Sugar-Free Blues – Part 1

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Published in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2003,, (202) 333-H

When William Dufty published his classic book, Sugar Blues, he probably did not envisage the dilemma that so many people would face in later years with the profusion of sugar substitutes. It's a dilemma that many health-conscious people have witnessed, if not experienced themselves, and it frequently seems to "pop up" over pop (or soda, depending upon one's regional vernacular).

The dilemma goes something like this: "I would really like to cut out all the sugar and empty calories I get from soft drinks, but I've heard that the aspartame in the diet drinks is bad for me too. What should I do?" Certainly the best answer would be to give up soft drinks entirely in favor of a more health-promoting alternative, but this is much easier said than done for many long-time addicts of the sugar-water industry. Unfortunately, the dilemma doesn't end with our choice of beverages.

A cursory glance down the aisles of any grocery store these days will reveal a host of sugar-free, low-calorie products, all promising to be the dieter's best friend. Readers of Wise Traditions may already know that the words "sugar-free" on a product label frequently translate into "DO NOT TAKE INTERNALLY — CONTAINS ASPARTAME," but what about all of the other sugar substitutes out there?

The substances which will be discussed here are often referred to on product labels by many (seemingly) interchangeable terms: artificial/synthetic sweeteners, sugar alternatives, alternative sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, non-caloric/low-cal/low-carb sweeteners, diabetic-safe sweeteners, etc. Many of these terms seem to be used as synonyms.

For some clarity on the issue, we shall quote from the American Dietetic Association (ADA): "Although sweeteners can be grouped a number of different ways, the grouping "nutritive" and "non-nutritive" acknowledges a difference in the amount of energy provided by sweeteners. Nutritive sweeteners include sugar sweeteners (e.g., refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, glucose. . . concentrated fruit juice) and. . . sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates). Non-nutritive sweeteners (e.g., saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K. . . sucralose [and neotame]) offer no energy, and, as they sweeten with little volume, can also be referred to as high-intensity sweeteners. Both sugar alcohols and non-nutritive sweeteners can replace sugar sweeteners and are therefore termed macronutrient substitutes, sugar substitutes, sugar replacers, or alternative sweeteners.

"Some sweeteners are considered Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) ingredients and others are considered food additives. . . . The safety limit of food additives. . . (is) expressed as the acceptable daily intake (ADI), that is, the estimated amount per kilogram body weight that a person can safely consume every day over a lifetime without risk.. . . "1 While one might justifiably quibble with the ADA over its use of the term "nutritive" to describe many highly-refined sweeteners, that is how the Diet Dictocrats have structured the official terminology.

The FDA has approved 5 non-nutritive sweeteners: aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K, sucralose and neotame.2,3 The most widely used non-nutritive sweetener is aspartame, scientifically known as 1-aspartyl 1-phenylalanine methyl ester.4 It was discovered by accident in 1965 by Mr. James Schlatter, a scientist who was working on new drugs to treat ulcers, when he licked his fingers to pick up a piece of paper and accidentally tasted the intense sweetness of the compound he had created.

Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sucrose (common table sugar).6 According to the ADA: "Demand for aspartame in the United States rose from 8.4 million pounds in 1986 to 17.5 million pounds in 1992, a figure that represents more than 80 percent of the world demand." Although soft drinks account for more than 70 percent of aspartame consumption, this sweetener is added to more than 6,000 foods, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals.

Aspartame is approved for use in more than 100 nations.7 It has been sold around the world under various brand names including NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonfuls, Canderel, Bienvia, NatraSweet and Miwon. Its widespread usage has left an extensive trail of complaints and documentation of its negative side effects. Consequently, there is a great deal to be said on the subject of aspartame.

In 1974 the Food and Drug Administration gave its first halting approval to aspartame, then a product of pharmaceutical giant G.D. Searle & Company. Searle owned the original patent on aspartame and did the original laboratory studies on its safety. These studies turned out very badly and remain as some of the most damning evidence against aspartame's safety.8 Two of Searle's own scientists, concerned about the safety of the new product, filed a formal objection to try to keep aspartame from coming to the market.9 A team from the FDA conducted its own study of Searle's data and on the corpses of aspartame-poisoned mice, and issued a scathing document called the Bressler Report.10 This report, however, did not spell the end for aspartame.

