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Are Artificial Sweeteners Polluting Your Health?

written by Guest Blogger May 26, 2011

If you or someone you love is using an artificial sweetener, you’ll want to read today’s guest post (and pass it on!). Kenneth McCall gives us the low-down on just how dangerous these tiny, brightly-coloured packets are and how they can negatively affect our health goals.

You’ve completed three sets of pull-ups, cycled through the weight machines, gone hard core on the stability ball, and trained on the treadmill; in short, you’ve worked up quite a sweat and wouldn’t be shocked to wake tomorrow with sore muscles. What might come as a surprise, though, is that your aches may be partly linked to your low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie diet rather than your gym time.

As more and more packaged diet foods and beverages make use of Splenda (sucralose) as a no-calorie sugar substitute, the Sucralose Toxicity Information Center has seen a spike in the number of consumers experiencing side effects from the artificial sweetener—and by side effects, I don’t mean a tightening of the obliques.

Since Splenda’s introduction to the U.S. market in 1998, the list of self-reported adverse reactions to the product has slowly grown to include muscle aches, skin rashes, agitation, dizziness, numbness, diarrhea, swelling, migraines, bladder problems, stomach pain and intestinal cramping. Many Splenda users also complain of pain that mimics a pulled muscle.

All of these can make for a seriously uncomfortable workout and could even sideline your fitness routine for a period of time. And while you may be exercising to alleviate stress, boost endorphins, and generally up your feel-good factor, that shot of sucralose from downing a Splenda-laced diet cola or protein shake might be resulting in just the opposite, causing mood swings and chronic fatigue.

While the degree to which such short-term side effects take their toll depends on your level of sensitivity to the sucralose molecule, the lack of large-scale, long-term, human-based studies to determine its lasting effects leaves consumers wondering about the product’s overall safety. In fact, no independent studies of human use of the sugar substitute over a period longer than six months have taken place since its release, and the largest trial group ever tested comprised a mere 128 people (my gym has more members than that).

The manufacturer, McNeil Nutritionals, did conduct a study of the effects of high sucralose consumption on male rats, during which they witnessed problem thymus glands, enlarged livers and kidney disorders in the subjects. In addition, Splenda cut their good belly bacteria in half, raised intestinal pH levels and contributed to increases in body weight.

Despite the fact that we metabolize sucralose in a manner similar to rats, the FDA brushed aside the findings, claiming the rodents differed from people and comparisons shouldn’t be made. We have no assurance that Splenda is any safer than its low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie predecessors. (Remember aspartame and saccharin? They were also promised to be healthy and then turned out to be riddled with side effects.) It’s sort of like being left to bench-press your maximum weight without a spotter.

Run down the origins of Splenda, and you might just have to catch your breath. The British scientists who discovered this supposed miracle sweetener in 1976 were actually seeking a new pesticide formula. While Splenda does begin with sucrose (sugar), three of the molecule’s hydroxyl groups (hydrogen plus oxygen) are replaced by three chlorine atoms.

Some industry authorities claim sucralose is similar to table salt or sugar, but many other experts counter that argument, asserting that the synthetic compound has more in common with DDT (a well-known synthetic pesticide) than food, as the bonds between the carbon and chlorine atoms are characteristic of a chlorocarbon, a chemical structure similar to that of pesticides.

Beyond the chemical chaos, Americans’ heavy reliance on artificially sweetened treats has left us, well, heavier. We may be hopping onto exercise bikes to lose unwanted pounds, but the false sense of security gained from this seemingly promising sweetener has us spinning our wheels. The fact is, Splenda causes many users to gain weight, perhaps because consumption of sweet foods begets an ever stronger sweet tooth.

In other words, the more sweet things we eat and drink (and Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar), the more our bodies crave that sweet fix. So much for self control. And some scientists assert that our attempts to trick the body by separating the sweet taste from the calories typically found in sugary foods causes us to develop cravings for real calories, leading to a higher calorie intake.

So while Splenda may be sweeter than sugar and leave little aftertaste, you may not be so sweet on its after effects. And while some might consider Splenda natural because it is supposedly made from sugar, it turns out this might just be sugarcoating sucralose’s true nature. So what’s your best bet for feeding your fitness routine and staying healthy? Stick to truly natural nutrition.

About the Author

Kenneth McCall is director of IT for storage.com. In this role he builds the systems that help customers find the best self storage units for their needs. Through Kenneth’s and his team’s work, customers can find self storage in Los Angeles and other cities. In his spare time, Kenneth likes to bike and participate in outdoor activities.

Now that we know exactly why we want to avoid using these artificial sweeteners, there’s still the matter of satisfying our sweet tooth. Here’s a list of 5 Healthy Natural Sweeteners to use as substitutes.

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dimitri Snowden May 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

And diet foods and drinks are loaded with these artificial sweeteners! Bring on the agave! Thanks for sharing!

-Dimitri Snowden

Head Health Nutter May 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

lol, very true, Dimitri! I’ve heard a ton of good things about agave nectar but haven’t tried it yet. Is it good?

Blair James May 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for that very insightful post.

This makes more sensitive and more careful when it comes to using sweeteners. I have been struggling to lose some weight in order to feel about myself. This makes me more sensitive and more careful when it comes to using sweeteners.

Thanks for sharing!

Head Health Nutter May 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Great to hear, Blair, and you’re most welcome! Good luck on the weight loss. 🙂

habibur May 27, 2011 at 4:18 am

the artificial sweet are cause of damage of our health thanks for this

Head Health Nutter May 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Most welcome, habibur.

Hanna July 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Great article, thanks!
I’ve informed with the side-effects about artificial sweeteners and thereby I’ve switched artificial sweeteners to “natural” sweeteners, as well as cutting down on sugar. I don’t know whether you have any ideas about natural sweeteners. It is just like sugar but has a lot less calories than sugar. I am pretty sure that you are aware of the natural sweet herb, Stevia, and this natural sweeteners that I’m consuming at the moment is made by purest part of Stevia. It is called Natvia natural sweetener and it has no aspartame nor saccharin. From my experience so far, it is doing great for me, and I just want to know if anyone knows about this natural sweetener, so I can share some thoughts! 🙂

Head Health Nutter July 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Hi Hanna, thanks for your comment. I personally haven’t tried Stevia yet so thanks for sharing your experience. It was included in a list of natural sweeteners from one of our guest posters. If you want 4 other options, check out: http://livelighter.org/healthy-natural-sweeteners/.

Also, my Mom’s diabetic so I gave her a bottle of Stevia for Christmas last year. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure she hasn’t tried it yet. 🙁 I WILL share your comment with her, though, and maybe she’ll be inspired to finally use it! 🙂


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