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The Bitter Side of Artificial Sweeteners

drinking waterSewage treatment plants fail to remove artificial sweeteners completely from waste water. These pollutants contaminate waters downstream, and may still be present in your drinking water.

A new, robust analytical method, which simultaneously extracts and analyzes seven commonly used artificial sweeteners, demonstrated the presence of several artificial sweeteners in waste water.

Until now, only sucralose has been detected in aquatic environments. Through the use of the new method, researchers were able to show for the first time that four artificial sweeteners -- acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose -- are present in the waters from sewage treatment plants, indicating incomplete elimination during waste water treatment.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
There are many chemicals you can’t see, smell or taste lurking in your tap water, and among them may very well be traces of the artificial sweeteners acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate and sucralose.

In fact, even after water was treated with advanced filtration techniques, it still contained concerning levels of the artificial sweeteners, leading one of the study’s researchers to conclude:

"Due to the use of artificial sweeteners as food additives, the occurrence of artificial sweetener traces in the aquatic environment might become a primary issue for consumer acceptance."

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, though, as a comprehensive survey of U.S. drinking water reported in New Scientist revealed that your drinking water is also likely laced with a wide variety of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals.

The 11 most frequently detected compounds were:

  • Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease
  • Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behavior
  • Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat bipolar disorder
  • Estrone, an estrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender changes in fish
  • Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug
  • Meprobamate, a tranquilizer used in psychiatric treatment
  • Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence
  • Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy
  • Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic
  • TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology
  • Trimethoprim, another antibiotic

Further, despite extensive purification treatments used by water companies, traces of bleomycin, a cancer chemotherapy drug, and diazepam, a sedative, have been found in drinking water, raising concerns about exposing pregnant women to the drugs, which could harm an unborn child.

How do Drugs and Food Chemicals End up in Drinking Water?

Drugs and other chemicals that humans ingest get deposited into your drinking water via two routes. One is through excretion. Drugs and chemicals that you consume (or that are given to livestock) do not necessarily become inert in your body.

Some of the active components are not absorbed, and so they are deposited into sewage treatment centers that are not always looking for, or removing, specific prescription drugs or food additives like artificial sweeteners. Drug-ridden waste from livestock also ends up polluting ground water, where it makes its way into soil, waterways and eventually your drinking water.

The second route has to do with unused prescription drugs or food products that are poured down the drain, flushed down the toilet or deposited into landfills by individuals, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, where they ultimately end up back in the environment.

Another Concerning Toxin in Tap Water: DBPs

If you have not heard of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) before, you need to pay close attention as it turns out that DBPs, not chlorine, are responsible for nearly all the toxic effects of chlorinated water. Chlorine by itself is relatively harmless, but its side effects, by producing DBPs, is what causes nearly all of the problems.

DBPs are over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminations present in your water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs may be the absolute worst of the bunch.

These toxic chemical byproducts form when disinfectants like chlorine react with natural organic matter like decaying vegetation in the source water.

DBPs have been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, and human studies suggest that lifetime consumption of chlorine-treated water can more than double the risk of bladder and rectal cancers in certain individuals.

How Can You Ensure You and Your Family Have Pure Drinking Water?

If you are on a public water system -- meaning a utility company supplies your water -- it's extremely likely it contains chlorine,disinfection byproducts and fluoride. You will definitely want to consider purifying your family’s water with a water filtration system that can effectively remove DBPs and other contaminants.

You will also want to avoid drinking tap water in restaurants, as there is a good chance it has not been filtered and therefore could contain any number of contaminants. Instead of tap water, you can order a high-quality mineral water or bring a container of your filtered water from home.

I do NOT recommend most bottled water as a healthy alternative to tap water, not only because it is a major drain on the environment, but also because about 40 percent of bottled water is actually regular tap water, which may or may not have received any additional treatment.

Plus, the plastic chemicals leaching out of the plastic bottles have been proven highly toxic to your body, so your best route for safe water remains to filter your own at home.

The one exception, at least in regard to DBPs, is if you obtain your water from a private well -- then DBPs are a non-issue as they are only produced when chlorine is added, and it’s highly unusual to add chlorine to most all private well water systems. It’s still a good idea to have your well water tested for other contaminants, however, and use a water filtration system if necessary.