Following the issuance of the Bressler Report came a period of thickening political intrigue and red tape, wherein two key figures at the FDA failed to press forward with further investigations, only to leave the FDA for jobs with Searle's law firm, Sidley & Austin. Higher authorities in the FDA quietly consigned the Bressler Report to the archives, and only made it public later, through a Freedom of Information Act Request.11 While the public remained ignorant, Searle & Co had maneuvered to bring in Donald Rumsfeld, previously the Chief of Staff in the Ford Administration and the then Secretary of Defense, as their new CEO. According to a former Searle employee, Rumsfeld told them that "no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved. . . "12

Searle re-applied for FDA approval of aspartame on the very same day that Ronald Reagan took office in 1980. There were plenty of favors to be called in from within the new Administration, and significant clout was also to be wielded by Robert Shapiro and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. Senator Hatch has been an outspoken advocate for the sweetener, possibly due to his holdings in Twin Lab, a health supplement company that has used aspartame in a number of their products.13

Between 1981 and 1985, Rumsfeld and Searle began seeing the payoff for their newly-formed subsidiary, the NutraSweet Company. Amidst ongoing controversy, aspartame was slowly but surely given full FDA approval. Dr. Michael Friedman, then the acting head of the FDA, later accepted a high-level position at Monsanto, the corporation which was to purchase the NutraSweet Company from Searle in 1985.14 Monsanto has also brought the world such atrocities as Agent Orange, PCBs, dioxins, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), Round-Up herbicide and a host of genetically modified foods.15

The company has made a fortune off aspartame, at the expense of those who purchase and consume it, and at the hazard of those who actually do the work of producing and handling it. The Material Safety Data Sheet on aspartame (CAS# 22839-47-0) says that to work with the sweetener, one should wear chemical goggles, protective gloves to prevent skin exposure, a chemical apron and a NIOS/MSHA approved air purifying dust or mist respirator.16 Whatever else one may say about refined white sugar, at least one doesn't have to wear chemical goggles to work with it!

Problems associated with aspartame consumption are neatly summarized in Nourishing Traditions. "Aspartame. . . is a neurotoxic substance that has been associated with numerous health problems including dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures and depression. It is suspected of causing birth defects and chemical disruptions in the brain."

Researchers at Utah State University found that even at low levels aspartame induces adverse changes in the pituitary glands of mice. The pituitary gland is the master gland upon which the proper function of all biochemical processes depend.

"When aspartame is digested it breaks down into the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, plus methanol. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a known poison. Methanol is also found in fruit juices, and our regulatory agencies have seized upon this fact to assure us that the methanol by-product of aspartame is not harmful. They fail to point out that the methanol content of a diet soft drink is 15 to 100 times higher than that of fruit juices."17

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines the "safe consumption level" of methanol at 7.8 milligrams per day. One liter of a beverage sweetened with aspartame may contain as much as 56 milligrams of methanol.18

Other sources also link aspartame consumption with Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and the Gulf War Syndrome experienced by U.S. soldiers after serving in Iraq during Operation: Desert Storm.19

According to Dr. Christine Lydon, an accomplished aspartame researcher: "Aspartame's breakdown products, or metabolites, are even scarier than its components. Phenylalanine decomposes into diketopiperazine (DKP) a known carcinogen, when exposed to warm temperatures or prolonged storage. Even if products are consistently kept at cooler temperatures we are not safe. At cold temperatures, methanol will spontaneously give rise to a colorless toxin known as formaldehyde. Independent studies have shown formaldehyde formation, resulting from aspartame ingestion, to be extremely common. It accumulates within the cells, and reacts with cellular proteins such as enzymes and DNA. This cumulative reaction could spell grave consequences for those who consume aspartame-laden diet drinks and foods on a daily basis.¡¨20

Supporters of aspartame claim that the levels of methanol are not high enough to be worrisome and that phenylalanine and aspartic acid are of only limited concern. But there is no argument about the fact that phenylalanine, the largest component of aspartame by weight, is a danger to people who have a hereditary condition called phenylketonuria (PKU). These people must monitor or eliminate their intake of phenylalanine, which also occurs naturally in certain foods. The FDA recommends that pregnant and lactating women, people with advanced liver disease and phenylketonurics avoid products containing aspartame due to concern over metabolizing phenylalanine. The FDA also admits that aspartic acid has the potential to cause brain damage at very high doses, but they assure us that "under normal intake levels, the brain's mechanism for controlling aspartic acid levels ensures no adverse effects."21

