alive logo

It's a Sweet, Sweet World


It is widely accepted among medical professionals that high consumption of sugar overstimulates the pancreas and adrenal glands. Extended over a long period of time, this may contribute to hypoglycemia, behavioral problems in kids, fatigue, fluctuating blood sugar levels and mood swings, diabetes and obesity.

Since the beginning of time, humans have demonstrated strong desire for sweets.

Even a cave painting 15 to 20 thousand years old pictures a Neolithic man breaking into a wild bees' nest. More recent evidence, obtained in scientific studies on newborns and adults, suggests that the craving for sweets is an instinctive rather than a learned response. A theory put forth based on such research suggests that sweet taste may have been an indicator of safety of foods in pre-historic times.

Raw sugar was used in India as early as 327 BC. It was brought to the Americas by the Spaniards at the turn of the 16th century and then quickly spread throughout the rest of the globe. It was first refined 600 years ago.

Many natural forms of sugar have come into existence since then. These include maple and rice syrups, barley and rye malts, raw sugar, sucanat, date sugar, various forms of brown sugar and high fructose syrups (HFSs) such as corn syrup. All of these are so called caloric sweeteners, containing 50 calories per 15 millilitres, on average. They all have undergone various degrees of processing. Some of the more natural ones contain a few vitamins, minerals and other biochemical compounds that make them easier to metabolize.

Not so Sweet

It is widely accepted among medical professionals that high consumption of sugar overstimulates the pancreas and adrenal glands. Extended over a long period of time, this may contribute to hypoglycemia, behavioral problems in kids, fatigue, fluctuating blood sugar levels and mood swings, diabetes and obesity. The last two, in turn, set the ground for developing atherosclerosis, heart disease and cancer all major problems in our society today.

Sugar also feeds harmful bacteria, which creates dental cavities and Candida overgrowth in the bowel.

This far from happy situation set forth a quest for the ideal sweetener. It would be as sweet or sweeter than sugar, have no calories or aftertaste, be colorless, odorless, stable, readily soluble, non-toxic and economically feasible, that would not promote dental cavities or other bacterial action, be metabolized normally or excreted without causing metabolic abnormalities. Not an easy task, but here are some breakthroughs from the world of artificial synthesis.

Toxic Sugar

The most popular high intensity sweeteners, are aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K, cyclamate and sucralose. They are 200-400 times sweeter than sugar and non-caloric (that is, they contain negligible calories).

Some are nutritive, like aspartame. Aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol, which degrades into formaldehyde a well-known toxin.

The American Food and Drug Association (FDA) announced in 1984 that no evidence has been found to establish that the methanol byproduct reaches toxic levels, claiming that "many fruit juices contain higher levels of the natural compound." However, The Medical World News had already reported in 1978 that the methanol content of aspartame was 1,000 times greater than most foods under FDA control.

Other artificial sweeteners are non-nutritive, such as saccharin, which supposedly passes through the intestinal tract unchanged. The FDA approved these sweeteners for use in hundreds of food categories such as soft drinks, chewing gum, breath mints, gelatins, puddings and fillings, as table-top sugar substitutes and in Pharmaceuticals, vitamins, tooth pastes, mouth washes and aftershave lotions.

These additives are proclaimed to be safe for people of all ages and conditions, including diabetics, pregnant women and young children. Saccharin is an exception here, as the FDA tried to ban it in 1977 because of some studies that showed tumor formations in rats. The U.S. Congress did not allow the ban, and now the products containing saccharin are required to have warning labels.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly available in supermarkets, cafeterias, fast food places and are given to diabetics in hospitals. They get incredible support from manstream organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Medical Association, which praise them as being healthy additions to a low calorie diet.

The Rest of the Story

There are over 90 documented symptoms of known aspartame toxicity. These include numbness in the legs, vertigo, shooting pains, headaches, joint pain, depression, anxiety attacks, blurred vision, memory loss, coma and death. At a recent Conference of the American College of Physicians, Dr HJ. Roberts, a diabetic specialist and world expert on aspartame poisoning, said that his diabetic patients consuming this sweetener showed evidence of memory loss, confusion and severe vision loss. He has written a book entitled Defense against Alzheimer's Disease, in which he shows how aspartame poisoning is escalating Alzheimer's disease.

At the same conference, Dr R. Blaylock, neurosurgeon and author of Excitotoxins: Taste that kills, said, "The ingredients [in] stimulate the neurons of the brain to death, causing brain damage of various degrees."

Roberts also noted that "consuming aspartame at the time of conception can cause birth defects." Phenylalanine concentrates in the placenta, causing mental retardation, according to Dr Louis Elsas, pediatrician professor of genetics at Emory University. In his original lab tests, animals developed brain tumors because phenylalanine breaks down into DXP, a brain tumor agent.

Richard Wurtman, an MIT neuroscientist discovered that aspartame defeats its purpose as a diet aid, since high doses may instill a craving for calorie-laden carbohydrates. In 1991 the National Institute of Health (a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services) published a bibliography, Adverse Effects of Aspartame, listing no less than 167 reasons to avoid it.

The FDA still claims that there is insufficient proof of aspartame's danger. Do we want our children or ourselves to be part of the experiment?

Stevia to the Rescue

Fortunately there is always a natural alternative. In this case it's stevia, commonly known as the sweet leaf of Paraguay. The leaves of this plant, which are 30 times sweeter than sugar, have been used for centuries by Paraguayans to make sweet teas or to sweeten foods with no evidence of adverse reactions. In the late 1960s Japanese scientists developed a technology for extracting a sweetener out of stevia leaf that is 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, called stevioside. It is currently the largest selling sweetener in Japan after sugar and a very popular non-caloric alternative in South America, Israel and the Orient.

In the United States the FDA, out of loyalty to Monsanto (the largest manufacturer of aspartame), forbids stevia's use as a sweetening agent, but allows it to be used as a dietary supplement. In Canada, whole stevia leaves or whole leaf water extract can be used in foods and teas as aflavoring ingredient as long as no claims of its sweet taste are made. It may not be used as afood additive or in its refined form.

Stevia leaves have anti-fungal properties, are a plaque retardant and are beneficial in fat absorption, blood pressure regulation and prevention of cavities. Homeopathically, stevia has been reported to be effective in the treatment of many diseases such as diabetes, various skin conditions, hypertension, obesity and infections.

From the many scientific studies performed on stevia's properties, it is perfectly obvious that in addition to being calorie-free, stevia has no known toxicity and therefore is an excellent product for people who can not tolerate sugar, such as diabetics and hypoglycemics.



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe