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  • PepsiCo. is replacing the aspartame in Diet Pepsi with Splenda in an effort to win back customers who’ve become wary of aspartame’s health effects
  • Splenda is associated with many of the same adverse effects as aspartame, including headaches, seizures, heart palpitations, and weight gain. Splenda also reduces beneficial gut bacteria by 50 percent
  • Disrupting your intestinal microflora is one of the many mechanisms by which artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, Splenda, and aspartame, cause obesity and diabetes
 

Aspartame: Could This Headache Causing Neurotoxin Be on Its Way Out?

May 14, 2015 | 272,848 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

Diet Pepsi is getting an image overhaul, and as of August will no longer contain the artificial sweetener aspartame, PepsiCo. has announced.1,2

The decision came in response to dwindling sales, mirroring consumers' concerns about aspartame's health hazards, which includes research3,4,5,6,7,8 showing that aspartame is a multipotential carcinogenic agent.

It is clearly a move in the right direction and we have provided much of the impetus as our site comes up number two in Google for aspartame and many publications, like the LA Times,9 credit us for the increased awareness.

It's hardly a major victory, however, as the company plans on replacing aspartame with sucralose, aka Splenda.10,11

The irony of this has not gone unnoticed. On April 26, US Right to Know tweeted the following message: "#DietSodaScam: @PepsiCo switching from aspartame to sucralose is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

Indeed, sucralose is associated with many of the same adverse effects as aspartame, including:

Respiratory difficultiesMigraines/headaches12Seizures
Gastrointestinal problemsHeart palpitationsWeight gain

Animal research13 published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in 2008 also found that Splenda:

  • Reduces beneficial gut bacteria by 50 percent
  • Increases the pH level in the intestines
  • Affects a glycoprotein that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you're on certain medications as it can cause the rejection of drugs such as chemotherapy, AIDS treatments, and treatments for heart conditions
  • Is absorbed by fat (contrary to previous claims)

Pepsi Is Just Switching One Hazardous Sweetener for Another

It's really a toss-up as to which artificial sweetener might be better or worse than the other, but the fact that sucralose can destroy up to half of your beneficial gut microbes is by no means a selling point for aware consumers, as these bacteria are a vital part of your immune system and help support your general health—both physical and mental.

Disrupting your intestinal microflora is also one of the many mechanisms by which artificial sweeteners cause obesity and diabetes, according to recent research.14,15,16,17,18 Most importantly, this particular study actually shows causation.

Specifically, they found that the artificial sweeteners saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame cause decreased function in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in your body. They were also found to induce gut dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people.

Glucose intolerance is a well-known precursor to type 2 diabetes, but it also plays a role in obesity, because the excess sugar in your blood ends up being stored in your fat cells.According to the authors of this widely publicized study:

"[W]e demonstrate that consumption of commonly used non-caloric artificial sweeteners formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota...

Collectively, our results link non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) consumption, dysbiosis, and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage."

Diet Pepsi Will Still Contain Ace-K

Diet Pepsi will also still contain the poorly tested acesulfame potassium19,20 (ace-K), which has been linked to kidney problems. All in all, I believe ALL artificial sweeteners are bad news for your health, and Diet Pepsi will still contain two of them. Trading aspartame for sucralose in no way makes Diet Pepsi "better."

They're simply trading one hazardous ingredient for another, and it's only a matter of time before consumers realize the ruse. Aspartame may have received far more bad press than any of the other artificial sweeteners because (in my view) it is the worst of the artificial sweeteners, but studies have consistently found harm from other no- or low-calorie sweeteners as well.

This is particularly true when it comes to the effect artificial sweeteners has on your weight. Studies have also shown that artificial sweeteners worsen insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar, and that animals fed artificial sweeteners develop a disrupted metabolic response to real sugar.21

Artificial sweeteners also promote other health problems associated with excessive sugar consumption, including heart disease,22 stroke,23,24,25 and Alzheimer's disease.

