Artificial sweeteners are chemical substitutes for sugar. Their safety has long been debated, especially since most of the studies done to test their safety is funded by the companies that make them.
You would be surprised to know what artificial sweeteners are actually made of. Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low) was discovered by a chemist working with distilled coal tar. Studies done in the 1970’s showed that saccharin causes bladder cancer in rats and the FDA proposed that it be banned. After a public outcry (who cares about cancer as long as we can have sugar-free treats?!) saccharin products were allowed back on the market with a warning that “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health.”
Studies show that saccharin crosses the placenta and may remain in fetal tissue, according to American Pregnancy, so its safety for pregnant women remains in question.
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful) has also had its share of controversy since being discovered in 1965. One ingredient is methanol, wood alcohol, which is a deadly poison. In his book, Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World, (also made into a chilling documentary– see the trailor) H.J. Roberts, MD wrote about “Aspartame Disease.” The symptoms can include headache, dizziness, mood changes, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, vision changes, diarrhea, memory loss, fatigue, tinnitus (ringing in the ear), seizures, Alzheimer’s, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and various cancers.
Another book published by Dr. Russell Blaylock, professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi, is Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. He links the rise in brain cancers with the chemistry of aspartame. In 1981, Satya Dubey, an FDA statistician, stated that the brain tumor data on aspartame was so “worrisome” that they could not recommend approval of NutraSweet.
Dr. Diana Edwards studied possible birth defects caused by aspartame. However, her funding came from Mosanto, the manufacturer or Aspartame, and funding was cut after preliminary data showed damaging information.
The Food and Drug Administration(FDA) claims that Aspartame is safe for use during pregnancy and lactation, although they recommend moderate consumption, whatever that means. However women are warned to avoid aspartame in the book While Waiting: A Prenatal Guidebook, which can cause brain damage, including mental retardation.
Sucralose (Splenda) was discovered while trying to create a new insecticide. Claims that Surcalose is “natural” and made from sugar is false. It is a chemically treated substance, and it’s safety has also been called into question. Acesulfame K, another lesser-known artificial sweetener, contains methylene chloride, a known cancer-causing agent. Cyclamate is is another sweetener that has been linked to cancer and is currently banned in the United States.
Stevia is derived from a South American shrub, and has not been approved by the FDA to be sold as a sweetener. Stevia can be sold as a “dietary supplement” but not as a sweetener because its safety has been questioned when used as a food additive.Pregnant or lactating women should avoid using Stevia.
Today, both obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions, proving that the use of artificial sweeteners has gotten us nowhere. People who don’t rely on artificial sweeteners tend to maintain a leaner, healthier diet and lifestyle. Because research is limited on the safety of non-nutritive sweeteners during pregnancy, it is best to avoid using them, or use sparingly. With all the questionable chemical ingredients they contain, and the warnings and health concerns being voiced, it is better to be safe, than sorry.
Image from Dr. Sharma: Do Artificial Sweeteners Promote Weight Gain?
Information derived from an article called “Artificial Sweeteners: Short and (Not So) Sweet, by Yocheved Rosenthal, R.N, CNM (certified Nurse-Midwife)