Sweeteners may unsweeten life

Artificial sweeteners may sound like a sweet alternative to real sugar, but they can cause health problems for the future. Since the discovery of low-calorie sweeteners, health experts have been suspicious if they are really safe.Sugar substitutes are being re-examined to determine the long-term effects they may have on the body.

I thought chemical sweeteners were a great way for me to enjoy treats, such as ice cream or coffee, without putting any calories into my body. I soon discovered my dieting trick was too good to be true. According to the book, “Splenda Is It Safe Or Not?”, Dr. Janet Hull explains that the chemicals used in artificial sweeteners can actually stimulate appetite. This is one of the reasons why more than 180 million artificial sweetener-users are not losing weight, Hull says.

One of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners is aspartame. It can be found in diet sodas, as a table condiment, in sugar-free gum and many sugar-free foods. Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, who tested it as an anti-ulcer drug. When Schlatter licked his fingers he noticed its sweet taste. Food and Drug Administration restrictions for the use of aspartame were not completely lifted until 1996 due to indications that it may cause cancer in humans. Aspartame is a great way to avoid calories from sugar but not worth the risk for potential health problems. Aspartame is suspected to cause brain tumors, brain lesions and lymphoma. Side effects of aspartame listed by the FDA are blindness, anxiety, abdominal pain, headache, migraine, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia and slurring of speech. Gradual weight gain is also suspected to be a side effect of aspartame, which, in most cases, defeats the purpose of using it.

Labels that claim a food is sugar-free is usually sweetened artificially. Check labels for one of the five artificial sweeteners that have been approved in the United States: aspartame, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), neotame and acesulfame potassium.

Saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in lab animals, and aspartame has been linked to lymphoma and leukemia in rats, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, studies done by the FDA show that none of the five sweeteners approved cause cancer in humans. Knowing that chemically derived sweeteners can cause cancer in animals is reason enough for me to quit using them.

Also, researchers argue artificial sweeteners are consumed in such small amounts they do not harm humans, according to the American Cancer Society. A possible reason that the animals developed cancer from artificial sweeteners during testing was due to the large amounts they were given. If a person consumes a small amount of chemically derived sweetener every day, it adds up. This is why researchers are taking a look at the long-term effects artificial sweeteners may have on people’s health.

Since researchers are not sure what causes many types of cancer, chemically altered food is a definite possibility. The closer we can consume our food to its natural state, the better. Trying to extract calories from a sweet treat by injecting it with chemicals is not the way to go. I thought I was doing a good thing for my body by using a calorie-free sweetener. Not anymore. Before you reach for your daily diet soda, consider what it might do to your health in the future.

Michelle Anderson is a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Tyler. Her column appears on Fridays.