Many astroturfers who insist that there's "no scientific basis" for claims of harm conveniently ignore, or try to malign and downplay the many studies that actually do show harm, such as the cancer studies referenced above.

There are a number of industry front groups working to shape and mold public perception of "the facts," which includes which studies to believe and which ones to ignore. 

As I discussed in a previous article, the Calorie Control Council is a front group association that represents manufacturers and suppliers of low-calorie, sugar-free, and reduced sugar foods and beverages. It is, of course, a staunch defender of aspartame's safety and effectiveness for weight management and diabetic control, and is quick to dismiss any research that suggests otherwise.

What many don't realize is that the Calorie Control Council has strong ties to the Kellen Company, which is instrumental in creating and managing industry front groups specifically created to mislead you about the product in question, protect industry profits, and influence regulatory agencies.  

Aspartame defenders also fail to admit that weight gain and insulin resistance are in fact harmful health effects—an ingredient doesn't have to be acutely toxic or outright carcinogenic to be a health hazard.

When it comes to diet soda, this issue is particularly pertinent, as soda companies indeed advertise diet drinks as a means to lose weight, or at the very least to avoid weight gain, even though there's absolutely no solid scientific foundation for that claim at all.

Use of the Word 'Diet' in Weight-Boosting Products Is Deceptive, False, and Misleading

False advertising is prohibited by federal law, and the term "diet" is only permitted on brands or labels when it is not false or misleading. In light of the burgeoning research demonstrating that artificially sweeteners actually increase your chances of gaining weight rather than help you shed it, the consumer group US Right to Know (US RTK) has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo. Inc., and other companies for false advertising.26

RTK's letter27 to FTC Director Jessica Rich, dated April 9, 2015, reads in part:

"Their use of the term 'diet' in advertising for these products appears to be deceptive under section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act 2 as interpreted by the Commission in its 'Statement on Deception,'3 because scientific evidence suggests artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain, not weight loss...

We ask that the Commission conduct this investigation urgently, given the real possibility of consumer harm, in that companies are portraying products as assisting with weight loss, when in fact they may well contribute to weight gain. Such weight gain increases the risk of serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer."

According to Gary Ruskin, executive director of US Right to Know:28

"The jump from aspartame to sucralose is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The bigger problem is that PepsiCo is selling a product as 'diet' that may well cause weight gain. They didn't solve that problem. We have asked the FTC and FDA to shut down what appears to be a consumer fraud. We're hopeful they will stand with consumers and do the right thing."

In its citizen petition to the FDA,29 US RTK requests the agency to issue warning letters to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, concluding that the beverages are misbranded because the use of the term "diet" is false and misleading. RTK is also asking the FDA to investigate the use of the term "diet" in other foods and beverages that contain artificial sweeteners.

Many Studies Refute 'Diet' Claims of Artificial Sweeteners

Preventive Medicine 1986 Mar;15(2):195-20230 This study examined nearly 78,700 women aged 50-69 for one year. Artificial sweetener usage increased with relative weight, and users were significantly more likely to gain weight, compared to those who did not use artificial sweeteners—regardless of their initial weight.

According to the researchers, the results "were not explicable by differences in food consumption patterns. The data do not support the hypothesis that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain."
Physiology and Behavior, 198831 In this study, they determined that intense (no- or low-calorie) sweeteners can produce significant changes in appetite. Of the three sweeteners tested, aspartame produced the most pronounced effects.
Physiology and Behavior, 199032 Here, they found that aspartame had a time-dependent effect on appetite, "producing a transient decrease followed by a sustained increase in hunger ratings."
Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 199133 In a study of artificial sweeteners performed on college students, there was no evidence that artificial sweetener use was associated with a decrease in their overall sugar intake either.
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 200334 This study, which looked at 3,111 children, found that diet soda, specifically, was associated with higher BMI.
International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, 200435 This Purdue University study found that rats fed artificially sweetened liquids ate more high-calorie food than rats fed high-caloric sweetened liquids. The researchers believe the experience of drinking artificially sweetened liquids disrupted the animals' natural ability to compensate for the calories in the food.
San Antonio Heart Study, 200536 Data gathered from the 25-year long San Antonio Heart Study also showed that drinking diet soft drinks increased the likelihood of serious weight gain – far more so than regular soda.37 On average, for each diet soft drink the participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 200538 In this two-year long study, which involved 166 school children, increased diet soda consumption was associated with higher BMI at the end of the trial.
The Journal of Pediatrics, 200639 The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study included 2,371 girls aged 9-19 for 10 years. Soda consumption in general, both regular and diet, was associated with increase in total daily energy intake.
Journal of Biology and Medicine, 201040 This study delves into the neurobiology of sugar cravings and summarizes the epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning the effect of artificial sweeteners on weight.

