Main artificial sweeteners include: Acesulfame Potassium (E950, Acesulfame K), Cyclamate (E952), Saccharin (E954), Sucralose (E955), Neohesperidin DC (E959), Aspartame (E951) and its very recent derivatives, which include Alitame (E956), Advantame (E969), and Aspartame-acesulfame salt (E962).
These sweeteners can also be listed on a food label as their respective E numbers (mostly in Europe) since they are chemically synthesised (they do not occur in nature) and are considered food additives, in the like of MSG (Monoglutamate of Sodium), food colourings and preservatives.
There are several thousands of food additives used in food manufacturing according to the WHO (World Health Organisation) and some of the effects on the human body and brain are yet to be studied fully, and over a longer period of time. Since they are fairly recent, their effect on our health has not yet been fully examined.
Because artificial sweeteners are many thousand times sweeter than regular sugar, a minuscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, or even high fructose corn syrup; however, it may overstimulate brain receptors and limit the intensity of naturally sweet food (fruits, berries, etc.). For this reason, some people may shun completely healthier, more natural foods. Other people may find the use of artificial sweeteners an excuse to have a piece of cake with their diet soda.
Sweet has always been a very important basic taste for us humans. Somewhat, it is always related to either weight gain, cardiovascular disease, or oral health.
Artificial sweeteners were created in the hope to combat these health conditions; however, they are present in many foods, sometimes hidden, and their overuse affects us further than just possible weight loss.
People who consume ready-made meals regularly or frequently buy highly-processed foods may be exposed to, and may ingest, a much larger amount than that of a person cooking their meals from scratch. It is, therefore, possible that some people consume artificial sweeteners in levels that exceed a safe recommended intake and as such may be a cause of toxicity.
Even if “safe” in an acceptable daily intake range, recent studies have shown that artificial sweeteners:
The problem of artificial sweeteners goes much further. Acesulfame, for example, is not fully metabolised in the body and is, therefore, eliminated unchanged, reaching our water system, making them even more toxic to humans than the parent molecule, by reacting with chlorine and thus creating Disinfection byproducts (DBPs), which are then found in tap water as a contaminant.
How do you feel about artificial sweeteners now?
Do you really feel they are the best alternative to the obesity and diabetes pandemics?
I particularly like the introduction of sweeteners by The Alliance for Natural Health in their June 28th article:
Big Food's sweet cop out: why artificial sweeteners are part of the obesity problem not the solution†
"Addressing obesity is a pressing issue for governments the world over. But instead of reforming nutrition advice and education in line with current science and clinical experience, they’re relying on the industry at the heart of the problem to resolve the issue for them. The result of this cop out is Big Food making minor reformulations to their ultra-processed products to lower calorie counts, reduce sugar and masquerade the products as ‘healthier’.
Sadly, the majority of reformulations to sweet foods and drinks are focused on switching out the sugar for artificial or so called ‘natural’ sweeteners."
The Alliance for Natural Health goes further to explain:
"Throughout evolution the brain has become accustomed to the fact that the sweeter a food, the more calories it’s likely to yield. So it’s adapted to ‘expect’ more calories from sweet foods. Non-nutritive sweeteners available today (saccharin, aspartame, stevia, sorbitol and xylitol to name a few) pack an enormous wallop of sweetness, but no calorific reward to go with it. This creates a situation in which the brain is literally expectant and never reaches satiety, creating cravings to keep eating.
[...] As one of our evolutionary rewards, food intake should silence the stress axis. It has always been one of our evolutionary rewards. When we were hungry our stress levels went up to signal that survival was at stake. If we were lucky enough to successfully hunt or gather we ate and our survival was assured. Our stress was silenced by the reward of food and it still is, hence the need to ‘comfort eat’. Fuelling the stress axis is very energy demanding so it follows that, in evolutionary terms, the quicker it could be silenced, the better.
Although the brain represents only 2% of body weight it can consume between 25-65% of the circulating glucose. Demand increases according to the challenge, where around 12% more glucose is used during mental activity and an active stress axis creates further need. There is a very finely balanced ‘push-pull’ mechanism that the brain uses to ensure enough energy for itself and the peripheral tissues.
When the push-pull mechanism is working well then the body maintains a state of systemic energy balance or homeostasis. However, in order to do this, the brain must be able to pull glucose from the rest of the body across the blood brain barrier. If the brain is unable to do this, more glucose is left in the peripheral tissues and the brain starves. It compensates for this by creating more hunger and cravings for sweet carbohydrates to access the glucose it desperately needs, but can’t pull from the body. If the surplus circulating energy is not used, then the body has no choice but to store it as fat.
The use of NNS (non-nutritive sweeteners ) can disturb and disorder this mechanism until the brain loses its ‘pulling power’. Then the only option is to literally ‘push’ energy into the brain by eating more and more food and accessing the energy from stored fat. This loss of pulling power pretty much guarantees central obesity (fat around the middle), because it is the only fat that can be used by the brain for energy."
Fat around the middle is not only a problem of energy storage. It goes much further than that.
It will always make sense for the body to store energy as fat. You may recall from previous articles or my newsletters that calories are as follow:
1 g of
- Carbohydrates yields 4 calories
- Protein yields 4 calories
- Fat yields 9 calories.
You may notice these are our Macronutrients, and they are vital for our survival and much needed supply of energy. The body uses all of these nutrients to function, healing and repair, and when not used, it will store the excess of energy as fat.