This dismissal of phenylalanine and aspartic acid as significant health hazards is a dangerous bit of sleight of hand. According to Dr. Lydon, "Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that are normally supplied by the foods we eat; however, they can only be considered natural and harmless when consumed in combination with other amino acids. On their own, they enter the central nervous system in abnormally high concentrations, causing aberrant neuronal firing and potential cell death. The neurotoxic effects of these amino acids, when consumed as isolates, can be linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and possibly seizures."22

While aspartame has been the subject of hundreds of FDA-approved studies, they clearly have not laid to rest the controversy surrounding its safety. Any adverse reaction to a food item that is regulated under the FDA's authority is supposed to be reported back to their Adverse Reaction Monitoring System (ARMS). As of 1995, over 75 percent of the adverse reactions reported to the ARMS were due to aspartame.23 A 1995 report from the US Department of Health and Human Services entitled "Symptoms Attributed to Aspartame in Complaints Submitted to the FDA" (which once again had to be forced into public light through the Freedom of Information Act) lists 92 separate categories of symptoms, including the frequency of each reported claim.24

Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener to be discovered, is chemically classified as an O-toluene sulfonamide derivative.25 It was originally synthesized from toluene, a colorless liquid hydrocarbon distilled from coal tar, which may account for saccharin's bitter, metallic aftertaste. Toluene is also used in the manufacture of certain dyes, pharmaceutical drugs and trinitrotoluene, the blasting agent more commonly known as TNT.26 Saccharin is currently manufactured by a more cost-effective method, beginning with synthetically produced methyl anthranilate, a compound that also occurs naturally in grape and other fruit juices. Saccharin may be found in ingredient lists under three slightly variant forms¡Xacid saccharin, sodium saccharin and calcium saccharin.27

Unlike aspartame, saccharin is not metabolized by the human body and is excreted rapidly through the urine.28 This is the holy grail of the artificial sweetener industry¡Xcompounds that taste sweet, are stable in prepackaged foods and beverages, and which are so foreign to the human diet that our digestive system cannot metabolize them to create any dietary calories. (Of course it is also helpful for the compounds to be dirt cheap to produce in bulk.)

Saccharin was discovered in 1879 by Constantine Fahlberg, a chemistry research assistant working in the laboratory of Professor Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University.29 According to Fahlberg's account, he accidentally spilled some laboratory material on his hand and noticed the sweet taste later in the evening when he was eating dinner. (Don't these scientists wash their hands after a hard day at the lab?) Fahlberg and Remsen published their findings jointly, naming the compound saccharin after the Latin saccharum, which means sugar.30 What poetic justice for the name of the first artificial sweetener. All one has to do is add an "e" to the end of the word to change it to "saccharine," an adjective which means "sickeningly sweet."

Despite the fact that it is 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar),31 saccharin was not initially used as a sweetener. From its discovery in 1879 until 1917, saccharin was primarily employed as an antiseptic agent and food preservative.32 Fahlberg, an experienced sugar chemist, did recognize the potential of the new compound for sweetening purposes, and he aggressively attempted to profit on these capabilities as early as 1885. He obtained a US patent on the new substance without crediting Professor Remsen's role in its discovery or even seeking Remsen's consent, and then proceeded to open a small plant in New York to manufacture saccharin in bulk. Fahlberg later applied for and received German patents on saccharin and moved his operation to Westerhusen, Germany. By 1902, his new product was causing nervousness in the German sugar industry. Largely at the insistence of these sugar producers, the German government enacted new laws which made saccharin available only to pharmacies for use in prescription medicines.33

Meanwhile, a St. Louis company by the name of Meyer Brothers Drug Company had been importing saccharin from Germany, and an enterprising young employee by the name of John F. Queeny immediately recognized the sweetener's great potential. In 1901, Queeny cashed in his personal savings and took out a loan to found a new corporation for the sole purpose of producing its own saccharin for the US market. That corporation was Monsanto. In 1903, the Monsanto corporation began to ship saccharin to a little-known company in Georgia called Coca-Cola. The rest, as they say, is history.34,35

Saccharin's early history in the US was somewhat rocky. Critics derided the substance as having no nutritional value and (ironically enough) no calories, and some people doubted that the new sweetener was safe. Theodore Roosevelt, president at the time, eloquently defended saccharin's safety by saying, "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot."36 Despite these stirring words of reassurance, some stubborn people remained unconvinced.

