Artificial Sweeteners

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History and Concerns

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener to be discovered.  It was discovered in 1879 by Constantine Fahlberg, a chemistry research assistant working in the laboratory of Professor Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University.1 According to Fahlberg’s account, he accidentally spilled some laboratory material on his hand and noticed the sweet taste later in the evening when he was eating dinner. 2

It was originally synthesized from toluene, a colorless liquid hydrocarbon distilled from coal tar. Toluene is also used in the manufacture of certain dyes, pharmaceutical drugs and trinitrotoluene, the blasting agent more commonly known as TNT.3 Saccharin is currently manufactured by a more cost-effective method, beginning with synthetically produced methyl anthranilate, a compound that also occurs naturally in grape and other fruit juices.

Saccharin may be found in ingredient lists under three slightly variant forms–acid saccharin, sodium saccharin and calcium saccharin.4  It is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. 

Aspartame was discovered accidentally in 1965 by scientist James Schlatter.  While working on new drugs to treat ulcers, he licked his fingers to pick up a piece of paper and inadvertently tasted the intense sweetness of the compound he had created.

Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sucrose (common table sugar).5 It has been sold around the world under various brand names including NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonfuls, Canderel, Bienvia, NatraSweet and Miwon.  It is also used in many medications.

“Aspartame. . . is a neurotoxic substance that has been associated with numerous health problems including dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures and depression. It is suspected of causing birth defects and chemical disruptions in the brain.

“Researchers at Utah State University found that even at low levels aspartame induces adverse changes in the pituitary glands of mice. The pituitary gland is the master gland upon which the proper function of all biochemical processes depend.

“When aspartame is digested it breaks down into the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, plus methanol. Methanol, or wood alcohol, is a known poison.”6

Sucralose has an interesting “accidental discovery” story. In 1976, Tate & Lyse, a British sugar company, was conducting experiments in collaboration with Queen Elizabeth College at the University of London. 

A foreign graduate student working on the project, misunderstood a request for “testing” of a chlorinated sugar as a request for “tasting,” leading to the discovery that many chlorinated sugars are hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than sucrose.7

Following the discovery, Tate & Lyle teamed with Johnson & Johnson to develop and test a new sweetener from chlorinated sugars. In 1980, Johnson & Johnson formed a subsidiary company by the name of McNeil Specialty Products for this purpose.8 The product they created was 600 times sweeter than sucrose.  It would be known as sucralose and marketed as Splenda.

Similar to the situation with aspartame after it first entered the market, there are currently no independent, long-term studies on the effects of sucralose consumption.9

Of the few human studies which have been conducted, there was one that focused on diabetics using sucralose.  Results implied a lessening of control in diabetes.10                      

What’s more, research conducted with rats, mice and rabbits has shown that sucralose consumption can cause shrinking of the thymus gland (up to 40 percent shrinkage), enlargement of the liver and kidneys, atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus, increased cecal weight, reduced bodily growth rate, decreased red blood cell count, hyperplasia of the pelvis, extension of gestational periods in pregnancy, decreased fetal body weights and placental weights, and diarrhea.

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3 Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language: Deluxe Encyclopedic Edition. 1991.

4 Alternative Sweeteners, Third Edition. Lyn O’Brien Nabors (editor)


6 Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary G, PhD, Nourishing Traditions, NewTrends Publishing, 2001, Washington, DC. P. 51



9 Ibid

10 Ibid

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