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FDA Ignores Health Risks Associated With Artificial Sweeteners

Greg West |
May 5, 2013 | 1:29 p.m. PDT



The FDA has approved of artificial sweeteners despite obvious concerns with their health safety. (Photo from Creative Commons / pasukaru76).
The FDA has approved of artificial sweeteners despite obvious concerns with their health safety. (Photo from Creative Commons / pasukaru76).
In 1946, Camel ran a full advertising and media campaign, which boldly claimed: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”

It took centuries for medical doctors to agree that cigarettes caused cancer.

Today, a similar veil of uncertainty lies over the artificial sweeteners market, as scientists continue to debate if the consumption of these chemicals is safe or if they are a healthier alternative to products that contain a high dosage of granulated sugar and synthesized glucose.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. However, sweeteners may be derived from naturally occurring material, such as herbs or sugar itself.

If you are trying to lose weight or reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or similar sugar substitutes, since artificial sweeteners add nearly no calories to your diet.

Artificial sweeteners are most often found in carbonated soft drinks, but can be found in powdered drinks, chewing gum, desert mixes, frozen treats, puddings, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, chewable vitamins and even in sugar-free cough drops, according to the FDA’s guidelines on artificial sweeteners.

“First of all, I would tell you to stop drinking soda all together, regardless of the sweeteners in it,” explained Dr. George Messerlian, a practitioner of Internal Medicine at Santa Barbara’s Sansum Clinic, who has over 40 years of medical experience, “Drinking soda each day, even diet soda, dramatically increases your chance of type 2 diabetes and weight gain; it’s not good for you.”

Dr. Messerlian stated that some synthetically prepared sweeteners are over a 100 times sweeter than regular, granulated sugar and can have unforeseen consequences on the continual evolution human brain chemistry.

“This [artificial sweeteners] can trick your brain into thinking that these synthetic products are the correct, nutritional choice, better than eating an apple or some baby carrots,” said Dr. Messerlian, “The issue is that if your body grows used to absorbing these products, and if you actually do eat a fruit or something good for you, your brain remains hungry because it’s not satisfied.”

While FDA officials maintain that the consumption of artificial sweeteners by humans is safe in small doses, since the 1970s, some studies have linked the use of certain artificial sweeteners to cancer.

According to the National Cancer institute, while animal studies have indicated that the consumption of artificial sweeteners can, in some cases, cause bladder cancer, “FDA approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.”

Although only a small number of these synthetic additives have been taken off the market, some have even been delisted and put back on the market thanks to the lobbying efforts of the chemical and food industry.

For example, in the 1970s the artificial sweetener Saccharin was shown to cause the formation of bladder tumors in rats, especially in male rats.

The FDA concluded that all food containing Saccharin should be assume the following warning 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.”

However, in 2000, saccharin was delisted from the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens, where it had been previously listed since 1981, because there was no clear evidence linking the sweetener to cancer in humans.

According to former FDA Investigator, Arthur M. Evangelista, the FDA has had a history of pushing through a number of potentially harmful artificial sweeteners.

For example, the artificial sweetener, aspartylphenylalanine-methyl-ester, also known as Aspartame, was originally banned by the FDA due to “poor testing and the occurrence of brain tumors in animals,” but then allowed to enter the market because of the hole left by the ban of cyclamate, a billion dollar artificial sweetener, according to Evangelista.

“Aspartame’s approval process by the FDA’s review boards was riddled with intrigue,” wrote Evangelista, in a report on the history of the product.

In August of 1977, the FDA published a report by Gerome Bressler, which showed, among other things, that diseased lab animals were not immediately autopsied during G. D. Searle’s original Aspartame testing, and were allowed to decompose for over an entire year before being examined.

In other instances, tumors in lab animals were surgically removed and thrown away.

The animals that had tumors surgically cut out were judged as “normal” by G. D. Searle’s review panel. The tumors were labeled as “normal swelling.”

In response to this report and other suspicious testing accusations, the FDA launched a criminal investigation into Searle’s review in 1977.

In quick retort, the law firm representing G. D. Searle hired away the U.S. Attorney, Samuel Skinner, who was leading the case against Searle. President George H. W. Bush later appointed Skinner to Secretary of Transportation.

Skinner’s resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office stalled the criminal case against G.S. Searle long enough for the statue of limitations to expire. The investigation was abandoned.

G.D. Searle was purchased by agribusiness giant, Monsanto, in 1985.

Since then, aspartame has continued to come under scrutiny for a number of other issues, but most notably because one of its main ingredients, phenylalanine, and its purported effects on the brain.

Scientists have shown that, in some cases, phenylalanine links with neurotransmitters in the brain and can cause a number of issues with the physiology of the brain itself, according to some FDA studies. These neurological issues have been linked to depression, weight gain, anxiety attacks, problems with fetal development, depression and seizures.

Currently, the FDA does not acknowledge the link between these extremely tiny free form radicals and excitotoxicity due to inconsistent test results.

Scientists continue to debate whether small doses of aspartame pose a health risk, but currently aspartame is allowed in more than 100 countries around the world. 

“The safest route to a long life is to eliminate all processed and synthesized foods from your diet,” illuminates Dr. Messerlian, “It’s just that simple.”

Aspartame was synthesized in the early 60’s by mistake by chemist James M. Schlatter. Schlatter had spilled some of the product on his finger and knowing that it was likely edible, tasted it, noticing the sweet taste.

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