The Dangers of Artificial Sweetners

“Many people are not aware of the profound effect artificial sweeteners like aspartame can have on their nervous system.”

A colleague and good friend, Dr. Paul Varnas, told me a story I will never forget. One of his patients had just spent thousands of dollars on an elaborate biochemical workup to find the cause of her chronic headaches and chronic fatigue. After following a complicated in-depth supplement program for several months she was still experiencing daily headaches and fatigue. In utter frustration she told him “I’ve changed everything about my life … and I’m still sick. I only have one pleasure left. I drink one diet coke every day.Wellness_Minute_Sweeteners

Dr. Varnas in his wisdom replied…”not any more… I want you off all diet products for 30 days.” Three weeks later the headache pain was totally gone and her energy started coming back. I share this story because many people are not aware of the profound effect artificial sweeteners like aspartame can have on their nervous system.

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a noted neurosurgeon and author of the book Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, calls them neurotoxins. Over 90 different documented reactions have been reported to the FDA regarding our “friend” NutraSweet. Symptoms like: dizziness, headaches, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.

Artificial sweeteners seem so harmless; and let’s face it, if you can cut some calories, why not? But the truth is they are NOT harmless.

Names and brands can be confusing so let’s go over a few basics. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. The synthetic ones are referred to as artificial sweeteners. In the United States, five artificial sugar substitutes have been approved for use. They are saccharin, aspartame (or NutraSweet®), sucralose, neotame and acesulfame potassium.

Here are a couple of points. First, even though there are only five approved synthetic sweeteners many more are added that have not been tested or approved. Over 3,900 products containing artificial sweeteners were launched in the US between 2000 – 2005. In 2004 alone 1,649 new artificially-sweetened products were launched.

Artificial sweeteners cost the food industry only a fraction of the cost of natural sweeteners which means extremely high profit margins for manufacturers. It is not surprising that the food industry is heavily promoting its “diet” or “light” products. Let’s not forget that these artificial sweeteners won’t go bad or when added, won’t cause products to go rancid. How can they? There is nothing “alive” in them.

What are the effects of these cumulative neurotoxins when they are consumed in far greater amounts and concentrations than anyone ever thought possible? Nobody knows what happens when they are heated in storage or in cooking. And we don’t have a clue what will happen long term when used in combination with other additives.

Here’s another interesting point. A 2005 study by the University of Texas Health Science Center indicated that “rather than promoting weight loss, the use of diet drinks was a marker for increasing weight gain and obesity.”In the study, those that consume diet soda were more likely to gain weight than those that consumed naturally-sweetened soda.

Wellness_Minute_Sweeteners2A sweet taste induces an insulin response, which causes blood sugar to be stored in tissues, but because blood sugar does not increase with artificial sugars, there is a hypoglycemic like response and a craving for food. But Dr. Godo… are there any sugar substitutes I CAN use safely? You may have heard of stevia. Even though it has been widely used by the Japanese government since the 1970’s and has been used in Paraguay for centuries without side effects, stevia is UN-approved in the U.S.

It comes from plants and is subject to growing conditions so ALL stevia is not alike. Some forms have a slight mineral taste depending upon the brand and whether it is a liquid or powder. Also if you use too much it may seem bitter. I suggest you experiment with different brands and textures. Use the one that suits your taste. One caveat with stevia, “if you have insulin issues, you should AVOID sweeteners altogether, including stevia, as they can decrease your sensitivity to insulin.”

If you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you may have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners. Remember, insulin is a fat storage hormone. Don’t be fooled. Educate yourself about the dangers of artificial sweeteners. Get the information, ask questions, check labels, and make new choices.

Dr. Jason Godo, DC