Sunday 29 April 2007

The rise of the Frankenstein Sugars

Sweet headache

Years ago, I just could not understand why I was having repeated migraines for no seemingly apparent reason, then they all suddenly stopped; on reflection it was when I ran out of chewable Vitamin C tablet supplements.

It all came together when I bought some wafers from a shop and then shared the problem with a friend who had a medical background, he suggested the migraines might be diet related, probably artificial sweeteners.

So, I looked at the container of my Vitamin C supplements, the wrapper on the wafer and a few experiments of consciously taking foods with sweeteners and I nailed the culprit.

Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester

I had never been a fan of diet drinks, so that was easy, however, I had to consciously check foods for sugar-free or low sugar content usually Aspartame marketed under trade names as Equal, Nutrasweet or Canderel and Acesulfame K used in chewing gum, drinks and all kinds of low sugar foods.

In fact, there are a whole group of artificial sweeteners that are hundred of times sweeter than table sugar but of low calorific value, saccharine happens to be the oldest of the lot.

For those who have to contend with sugar related diseases, these sweeteners for taste are a welcome substitute.

The names of these chemical concoctions are coined to instil sheer terror - Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester for Aspartame and the potassium salt of 6-methyl-1,2,3- oxathiazine-4(3H)-one 2,2-dioxide for Acesulfame K - K being the potassium.

Brain tumours from artificial sweetener

However, I got a lot more worried about sweeteners even though I had discontinued ingesting them when I was trying to get an alternative booking to Paris after the Channel Tunnel fire when the travel agent was about to fleece me - the Internet came in handy as I was just as informed as they were on flight information and my rights as they were ABTA bonded.

I did a quick search for ABTA, then Netscape Navigator was the rage and I ended up at the American Brain Tumours Association where a number of studies had suggested a dramatic increase in the incidence of brain tumours since the acceptance of Nutrasweet by the FDA in the American food chain.

As usual with food science, there are claims and counter-claims, it is a minefield of information and one just has to be a bit smart about how to respond to the advice.

I bookmarked that page and refined my search with ABTA Travel, this then took me to the Association of British Travel Agents where I was able to read about my rights and sort out my travel.

The doctors not sweetened

That was in 1996 when the FDA was about to approve Acesulfame K as a sweetener and scientists were against extending the use of the chemical to other foodstuffs; the lobbyists must have sewn it up because it got approved in America and this allowed it to have acceptance all over the world too.

Recently, Dr. Morando Soffritti of the Ramazzini Foundation found that Aspartame which consists of two amino acids and a methanol binding agent - note methanol - caused multiple cancers in rats, however, this has brought the FDA out fighting because of possible culpability allowing what might have been a carcinogenic poison in the food chain.

A few days ago, I read in the online edition of the Daily Mail that Sainsbury's - the third largest supermarket chain in the UK - were taking chemicals out of their brand drinks and other products as more research indicates concerns about the safety of Aspartame and other sweeteners and artificial flavourings.

So the sweet chemical was to be replaced with sucralose - a low calorie sweetener made from sugar - for many people that would be the end of the story, I almost rejoiced.

Frankenstein sugars

Sucralose indeed made from sugar as scientists have found ways of strengthening the potency of sugar to between 350 - 1000 times the strength of table sugar, which makes it better than most other artificial sweeteners - it is marketed under the name of Splenda or generic Altern.

1,6-dichloro-1,6-dideoxy-β-D-fructo-furanosyl 4-chloro-4-deoxy-α-D-galactopyranoside is the chemical name, and it is produced by substituting three of the sucrose hydroxyl groups with chlorine atoms - in layman terms, sugar is chlorinated to create sucralose.

In fact the sweetness is too potent to be used unadulterated that it has to be mixed with Maltodextrin as a packing agent to be used domestically.

However, the concern is about changing the natural state of a naturally occurring substance into a Frankenstein sugar which is a chlorocarbon that bothers medical circles, another source of chlorine is added to the food chain beyond salt and chlorinated water besides the other halogenous compounds of fluorine and iodine that we ingest.

Basically, with insufficient studies and research into the long-term effects of the usage of these chemically enhanced natural substances, we do not have to worry about brain tumours as much as one can now consider organ, genetic and reproductive damage, one wonders if measuring the pain-threshold of sweetener side-effects is the benchmark for approval.

What wellbeing we give up for keeping things sweet.

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