GIMME SOME SUGAR
by Dr. Nicole Murphy
They’re one of the most common ingredients you’ll find on the grocery store shelves and a constant source of controversy since they were first discovered in the late 19th century. I’m talking about artificial sweeteners, or as they have been rebranded “non-nutritive sweeteners.” As far back as I can remember, there have been stories going around about the dangers of fake sugars. But what is fiction and what are the facts?
You’ve probably heard it said that artificial sweeteners cause cancer. This stems from studies done in the 70s that showed that saccharin and cyclamate caused bladder cancer in rats. Later, it was found to be a specific problem in rats that didn’t affect humans, but even though sweeteners stayed on the shelves the stories persisted. In the years since, there have been many additional studies that find no connection between artificial sweeteners and cancer. However, there has been some research claiming to find a link between aspartame and specific cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Additional studies are ongoing, but for some even a slightly increased risk of cancer is reason enough to cut artificial sweeteners out of their diet.
Headaches and migraines can also be caused by artificial sweeteners. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I started experiencing severe headaches after I finished chiropractic school, and it was frustrating that the very thing I help people with every day was plaguing me. I thought I was doing everything right; I was getting adjusted and eating clean, but the headaches continued. It wasn’t until I cut out fake sugars that I stopped having headaches. For many people, artificial sweeteners are a trigger for headaches in the same way that chocolate, wine, or dairy can be. When I started making a conscious effort to cut artificial sweeteners out of my diet, I realized just how many things have fake sugar it them. It’s in almost every kind of gum, even the ones that aren’t sugar-free. Removing artificial sweeteners from your diet is harder than you might expect, but for me, having an easy way to avoid headaches made it worth the effort.
Joint pain has also been linked to use of artificial sugars. I have had more than one patient come to me with what they thought was arthritic pain, only to have it decrease or even disappear completely when they stopped using the fake stuff. Elimination dieting--that is, cutting out one specific thing to see if it is contributing to your issues, often finds artificial sweetener to be the culprit. If you’re having joint pain that isn’t arthritis and doesn’t seem to improve with adjustments or other treatments, it might be worth cutting out fake sugars.
However, the most convincing reason I can find to stop using artificial sweeteners is the same reason most people start to use them in the first place--weight loss. Even though they are touted as a good alternative to sugar, artificial sweeteners don’t actually help you lose weight! Studies show that people who use artificial sweeteners are more likely to have metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Our brains are pretty good at being able to judge the calories we are taking in based on how our food tastes. There are more calories in sweeter things, and the human brain knows that. The problem is, most of the food we put in our bodies now has been engineered for us to want more and more. Fake sugars can make it difficult for our brains to determine caloric intake like they’re supposed to. They train it to devalue sweet things, regardless of whether they are real sugar or non-nutrient kind. Artificial sweeteners also trick the satiety area of the brain. This is the area that should switch off your hunger when you have had enough to eat. Fake sugars tamper with this switch so you end up eating more than you need.
In my research into artificial sweeteners, I came across an alarming study where rats were fed sucralose--which you might know better by it’s brand name: Splenda. After ingesting Splenda, researchers found that the healthy gut flora in their bodies was decreased by as much as 50%. As many of you have heard from me, gut flora is a huge part of how our bodies digest food, absorb nutrients, and even strengthen our immune systems. Imbalances in these microorganisms can have a serious impact on your health. One of the best way to combat the depletion of healthy gut flora is by taking a probiotic. We have two different options in our office and they are a wonderful way to restore that good bacteria that may’ve been killed off by artificial sweeteners. During the month of February, you can pick up one of our probiotic supplements for 20% off.
So what is the takeaway? My recommendation is to cut out artificial sweeteners immediately. Stop further damage to you body and start feeling better. If you crave something sweet, have something with real sugar--but in moderation. Your brain will have to relearn what sweet really tastes like, and that it doesn’t need 72 oz of it in soda form! Drink more water. If you can’t go cold turkey, then trade one of your artificially sweetened beverages every day for a glass of water, slowly increasing the water intake while decreasing the fake stuff.
Anyone who’s ever come into the office knows that I often say that wellness is an ongoing effort. Chiropractic adjustments, exercise, and nutritional supplements all help you to feel your best, but if you feel like you’re doing everything “right” but still aren’t feeling your best, consider removing artificial sweeteners from your diet. It’s a little thing that can make a huge difference. Fake sugar is found in tons of foods, so it may be hard work, but I guarantee that it’ll be worth it. And that’s the bittersweet truth.