The dangers of artificial sweeteners continue to generate a fair amount of news coverage and even more confusion for consumers. The FDA has blessed them as safe; end of story. Watchdog groups beg to differ, saying research on artificial sweeteners is flawed and doesn't account for how long-term use of the additives may impact health. A fact no one can dispute is that the controversial sweeteners are made from chemicals, some of which are known to be not only harmful, but truly toxic. Whether artificial sweeteners are dangerous for you may come down to how well-defended your own body is against the chemicals they contain.
Here's a list of the top most dangerous artificial sweeteners, along with information about what's in them and the negative impact they can have on your health. From most dangerous to least:
What's in it: Phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Reported side effects: Headaches, fibromyalgia, anxiety, memory loss, arthritis, abdominal pain, nausea, depression, heart palpitations, irritable bowel syndrome, seizures, neurological disorders, vision problems, brain tumors and weight gain. Concerns: Phenylalanine and aspartic acid directly impact brain and central nervous system functions; evidence shows they play a role in mood disorders, memory problems and other neurological illnesses. Methanol is converted into formaldehyde when metabolized. Makers of aspartame say methanol and its byproducts are quickly excreted. But research has found measurable amounts of formaldehyde in the livers, kidneys and brains of test subjects after ingestion of aspartame. At high temperatures, phenylalnine breaks down into diketopiperazine (DPK), a known carcinogen. Phenylalanine is especially dangerous for people with the hereditary disease, phenylketonuria.
What's in it: Acesulfame-K is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Reported side effects: Long term exposure to methylene chloride can cause nausea, headaches, mood problems, impairment of the liver and kidneys, problems with eyesight and possibly cancer. Acesulfame-K may contribute to hypoglycemia.
Concerns: Of all artificial sweeteners, acesulfame-K has undergone the least scientific scrutiny. Early studies showed a potential link between the sweetener and development of multiple cancers in laboratory animals.
What's in it: Sucralose is a synthetic additive created by chlorinating sugar. Manufacturers say the chlorine in sucralose is no different from that in table salt. Fact: the chemical structure of the chlorine in sucralose is almost the same as that in the now-banned pesticide DDT. Reported side effects: Head and muscle aches, stomach cramps and diarrhea, bladder issues, skin irritation, dizziness and inflammation.
Concerns: Research has shown sucralose can cause shrinking of the thymus gland, an important immune system regulator, and liver and kidney dysfunction. A recent study by Duke University found sucralose reduces healthy intestinal bacteria, which are needed for proper digestion and can impact the effectiveness of prescription and other drugs.
What's in it: Saccharin is a sulfa-based sweetener; its primary ingredient is benzoic sulfimide. Reported side effects: For those with sulfa allergies, saccharin may cause nausea, diarrhea, skin problems or other allergy-related symptoms.
Concerns: Early safety studies of saccharin showed the sweetener caused bladder cancer in rats. The FDA recently lifted the requirement that saccharin be labeled as a probable carcinogen on food packaging.
The link between saccharin and bladder cancer has contributed to saccharin being the most investigated of all artificial sweeteners. To date, no connection between saccharin and bladder cancer in humans has been proven. Switching out artificial sweeteners for all-natural, low-sugar substitutes is a smartoption; you just might feel better.