In 1912, saccharin was briefly banned in the US due to concerns about its safety. This ban was lifted 5 years later with the advent of the First World War.37 As so frequently happens when a nation has to buckle down for a protracted war, resources in the US had to be rationed in order to provide for the troops abroad. One of those resources was table sugar. As more and more US sugar was being sent across the ocean to the soldiers in Europe, the sweetening needs of the populace at home were met with cheap and plentiful saccharin.

By the time the war ended, America and its European allies had grown quite fond of the new sweetener. Usage of saccharin leveled off when sugar became available once again, but it had entered the scene to stay. World War II again brought sugar rationing and a dramatic increase in saccharin usage, which this time did not decline with the war's end.38 However, during that period, saccharin took on second-place status as cyclamate, another artificial sweetener discovered in 1937, came on the scene.39

In 1958, Marvin Eisenstadt, owner of Cumberland Packing Company in Brooklyn, NY, introduced Sweet¡¥n Low, which mixed saccharine with cyclamate (to counter the metallic aftertaste of saccharin) in the small packet form that we still know today. The present formula has abandoned the cyclamate, but the main ingredient is still saccharin.40

During this entire period of saccharin's history, the FDA allowed the makers of saccharin (and cyclamate) to determine for themselves whether it was a safe product for human consumption.41 Indeed, the FDA showed very little interest in saccharin until 1969, when researchers discovered that cyclamate was carcinogenic in laboratory mice. Cyclamate was banned by the FDA that same year.42 The FDA proposed also banning saccharin until conclusive tests could prove its safety. This suggestion was met with significant opposition from a public which had become greatly enamored with the concept of artificial sweeteners and had just lost their only other option at the time, cyclamate.

In 1977, Canadian scientists found that high doses of saccharin seemed to cause cancer in laboratory rats. The Canadian government responded by immediately banning all use of saccharin in food and beverages.43 To forestall a possible FDA ban on the popular sweetener, Congress passed the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act. This Act placed a two-year moratorium on any ban of saccharin, allowing for further testing to be done, and also mandated that all products containing saccharin carry the following cautionary label: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."44

During the ensuring 26 years, the FDA and other groups performed numerous studies attempting to determine conclusively whether or not saccharin was a carcinogen. Meanwhile, the public at large continued to gobble up saccharin-containing products, and every time the moratorium on banning saccharin expired, Congress extended it until more research could be done. The moratorium was extended seven times, until 1991 when the FDA decided it was no longer suspicious of saccharin as a serious threat.45 Technically, ever since that time the FDA has given saccharin something of a probationary status, allowing it equal footing with the other three non-nutritive sweeteners but still classifying it as an "anticipated human carcinogen,"46 whatever that means.

There is also another, lesser-studied concern with saccharin due to the fact that it is a sulfonamide. (Remember, chemically speaking saccharin is called an O-toluene sulfonamide derivative.) Sulfonamide compounds have been shown to cause dermatological reactions in those who are allergic to sulfa drugs, especially in children. Consumption of saccharin by these sensitive individuals may result in pruritus (itching), urticaria (blotchy skin discolorations), eczema, photosensitivity, prurigo (a condition characterized by small, intensely itchy skin bumps), wheezing, nausea, diarrhea, tongue blisters, tachycardia, fixed eruptions, headache, diuresis (increased urination) or sensory neuropathy.47 Also, regardless of sulfa allergies, consumption of saccharin-sweetened infant formula has been associated with irritability, hypertonia (abnormal increase in muscle tension with reduced muscle elasticity), insomnia, opisthotonos (an abnormal posturing condition characterized by rigidity and severe arching of the back) and strabismus (a condition in which the eyes uncontrollably deviate from the intended object of focus). These conditions generally resolve themselves within 36 hours after ingestion of the formula.48 (This last bit is most likely an unnecessary warning for readers of Wise Traditions. There is nary a commercial infant formula out there which is truly healthful, whether or not it contains saccharin.)

