Aspartame – As sweet as we think?

Artificial sweeteners

There is a lot of conflicting information about aspartame available to consumers.  Soft drink companies and government regulators will tell you that it is safe.  On the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website they state that “Scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener in food.” but there is in fact a lot of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Aspartame was initially approved in the US in 1974.  The initial approval process raised allegations of bribery and corruption, which prompted many people to doubt its safety, but governments have stood firm in their statements that it is safe.  Over the years there has been increasing evidence that this is not true.

The initial fear was that aspartame could cause cancer.  These concerns seem to be unfounded, but scientists have discovered it causes other problems.  Most recently a French study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 66,000 women over 14 years.  The authors found that, compared to regular soft drinks, there was a 15% higher risk for diabetes in those who drank just 500ml/week of diet soft drinks, and a 59% higher risk for those who drank 1.5L/week. Although aspartame is suggested for people with diabetes, it may actually be making it worse.

In a 2011 study in the US, people who drank diet soft drinks, as an overall group, had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users. Those who were in the highest bracket and drank two or more diet soft drinks a day had a 500% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.

One of the metabolites of aspartame is methanol.  There have also been studies that have found detectable methanol in the blood after chronic consumption of aspartame affecting the brain.

There have been many studies on rats and mice consuming aspartame.  Although these can’t be directly applied to humans, it is cause for caution.  Aspartame has been found to promote hyperglycemia and insulin intolerance and impair spatial cognition and memory.  It may accelerate atherosclerosis as well as lead to liver damage.  Aspartame and saccharin consumption, when compared to sucrose (sugar), resulted in increased weight gain even at the same caloric intake.  So even if you are eating a low calorie diet, you may not lost weight simply because you are consuming products containing aspartame.

Clinically, I have had patients lose weight just from taking diet soft drinks out of their diet even if they replace them with regular ones.

But it isn’t all about weight gain.  Children whose mother’s drink artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy, are more likely to have asthma and allergic rhinitis.  Also people who work in soft drink factories that have asthma can not go into the filling room containing artificial sweeteners.  Even those without asthma can develop asthmatic symptoms when they enter the filling room.

Artificial sweeteners are just that, artificial.  The body does not recognize them and so cannot digest them properly.  This can lead to the body holding on to fat and water in an attempt to dilute these unknown particles.

Make sure you always check labels especially on products that say they are low in sugar.  Aspartame can also be written as ‘951’ on an ingredients panel.

Although regulators have deemed it safe, there is enough evidence to the contrary that it doesn’t seem worth taking the chance.

951 Chemical

References:

Abdel-Salam OM, Salem NA, El-Shamarka ME, Hussein JS, Ahmed NA, El-Nagar ME, Studies on the effects of aspartame on memory and oxidative stress in brain of mice. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2012 Dec; 16(15):2092-101.

Abhilash M, Paul MV, Varghese MV, Nair RH, Effect of long term intake of aspartame on antioxidant defense status in liver. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2011 Jun; 49(6):1203-7.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Saleh SM, Andres B, Inglis A, Al-Rabiah R, Al-Mohanna FA, Gender dimorphism in aspartame-induced impairment of spatial cognition and insulin sensitivity. PLoS ONE 2012; 7(4):e31570.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Al-Rabiah R, Inglis A, Andres BL, Ubungen R, Shoukri M, Al-Mohanna FA, Interactive effects of neonatal exposure to monosodium glutamate and aspartame on glucose homeostasis. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2012; 9(1):58.

Feijó Fde M, Ballard CR, Foletto KC, Batista BA, Neves AM, Ribeiro MF, Bertoluci MC, Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels. Appetite 2013 Jan; 60(1):203-7.

Frincu-Mallos C, ENDO: Use of Artificial Sweeteners Linked to 2-Fold Increase in Diabetes. Medscape News. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/704432

Iyyaswamy A, Rathinasamy S, Effect of chronic exposure to aspartame on oxidative stress in the brain of albino rats. J. Biosci. 2012 Sep; 37(4):679-88.

Jang W, Jeoung NH, Cho KH, Modified apolipoprotein (apo) A-I by artificial sweetener causes severe premature cellular senescence and atherosclerosis with impairment of functional and structural properties of apoA-I in lipid-free and lipid-bound state. Mol. Cells 2011 May; 31(5):461-70.

Maslova E, Strom M, Olsen SF, Halldorsson TI, Consumption of Artificially-Sweetened Soft Drinks in Pregnancy and Risk of Child Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis. PLOS 2013 Feb 27. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057261

Szponar J, Górska A, Majewska M, Tchórz M, Drelich G, Methanol poisoning in a 61-year old male with recently diagnosed diabetes–a case report. Prz. Lek. 2011; 68(8):521-2.

10% Human

Sailor kid looking ahead

I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.

probiotics

 

How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!

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Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria:

Sugar. Is it really that bad?

Various kinds of sugar, brown, white and refined sugar

In short … Yes it is!

We hear a lot about sugar in the news lately.  Some say it is bad for us while others say it is ok … in moderation. I’ll get back to that moderation thing a bit later, but let’s first talk about sugar and what happens when we eat it.

When you eat sugar, your glucose, or blood sugar, levels rise. In response to this the pancreas excretes insulin in order to take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy or to store it. We then feel hungry and want to eat again. This is a normal and necessary process in our bodies. The problems start to arise when we eat foods high in sugar but with little or no other nutrients.

Our bodies like to have a blood sugar level within a very narrow range.   When we eat an apple, the natural sugars in it are accompanied by fibre and other nutrients resulting in a slow release of the sugars inside. But when we eat cookies, lollies, soft drinks and fruit juices, the sugar is released into our bodies very quickly and we get a spike in our blood sugar and insulin levels. These levels then drop dramatically causing us to crave more sugar. These spikes can lead to diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression, stress, decreased ability to learn, fatigue, and headaches. And when we have more sugar than we need for energy, we store it as fat leading to weight gain.

Eating Sugar

Although exercise can help to burn off some of the calories in sugar, it still doesn’t stop the spikes from happening when we eat sugar. The sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies and also on our mental state and immune function.   And because sugar is digested so quickly, we feel hungry again very quickly so we are more likely to eat more calories.

There has been a trend to replace processed sugar with artificial sweeteners. These are actually worse for us. People who drink diet drinks are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than people who drink regular soft drinks. Diet drinks also cause the hormone leptin to drop, which triggers you to feel hungry so people end up eating more than they would have. And all soft drinks and many other sugary products contain preservatives and other chemicals, which cause another list of health problems.

Back to the topic of moderation. We often hear that you can consume certain unhealthy foods ‘in moderation’ as part of a healthy lifestyle. But what is moderation? Once a day? Month? Year? There is no definition of this term giving everyone an excuse to overindulge. And there are many sugar products that I think people should just never consume.

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Next time you are at the supermarket, check out the labels on your favourite products. You may be shocked to find how much sugar is hiding there. Nutrigrain cereal is one product I have a particular problem with because it advertises itself as being healthy and for athletes, but I doubt any athlete eats 27% sugar for breakfast!  Other products to look out for are sauces.  Tomato sauce (ketchup) is 30% sugar.  Juices can be between 10 and 18% sugar – more than soft drink!!

If you have any questions about sugar, talk to your local naturopath. Try cutting down on your sugar intake and see how you (and your waistline!) feel.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about sugar here: