More about sweeteners

Sana Keller, Minot

In reference to a recent article on artificial sweeteners in the Wellness section of The Minot Daily News, I would like to provide additional information on this very important topic. The article begins with the comment, “There is a lot of information and misinformation about artificial sweeteners available and that can make it a challenge on what to take away as fact or fiction.” I completely agree.

Because of this abundance of information on artificial sweeteners, it is helpful to look for information and research based on scientific studies (studies that are not based on manipulated data from huge food and drug corporations with a vested interest in selling their product). This provides a much more sound foundation from which to make important decisions concerning our health, as in this case of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of artificial sweeteners.

Ralph G. Walton, MD (Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine) reports in his “Survey of Aspartame (NutraSweet) Studies: Correlation of Outcome & Funding Sources” that “of the 166 peer reviewed medical literature studies surveyed for funding source and study outcome, 74 had NutraSweet industry related funding (NutraSweet Company, Ajinomoto, or the International Life Sciences Institute Nutrition Foundation) and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent of the industry funded research attested to aspartame’s safety, where as 92 percent of the independently funded research identified a problem. A bibliography supplied by the NutraSweet Company included many studies of questionable validity and relevance, with multiple instances of the same study being cited up to six times. Questions are raised both about aspartame’s safety and the broader issue of the appropriateness of industry sponsorship of medical research.

Food for thought: Why did the parent company of aspartame, Ajinomoto, change the name of Aspartame to AminoSweet? If a product is safe without cause for concern, there would be little reason to do so.

A 1995 document from the Department of Health and Human Services lists Reported Symptoms attributed to aspartame in complaints submitted to the FDA. Headache was listed in 21 percent of the 1847 complaints, with dizziness and change of mood at 11 percent and 10 percent.

The structure of aspartame is not as simple as being “made out of two amino acids” as the article states; rather two isolated amino acids in aspartame are fused together by its third component, methanol. In this structure, methanol bonds the two amino acids together, but when released at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the methanol (also known as wood alcohol) becomes a poisonous free radical. Methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde. Methanol is a neurotoxin and a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). It can also interfere with DNA replication and cause birth defects.

As for the concept that artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) being good with weight management, a 1986 study of over 78,000 women ages 50-69 monitored artificial sweetener usage and relative weight gain. This study, published in the Preventive Medicine Journal, found that those using artificial sweeteners were significantly more likely than those not using artificial sweeteners to gain weight over time, with the study conclusion showing that the data did not support the common assumption that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain.

There are safer, healthier sweetener options are available, such as pure stevia extract, coconut palm sugar (lower glycemic index), small amounts of raw honey and pure maple syrup. I encourage important health-related decisions to be made from a position of evidence-based information instead of industry-driven (and often self-serving) position.