So where does this leave the matter? Saccharin is the most thoroughly tested of all the non-nutritive sweeteners¡Xmore than 2374 studies have been done, with aspartame coming in second at 598.49 Even the most staunch critics are left to admit that no one has been able to draw a definite link between saccharin consumption (even at high levels) and cancer in humans. It has been shown that saccharin causes bladder cancer in male rats of a certain genetic predisposition, but this appears to be a gender- and species-specific phenomenon. To quote from Dr. Janet Starr Hull: "Saccharin is not genotoxic; the presumed mechanism of toxicity is the binding of saccharin to urinary proteins (not normally found in humans), creating a nidus for the formation of silicate crystals, which are cytotoxic to bladder epithelium (of rats)."50 However — and this is the important part — while the FDA has chosen to say that it cannot be proven that saccharin's effect on mice is relevant to humans, one could just as easily say that the studies have failed to prove that there is no link between saccharin and bladder cancer in humans.

The third of our non-nutritive sweeteners is acesulfame-K, also referred to as acesulfame potassium (K is the chemical symbol for potassium), potassium acesulfame, ace-K or ACK. Any of these names are greatly preferable to the chemical name of the product¡X5,6-dimethyl-1,2,3-oxathiazine-4(3H)-one-2,2-dioxide. We'll stick with acesulfame K for our purposes!

Compared to aspartame and saccharin, there is very little information available about acesulfame-K. It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar)51 and, as it is not metabolized by the body, it is excreted unchanged in the urine.52 It was discovered in 1967 by a German chemist, Karl Clauss, who was working with derivatives of acetoacetic acid.53 In what should now be a familiar theme, the sweetness of one particular derivative revealed itself one day when he licked his finger to pick up a piece of paper.54

At the time, Mr. Clauss was employed at a German chemical company by the name of the Hoechst Group. Immediately grasping the potential for a new artificial sweetener, Hoechst conducted its own safety testing on the compound throughout the 1970s. As soon as they were satisfied with the results of their testing, Hoechst began to market their new product around the world. Currently, more than 100 countries allow the use of acesulfame-K.55,56

The entry of the new sweetener into the U.S. began in 1988 when, based largely upon acceptance of Hoechst's own research, the FDA gave a partial green light for its use as a tabletop sweetener and as an ingredient in baked goods, frozen desserts, alcoholic beverages and candies.57 In September of 1997, Hoechst established a subsidiary corporation called Nutrinova Nutrition Specialties & Food Ingredients, in part to handle the growing business of acesulfame K, marketed under the brand name Sunett.58 It has also been sold under the names Sweet One, Swiss Sweet and Sweet & Safe.

While the general popularity of acesulfame-K was on the rise, a few voices began to raise questions. After reviewing the data provided by Hoechst's product safety tests, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) concluded that the company had not done an adequate job with the testing and had ignored problematic data.

To quote from the CSPI website: "The safety tests of acesulfame-K were. . . of mediocre quality. Key rat tests were afflicted by disease in the animal colonies; a mouse study was several months too brief and did not expose animals during gestation. Two rat studies suggest that the additive might cause cancer. . . In addition, large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product, have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits and dogs."59 CSPI has also gone on record as saying that the Hoechst scientists "followed inadequate protocols, which are greatly at variance with current standards for test design, execution and reporting required for the National Toxicology Program's bioassays."60 It has also been noted that acesulfame-K stimulates insulin secretion in a dose dependent fashion, thereby possibly aggravating reactive hypoglycemia ("low blood sugar attacks").61

Based on these objections, in 1996 CSPI urged the FDA to reconsider its position on the new sweetener, but two years later the FDA approved acesulfame-K for all other general sweetening purposes, including non-alcoholic liquid use. As soon as it was approved, Pepsi announced that it would be used in a new drink, Pepsi One.62

Since 1995, there has also been another product available, marketed by the Holland Sweetener Company as Twinsweet. While acesulfame-K is frequently blended with aspartame to achieve synergistic sweetening capabilities, Twinsweet is actually a blend of the two at the molecular level. This is possible due to the fact that some high-intensity sweeteners form positively charged ions in certain solutions, whereas others form negatively charged ions. Aspartame and acesulfame-K are the first two sweeteners which have been successfully bonded in this way to form what is known as a "sweetener-sweetener salt." This solves certain difficulties that the food industry encounters when trying to mechanically blend sweeteners. Twinsweet dissolves in water into separated molecules of the two individual components, so all the safety concerns of aspartame and acesulfame-K should be applied as well to Twinsweet.63