According to the authors: "[F]indings suggest that the calorie contained in natural sweeteners may trigger a response to keep the overall energy consumption constant. ...Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners… [A]rtificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence."
Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 201041 This review offers a summary of epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning the effects of artificial sweeteners on weight, and explains those effects in light of the neurobiology of food reward. It also shows the correlation between increased usage of artificial sweeteners in food and drinks, and the corresponding rise in obesity. More than 11,650 children aged 9-14 were included in this study. Each daily serving of diet beverage was associated with a BMI increase of 0.16 kg/m.2
Appetite, 201242 Here, researchers showed that saccharin and aspartame both cause greater weight gain than sugar, even when the total caloric intake remains similar.
Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 201343 This report highlights the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.44,45 The researchers speculate that frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners may induce metabolic derangements.
Nature, 201446 This study was able to clearly show causality, revealing there's a direct cause and effect relationship between consuming artificial sweeteners and developing elevated blood sugar levels.

People who consumed high amounts of artificial sweeteners were found to have higher levels of HbA1C—a long-term measure of blood sugar—compared to non-users or occasional users of artificial sweeteners.

Seven volunteers who did not use artificial sweeteners were then recruited, and asked to consume the equivalent of 10-12 single-dose packets of artificial sweeteners daily for one week.

Four of the seven people developed "significant disturbances in their blood glucose," according to the researchers. Some became pre-diabetic within just a few days. The reason for this dramatic shift was traced back to alterations in gut bacteria. Some bacteria were killed off, while others started proliferating.
PLoS One, 201447 This study, which was done on rats, using aspartame, also found an increased risk of glucose intolerance. Animals that consume artificial sweeteners ended up with raised levels of propionate—short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) involved in sugar production. Consumption of artificial sweeteners shifted gut microbiota to produce propionate, which generated higher blood sugar levels.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,201548 Seniors aged 65 and over were followed for an average of nine years, and there was a "striking dose-response relationship" between diet soda consumption and waist circumference. This held true even when other factors such as exercise, diabetes, and smoking were taken into account.

People who never drank diet soda increased their waist circumference by an average of 0.8 inches during the nine-year observation period. Occasional diet soda drinkers added an average of 1.83 inches to their waist line in that time period.

Daily diet soda drinkers gained an average of nearly 3.2 inches—quadruple that of those who abstained from diet soda altogether.

Reclaim Your Health by Switching to Water

Sweetened beverages, whether it's sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, naturally occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners, are among the worst culprits causing obesity and related health problems, including diabetes, heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain.

Your best, most cost effective choice of beverage is filtered tap water. Besides purification, I also believe it's critical to drink living water. Last year, I interviewed Dr. Gerald Pollack about his book, The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor. This fourth phase of water is referred to as "structured water" and is the type of water found in all of your cells. This water has healing properties, and is naturally created in a variety of ways.

Water from a deep spring is one excellent source of structured water, and there's a great website called FindaSpring.com49 where you can find a natural spring in your area. You can also promote structured water through vortexing, i.e. stirring your water, creating a vortex in the glass or pitcher.

[+] Sources and References

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