Artificial vs. Natural Sweeteners by Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, "The Natural Nurse"

     Almost any item that is touted as "sugar-free" is sweetened with artificial sweeteners. These include saccharin (Sweet'N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and a host of other potentially toxic chemicals. Madison Avenue advertisements entice people to use artificial sweeteners as a means to lose weight. However, this is not an effective approach. Studies show that using artificial sweeteners has several adverse consequences, including tricking the body into desiring more calories. In addition, a long list of negative side-effects have been linked to artificial sweeteners. Here are just a few:
Saccharin: possible link to cancer
Aspartame: headaches, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, memory loss and joint pain.
Sucralose: bloating, nausea, diarrhea, headache, anxiety and skin rash.
Tagalose (Naturlose): flatulence, bloating, nausea, diarrhea.
Acesulfame-K (Sweet One, Sunett): not adequately tested.
Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol): appear to have less negative effects although bloating, gas and diarrhea have been reported. Xylitol even seems to demonstrate some positive effects.

Sucralose, also known as SPLENDA(r), is a totally artificial substance manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and is made by adding three atoms of chlorine to a starting substance, which may be extracted from various compounds, including sucrose(sugar) or raffinose (a substance found in beans and onions). The manufacturing process involves the use of many chemicals, including trityl chloride, acetic anhydride, thionyl chloride in the presence of dimethylformamide, 4-methylmorpholine and methyl isobutyl ketone. The end product, sucralose, is a man-made chlorocarbon chemical that has a sweet taste. This is a far cry from the manufacturer's premise that sucralose is really a 'no-calorie sugar.'The fact is, the chemical composition of sucralose more closely resembles pesticides than natural sugar. Although the FDA claims that sucralose is safe at normally consumed dose levels, there are many concerns and unanswered questions about its safety, especially for long-term use. Very few human trials have been done to examine the effects of sucralose; the longest trial lasted only three months. In addition, most of the research was done by the manufacturer. Individuals have reported symptoms after ingesting sucralose that include skin rashes, shortness of breath, sneezing, swelling, headaches, bloating, nausea, joint pains, anxiety and depression. It is prudent to avoid using sucralose until studies are done on the potential for adverse effects after long term use.

     Better choices for calorie free sweeteners include stevia and xylitol. Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a plant native to Paraguay and Brazil, although it grows easily in many areas of the world. It has been used for its sweet taste for centuries and is a traditional medicinal herb for obesity and blood sugar disorders. Stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, does not effect blood glucose levels and is considered safe for diabetics. In Japan, stevia has been the sugar-free sweetener of choice, over saccharin, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, in soft drinks and foods since 1977. It has been enjoyed by millions of people worldwide with no reports of toxic effects in adults or children. Stevia has an interesting political history in the United States. In 1996, right around the same time that the artificial sweetener aspartame was proposed for FDA approval, the FDA indicated that stevia could not be used as a sweetener, calling it an "unsafe food additive." This was an unusual move by the FDA, because under FDA guidelines natural substances used before 1958 with no reports of adverse effects are considered to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). There were also dramatic reports of FDA personnel raiding warehouses containing stevia and confiscating it, and even threatening to burn books that were about how to use it as a sweetener! Shortly after stevia was banned as a sweetener, several FDA board members left for higher-paying positions with Monsanto, the company that promoted Nutrasweet (aspartame) as the sugar-free sweetener of choice in the U.S. market.

     Studies have uncovered additional attributes of stevia, beyond imparting a sweet flavor; stevia has ben shown to decrease blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes and improve insulin resistance, anti-inflammatory and immune supportive actions. Stevia is available as a dietary supplement but cannot be listed as a sweetener in the US. It is available in many forms, including the whole leaf (green), a liquid extract (brown), and a powder (white). The white powder is also sold in convenient little packets that make it very user-friendly, since it is used the same way as artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame. Be aware that the green and brown preparations use the whole leaf, while the white powder may contain isolated compounds such as stevioside. Caution: There are some reports that the isolated component, stevioside, can adversely affect fertility in rats.

     Xylitol occurs naturally in some vegetables, fruits, mushrooms and cereal grains and in corncobs. For commercial purposes, it's usually extracted from birch tree wood chips or corn. Although xylitol has a very sweet taste, it does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels. Research has shown that xylitol also has antimicrobial actions that decrease bacteria associated with tooth decay and ear infections. Cautions: Although xylitol is recognized by the FDA as a safe food additive, ingesting large amounts (over 30 grams per day) can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

     Ellen Kamhi Ph.D. RN, The Natural Nurse(r), can be heard on radio daily. She is the author of several books, including "Weight Loss, the Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide." Dr. Kamhi has been involved in natural health care for over 4 decades. She answers consumer questions at www.naturesanswer.com , and has a private practice on Long Island. For more info, visit www.naturalnurse.com or call 800-829-0918.