In spite of the FDA go-ahead, CSPI and a handful of independent scientists maintain their objections to acesulfame-K, citing inadequate testing and the fact that previous tests suggest serious problems, including possible carcinogenicity. While there may not be any organized groups at this time compiling lists of adverse reactions or calling public attention to the possibilities of danger, this does not necessarily indicate that this compound presents no danger. Since no specific monitoring practices or epidemiological studies of acesulfame-K are currently in progress, it is possible that relevant data may not be gathered for some time. The FDA has no apparent interest in pressing the issue. As with saccharin, the prudent consumer would be wise to seek out better options.

The fourth FDA-approved non-nutritive sweetener is sucralose, chemically known as 1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-BETA-D-fructofuranosyl-4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha-D-galactopyranoside.64 Sucralose may have the strangest "accidental discovery" story of all. In 1976, a British sugar company by the name of Tate & Lyle was conducting experiments in collaboration with Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London, searching for ways to use sucrose as a chemical intermediate. Shashikant Phadnis, a foreign graduate student working on the project, misunderstood a request for "testing" of a chlorinated sugar as a request for "tasting," leading to the discovery that many chlorinated sugars are hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than sucrose.65

Following this discovery, Tate & Lyle arranged with Johnson & Johnson, then the world's largest health care company, to develop and test a new sweetener from chlorinated sugars. In 1980, Johnson & Johnson formed a subsidiary company by the name of McNeil Specialty Products for this purpose.66 The product they created, at an impressive 600 times sweeter than sucrose, would be known as sucralose and marketed as Splenda.

Canada became the first nation to approve sucralose in 1991,67 soon to be followed by many more. Currently, more than 40 nations have given their approval to sucralose, although a number of European nations still have it under preliminary review.68,69,70 The new product made a grand entrance into the US market with FDA approval in 1998. Even though this was not full FDA approval, to quote Splenda's own website, the product was "approved for use in 15 food and beverage categories, the broadest initial approval ever given to a no-calorie sweetener." It was only 16 months later in 1999 when the FDA finished the job and gave full approval for all sweetening purposes.71

According to the Splenda website, "sucralose, is made from sugar through a patented, multi-step process that selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. The result is an exceptionally stable sweetener that tastes like sugar, but without sugar's calories. After consumption, sucralose passes through the body without being broken down."72 Sucralose is also said to be diabetic-safe, as it does not increase blood sugar levels. However, some researchers dispute these claims.

While the Johnson & Johnson Corporation claims that they have hundreds of self-conducted studies demonstrating the product's safety, sucralose has the fewest independent scientific tests to its credit of all non-nutritive sweeteners. Additionally, independent reviewers of Johnson & Johnson's tests have found them to be inadequate and methodologically flawed. Flaws notwithstanding, several pre-approval tests still indicated potential toxicity, although this was written off by the company as insignificant. Similar to the situation with aspartame after it first entered the market, there are currently no independent, long-term studies on the effects of sucralose consumption.73

Of the few human studies which have been conducted, one focusing on diabetics using sucralose showed "a statistically significant increase in glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1C), which is a marker of long-term blood glucose levels and is used to assess glycemic control in diabetic patients." The FDA itself has stated that "increases in glycosolation in hemoglobin imply lessening of control in diabetes."74

It is not only diabetics who need worry about the safety of sucralose. Research conducted with rats, mice and rabbits has shown that sucralose consumption can cause shrinking of the thymus gland (up to 40 percent shrinkage), enlargement of the liver and kidneys, atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus, increased cecal weight, reduced bodily growth rate, decreased red blood cell count, hyperplasia of the pelvis, extension of gestational periods in pregnancy, decreased fetal body weights and placental weights, and diarrhea. According to the FDA's "Final Rule" report on sucralose, it was considered to be "weakly mutagenic in a mouse lymphoma mutation assay."75