Where fat is deposited may depend on your genetics, your level of activity, how you perceive the world around you and your environment.
Let me explain.
Continuous excess of energy will force your adipocytes (fat cells) to grow in size (not in number) and store more and more fat. This will show all over your body, until such point when you may fit into the "obese" category.
However, when stress (any kind of stress, such as work-related, relationship, social isolation, anxiety, depression, etc.) is part of your daily life, you may notice that the extra weight is locked in the central part of the body (fat around the middle), and no matter what you do, it seems it never goes away.
The body has instinctively created a natural airbag.
Under chronic stress the body requires self-defence mechanisms. Protecting vital organs (positioned in your abdomen) is one of them. Because the brain cannot differentiate the source of stress, it will conclude that a predator is after you and that no matter what happens, especially if the beast catches you up, your chances of survival may, in fact, be greater:
- Thicker blood means you won't bleed to death,
- Higher blood sugar means more energy available for brain to think clearer and muscles to make you run like never before
- Fat around the middle means that your liver (for example) will not be punctured if beaten, thanks to the thicker layer of fat around it.
To loose visceral fat (fat around the middle) you must address your stress levels, and most importantly your stress response: how you respond to stressful events.
In this case, artificial sweeteners are not the answer. As the stress response remains unchanged.
You will still store fat around the middle, while depriving your brain from the energy is requires to operate.
Is there more to say?
Since the farce around fat finally made the headlines, it quickly became apparent that we needed a new culpable in the fight against obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases, for it is easier to blame sugar than looking at our own eating habits.
Yet, many people have switched from sugar-laden drinks and sodas to their diet versions, hoping that it will be enough to lose weight and be healthy.
Studies upon studies suggest that the use of artificial sweeteners, nowadays, referred to as Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS), may not be the best alternative to sugar. Natural sweeteners are indeed packed with sugar; however, they are not the same as refined sugar (or even high-fructose corn syrup), perhaps our worse enemy and the real cause to all of our problems, for it is also hidden in many processed foods.
NNS also keep receiving bad publicity. they are chemically synthesised and for this reason may have severe side-effects on some susceptible people.
A recent study suggested that NNS-containing beverages were associated with unhealthy lifestyles, reduced physical activity, mental health, and well-being, fatigue, unfavourable dietary habits with increased energy intake including sugar, and reduced intake of some vitamins and other nutrients. Some people justify having a diet soda so that they can actually enjoy a piece of cake or an extra-large burger meal.
Another study, published in the American Heart Associations Journal (2017), conducted over 10 years using several thousands of participants, identified a correlation between NNS-containing drinks and dementia and ischemic strokes.
The action of NNS-containing beverages goes much further. Some artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose are the byproducts of insecticides research, and as such have the undesirably effect to be xenoestrogens (they block oestrogen receptors) and this is also why women are more susceptible to NNS-containing drinks and NNS on the whole, placing them at more risk of heart disease.
A Canadian study (2017), using nearly 20,000 participants, revealed a correlation between NNS/diet drinks and major depression.
The problem starts in the gut. Once thought inert, NNS may influence gut microbiota, blood sugar levels and brain function. The way this can happen is via the enteric nervous system, a complex two-way communication system between our gut microbes and our brain. One way that gut microbes might communicate with our brain is through the production of neurotransmitters. For instance, more than 90% of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin helps regulate gastrointestinal motility, but it also has a well-known role in mood disorders like depression.
The new concept, from the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience (July 2018), is that NNS might act as chemical stressors through increasing cortisol level, altering gut microbiota and brain neurochemical composition and as such may generate neurophysiological symptom such as headaches, memory loss, mood changes, as well as depression.
ADI stands for Acceptable Daily Intake, and when it comes to NNS, the issue is that, because of their recent discovery and use, there cannot be an official Safe Intake, and often people who consume large amount of diet drinks may excess the ADI and while this not only may lead to toxicity, it further intensifies their effect on the body and the brain, and as such may aggravate neurophysiological symptoms and major depression, especially in people leading unhealthy (lacking vital nutrients) and sedentary lifestyles.
Bates, M. (2017). Gut Feeling. IEEE Pulse: A Magazine of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.
Choudhary, AK. Leea, YY. (2018). The debate over neurotransmitter interaction in aspartame usage. Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. In Press. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967586818305770. Last accessed 4th August 2018.
Mohammad Reza, A. et al. (2017). Iranian Journal of Kidney Diseases. 11(5), pp. 339-343.
Jing Li, A. et al. (2017). Transformation of acesulfame in chlorination: Kinetics study, identification of byproducts, and toxicity assessment. Water Research. 117. pp. 157--166.
Yu, ZM. Louise Parker, P. Dummer, TJB. (2017). Associations of Coffee, Diet Drinks, and Non-Nutritive Sweetener Use with Depression among Populations in Eastern Canada. Scientific Reports. 7 (6255), pp. 1–10. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-06529-w.pdf. Last accessed 4th August 2018.
Winther, R. Aasbrenn, M. Farup, PG. (2017). Intake of non-nutritive sweeteners is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle: a cross-sectional study in subjects with morbid obesity. BMC Obesity. 4 (41), pp. 1–9. Available at: https://bmcobes.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s40608-017-0177-x. Last accessed 4th August 2018.
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.