It isn't safe for people who have the rare hereditary disease phenylketonuria (PKU). Products that contain aspartame must carry a PKU warning on the label.

Our innate desire for sweetness may be interfering with our ability to judge right from wrong according to MedicineNet. There is nothing in our diet that we can consume without a cost. The cost can be excess calories, fat, protein, or carbohydrates. It's even possible to consume excess water. We see calorie- and sugar-free sweeteners and believe that there isn't a cost, but maybe there is. Unfortunately, the research that has been done is failing us. With two sides battling over the safety of these sweeteners, it's imperative that we get the answers from the "gold standard" of research studies: independent, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies. It's our responsibility to be aware of what we are consuming and to protect our safety. Acceptable Daily Intakes have been set for each nonnutritive sweetener for a reason; we can't ingest unlimited quantities of these additives. If you believe that you are experiencing any of the symptoms from the consumption of a nutritive or nonnutritive sweetener, then eliminating them from your diet is the best way to determine if it's so. Sweeteners are not essential nutrients in our diet, so they exist to nurture our sweet tooth, not our bodies.

Artificial sweeteners, when used in moderation, are an acceptable substitute for sugar or other types of natural sweeteners. However, like anything else, when abused they can cause symptoms that are detrimental to a healthy lifestyle. Be sensitive to your body's needs when you are ingesting foods or beverages that use artificial sweeteners. Learn to use these food additives in moderation. Be careful with the types and amounts of artificial sweeteners you use in cooking and consumption of foods and drinks.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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