The reason for this host of side effects is not fully understood. Many detractors have raised concerns due to the fact that sucralose is a chlorinated molecule. Chlorinated molecules, which are used as the basis for pesticides such as DDT, tend to accumulate in body tissues. Johnson & Johnson maintains that sucralose passes through the digestive system without any absorption or metabolization, but the FDA's own research has shown that 11 to 27 percent of sucralose is absorbed in humans, while the rest is excreted unchanged in the feces. Tests performed by the Japanese Food Sanitation Council have found that as much as 40 percent of ingested sucralose is absorbed. To further dispute the manufacturer's claims, research indicates that about 20 to 30 percent of the absorbed sucralose is metabolized. Both the metabolites and unchanged absorbed sucralose are excreted in urine, but some absorbed sucralose has been found to concentrate in the liver, kidney and gastrointestinal tract.76

Not only does sucralose break down within the digestive system, but, as the FDA notes, "[it] may hydrolyze in some food products¡K[and] the resulting hydrolysis products may also be ingested by the consumer." Prolonged storage, particularly at high temperatures and low pH, causes sucralose to break down into other chemicals, including 4-chloro-4-deoxy-galactose, 1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-fructose and 1,6-dichlorofructose, none of which has ever specifically been tested in terms of safety for human ingestion. Additionally, as the FDA again acknowledges, sucralose may contain up to 2 percent of various impurities, such as heavy metals, arsenic, triphenilphosphine oxide, methanol, chlorinated disaccharides and chlorinated monosaccharides. Even if these "impurities" are within existing manufacturing guidelines, they are still all potentially dangerous to human health.77

Sucralose production and consumption may also pose a threat to the environment in general. To quote from Dr. Joseph Mercola's website ( "Although sucralose is being flushed down toilets [after human excretion]. . . , what happens to it next is simply a matter for speculation. I know of no studies showing what happens to the chemical when the raw sewage is treated and then released back into the environment. Does it remain stabile or react with other substances to form new compounds? Is the sucralose or any resulting chemicals safe for the environment? How will this chemical affect aquatic life such as fish, as well as other animals? Will sucralose begin to appear in our water supplies, just as some drugs [such as antibiotics] are beginning to be found? . . . [Ultimately] the ecological impact of this new chemical being introduced into the environment is unknown."

This additional consideration of environmental impact should also be applied to the other non-nutritive sweeteners, as well as all synthetic foods and additives. The burden of proving that such synthetic compounds are safe, from the process of their creation through the human digestive system and into our environment, should fall upon the purveyors of these chemicals.

While no formal lists currently exist to catalogue adverse reactions to sucralose consumption, Dr. Mercola provides several anecdotal incidents on his website. Clearly, sucralose consumption poses potential hazards which have not been sufficiently acknowledged or studied. This author recommends against willingly acting as a guinea pig for yet another questionable product¡Xread on for better options later in this article.

Neotame, another product of Monsanto's Nutrasweet Company and also the most recently approved sweetener, deserves several red flags of caution. Also known as "superaspartame," it was first synthesized from a base of aspartame and 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde by French scientists Claude Nofre and Jean-Marie Tinti. In an amazing display of sweetening power, neotame hits the scales at 8000 times sweeter than sucrose, and its chemical name is a mouthful¡XN-[N-(3,3-dimethylbutyl)-L-a-aspartyl]-L-phenylalanine 1-methyl ester.

Amazingly, neotame doesn't even come close to being the sweetest compound that Nofre and Tinti synthesized. Of their numerous other discoveries, carrelame, bernadame, sucrononate and lugduname are the sweetest substances known to man, ranging from 150,000 to over 220,000 times sweeter than sucrose! There are currently no plans to seek approval of these substances for human consumption, but they may at some point be utilized in other ways and thereby find their way into the food chain.78

The chemical formula of neotame, published in the February 10, 1998 Federal Register, reveals that neotame is extremely similar to aspartame. Essentially, neotame molecules are aspartame molecules chemically combined with a neohexyl group. While neotame has not yet been introduced into any markets, critics surmise that all of the toxic effects of aspartame and more will plague consumers of neotame. NutraSweet petitioned the FDA in 1997 and received final approval for a wide variety of sweetening purposes in 2002.

