Are sugar substitutes safe?

I think that it’s safe to say that refined sugar is poison.  I’ve stated this so many times that some of you may be actually rolling your eyes.  You know it’s true.  The consumption of sugar can lead to tooth decay, weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, cancer, and so on.   Without a doubt, the evils of refined sugar spawned the pursuit of “safe” and tasty sugar substitutes.   Although the artificial sugar industry has done pretty well with re-creating the sweetness of sugar, I’m not so sure about the safety factor.

Unfortunately, most of the studies on sugar substitutes have been performed on mice and rats.  The new research on gene mapping shows that the majority of mouse, rat, and human genes are identical.  Moreover, these animals suffer from many human diseases.  Given this, I do tend respect the findings gathered from rodent studies.

A 2008 Purdue University study released in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience reported that rats on diets containing the artificial sweetener saccharin gained more weight than rats given sugary food.  The rats whose diets contained artificial sweeteners were more likely overeat.  Studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer.  In humans, saccharine has been associated with eczema, nausea, diarrhea, nerve problems, and headache. In 2005, a laboratory study found more lymphomas and leukemias in rats fed doses of aspartame (nutrasweet) equivalent to drinking 8 or more cans of diet soda daily.

Sucralose (splenda) is one of the newest products on the market and has already raised some concern.  A recent animal study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health reported that sucralose reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent.  The fact that Splenda can destroy up to 50 percent of your healthy intestinal bacteria is a serious problem.  This disturbance in the balance of your gut bacteria is referred to as dysbiosis.  Dysbiosis has been linked to autoimmune diseases, eczema, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and more.  Acesulfame is not as well known, but is another highly utilized sugar substitute.  Studies have shown that it is associated with leukemia, lung diseases, and breast tumors.

Avoiding sugar is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle.  This can be difficult for those who are tormented by a sweet tooth.  Given my understanding of the research, sugar substitutes are potentially dangerous and should be avoided.  For those times when you need to sweeten your foods and beverages, I highly recommend using stevia extract.  This sweetener is a safe and natural herb.  There is an overwhelming body of research that shows the many health benefit of eating naturally low-sugar whole foods. Moreover, these health promoting foods can be quite delicious.

Thanks for tuning in!


Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD


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