Over the last several months, there has been a deluge of health news in the mainstream media.  From new studies confirming links between what we eat and heart disease to hormone replacement therapy being associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the media has been busy.  But nothing has been more prominent than the news concerning artificial sweeteners over the past half year. The World Health Organization now discourages non-sugar sweeteners to control weight or reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. These sweeteners include aspartame, saccharine, sucralose, stevia, and others.  The recommendation is based on the findings of a review of data from 283 studies in adults, children, pregnant women, and mixed populations. The findings suggest that use of NSSs does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children. They also suggest that long-term use of NSSs may have potential undesirable effects such as increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and all-cause mortality in adults.

Regarding the risk for cancer, results from case-control studies suggest an association between saccharine intake and bladder cancer.  It is interesting that decades ago, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, citing a study done by the National Cancer Institute, pointed out the connection between saccharine and bladder cancer. 

How long have artificial sweeteners been around? Saccharin was discovered accidentally in 1897 by a Johns Hopkins University. Cyclamates and aspartame were also discovered in an accidental manner.   Although it was Hyman Kirsch that started using cyclomates in his beverage called No-Cal.  More than 50 years ago, Coca-Cola came up with their first diet drink called Tab.  But it was the introduction of Diet-rite cola that came out in 1960 that really was the catalyst for the diet drink industry.  Since then we’ve seen diet coke, coke zero, diet Pepsi, Pepsi max and the list goes on and on. Eventually, the food industry began putting them into ”diet” foods claiming health benefits. What was the idea here?  Less sugar, less calories, less weight and, it would have no effect on raising blood sugar in diabetics. However, we have found that not only wasn’t this effective, there has even been a reverse effect. 

A new study published this past March, showed that erythritol (this comes in many names but usually we see it as Sorbitol) is closely associated with risk for “major adverse cardiovascular events.” In other words, people who have high blood levels of erythritol are more prone to heart attacks, strokes and even death.  Subsequent to this, was another new study on Sucrolose. This new study was so alarming that researchers said people should stop using it and the government should regulate it more. We are talking about Splenda which is also used as an ingredient in packaged foods and beverages. The researchers found that sucralose causes DNA to break apart, putting people at risk for disease. They also linked sucralose to leaky (Permeable) gut syndrome. That can lead to autoimmune conditions. Symptoms are a burning sensation, painful digestion, diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

Although all of these sweeteners have been approved for use and have been determined as safe by government authorities, their continued use has been shown to be problematic. Some sweeteners are known to cause bloating and stomach discomfort as well as rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, headaches (migraines), intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain. In an interview with gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz a few months ago, he stated that when his patients complain of bloating the first thing he asks them is if they consume artificial sweeteners. Somehow, as mentioned, these are all generally regarded as safe by the FDA.

Here in Israel a study released this past year showed that three of the most popular sweeteners absolutely cause dysbiosis in the microbiome (gut bacteria) and that in turn increases your chances of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School shows that consuming diet drinks may actually increase the risk of heart disease. In this study more than one diet or regular soda per day experienced a 25% increased risk of impaired fasting glucose and high triglyceride levels.  They had a 31% greater chance of becoming obese, and a 44% increased risk of metabolic syndrome.  There are many more studies over the last 15 years showing similar negatives of consuming artificial sweeteners.  In his article in 2019, Dr. Michael Greger claims that diabetes increases with use of saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose. The very products that have been touted for more than half a century to reduce weight and prevent diabetes are doing the exact opposite!

As I have pointed out time and time again, whole foods are health promoting, ultra-processed foods cause illness, disease, and early mortality.  Artificial sweeteners, as its name implies, have nothing to do with whole, real food.  Those things that contain artificial sweeteners are simply food-like edible substances—not food. 

Perhaps what is most bothersome, is that in spite of all of these studies and the evidence we have accumulated, the paradigm of “diet’ products being better for us still permeates our society. There needs to be some government regulation; minimally, a warning label. The same as is needed for processed meats, like hot dogs and deli--level 1A carcinogens.  The little bit of good news is that sales of diet products has been gradually decreasing. 

You have heard this from me before, but I’ll say it again.  Your health is in your hands.  Stay educated and stick with a whole foods plant predominant diet, with low oil, low sugar and low salt and you can’t go wrong! Avoiding artificial sweeteners will add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.” 

Alan Freishtat is a HEALTH and WELLNESS COACH and PERSONAL TRAINER with 23 years of professional experience. He is a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant Based Nutrition for preventing and reversing illness. Alan is director of The Wellness Clinic He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027