In May of 2000, the NutraSweet Company was purchased from Monsanto by the J.W. Childs Equity Partners, LP.79 The new leadership at NutraSweet must be quite excited about the approval of neotame, as the patent rights on aspartame expired in the 1990s and generic versions have been allowed ever since. It is estimated that neotame could replace up to 50 percent of the current market share for aspartame. We will all see soon enough how neotame is received by the public.80,81,82

As a concluding remark on all five of the FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners, it should be noted that many animal studies on these products only yield negative results when test animals are fed the equivalent of several hundred artificially sweetened products daily. Apologists for non-nutritive sweeteners point to this as a way of dismissing negative test data.

A quotation from the Holistic Healing website explains the fallacy of this assertion. "In order to estimate a potential safe dose [of a chemical] in humans, one must divide the lowest dose given to rodents that was seen to have any negative effects. . . by 100. That dose is then known as the maximum Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for lifetime use. Keep in mind that the TDI is just an estimate. Some chemicals are much more than 10 times more toxic in humans than in rodents (or will cause cancer in humans in low-dose, long-term exposure and do not cause cancer in rodents at all). A person ingesting the TDI for some chemical may find that it causes cancer, or immune system or neurological problems, after many years or decades of use. So, if the manufacturer claims that the dose was equivalent to 50 diet sodas, then the TDI would be one-half (1/2) of a diet soda, and even that dose may or may not be safe."83

Aside from the five current non-nutritive sweeteners, there are two additional non-nutritive sweeteners under review by the FDA¡Xcyclamate and alitame. Since it is entirely likely that both of them will all be approved at some point in the future, they must be considered as well.

Cyclamate was discovered in 1937 by Michael Sveda, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, working on the synthesis of anti-pyretic (anti-fever) drugs. The familiar theme continues: Sveda noticed the sweet taste of a compound he was working with after he accidentally sat his cigarette down in some of it and then took a puff.84 As word got out about the discovery of what was then only the second existing artificial sweetener, DuPont quickly bought the patent, and then later sold it to Abbott Laboratories. Abbott reportedly wished to use the new product to mask the bitter taste of certain antibiotics and medications.85

In the early 1950s, Abbott began to market cyclamate tablets as diabetic-friendly sweeteners. As noted above in the history of saccharin, cyclamate was also a part of the original "formula" of Sweet'n Low, introduced to the public in 1958. Cyclamate enjoyed a great deal of controversy-free popularity from this time until the late 1960s, when laboratory tests began to suggest that it caused genetic damage, testicular atrophy and cancer in rats. In 1970, the FDA imposed a total ban on the use of cyclamate within the U.S. However, it is still used in 50 countries around the world¡Xthe major producers and exporters are located in China, Indonesia, Taiwan and Spain86¡Xso it almost certainly still finds its way into the US via products from these countries. Where it is still used, cyclamate is frequently blended with aspartame and acesulfame-K to make a "super sweetener."87

After the US cyclamate ban, would-be producers were legally obligated to prove its safety to the FDA's satisfaction if it was to be re-approved. Abbott has been hard at work ever since 1970, petitioning the FDA for re-approval in 1973, 1976 and 1982, and also requesting special hearings on the matter in 1977 and 1978. No substantial ground was gained until 1985, when the Cancer Assessment Committee of FDA''¦s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition concluded that cyclamate is not a carcinogen. It has still not been satisfactorily resolved whether or not cyclamate is a co-carcinogen with other substances or promotes tumor growth, and thus it is still pending re-approval.88

Of alitame, there is very little to report. Developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, alitame is sold under the name Aclame in several countries, including Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, China, Indonesia, Colombia and Chile.89 Similar to aspartame, alitame is composed of amino acids, including L-aspartic acid, D-alanine and 2,2,4,4-tetramethylthietanyl amine.90 It is a heat-stable compound, 2000 times sweeter than sucrose, which could potentially be incorporated into any sweetened product. Pfizer applied for FDA approval of alitame in 1986, but has yet to receive a conclusive ruling.91 Any sweetener that may be described as "similar to aspartame" deserves a red flag of caution, but no commentary of any detail is readily available at the present time. One source claims that alitame will soon be approved as a sweetener in the US, marketed under the name Novasweet. Anticipating this, the Wrigley Company has already filed several patents to use the new sweetener in its chewing gums.92

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Jim Earles is a Kundalini Yoga teacher and Weston Price enthusiast who resides in Dubuque, Iowa with his wife Amber and children Sienna and Connor. He may be contacted at

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