Toxins are in the environment, so when reaching for a food, beverage, or even a receipt, it is important to note that there are new concerns about artificial sweeteners and BPA.
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Sucrose (sugar) has no benefits, nutritionally, other than energy. In 2003, experts recommended that “sugars make up no more than 10% of (the) diet”. In 2009, the American Heart Association reduced even that amount. For those wishing to avoid sugar for dietary or dental purposes, artificial sweeteners have been on the market for many years. Some commonly known sweeteners are acesulfame potassium (Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet N Low), sucralose (Splenda), and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol). There are also natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, honey, and stevia. Sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea and bloating. Additionally, they can raise blood sugar. Other artificial sweeteners have had links to cancers and other health issues in lab tests and animal research, but it is unclear about their long term effects on humans. Generally, moderation has been urged in the use of such sugar substitutes, but people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) need to avoid aspartame. Honey and agave nectar raise blood sugar at a lower rate, but they do contain calories, so they should also be used in moderation. High fructose corn syrup may contribute more to obesity than sucrose.1 The benefits of artificial sweeteners is that they can help people with weight loss by allowing them to eat more satisfying amounts of foods. Some doctors believe that eating many artificially sweetened foods can lead to people consuming more calories, however, by allowing them to think that these foods are “free”. Tooth decay may not even be avoided as the “acid in diet soda still could contribute to…erosion”. More artificial sweeteners are coming to the market.2
Effect on Gut Bacteria
In a recent study published in Nature, non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) were found to contribute to “the development of glucose intolerance through…alterations to the intestinal microbiota”.3 The digestive system relies on microbes to digest food and contribute to overall health. This preliminary research demonstrated that artificial sweeteners could lead to Type 2 diabetes due to their effect on gut bacteria.4 In experiments, mice consumed water that had aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, and they developed glucose intolerance, which is a precursor to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. When researchers “manipulated the…gut bacteria” they discovered that killing the bacteria made the glucose intolerance go away. In a small human trial (of healthy people) researchers found that only a week of artificial sweetener consumption affected “gut bacteria composition” and that the subjects “started showing glucose intolerance”. Dr. Gerard Mullin has noted that “friendly…bacteria modulate processes like insulin resistance…that lead to weight gain” and “lactobacillus has been shown to decrease fat mass and the risk of type 2 diabetes.”5 These studies are preliminary, but some people seem more susceptible to these metabolic and gut bacteria changes. Aside from gut bacteria, artificial sweeteners may also “propagate a sweet tooth”, causing some to “favor added sugar” and eat foods that can “contribute to glucose intolerance”. It is ironic that the artificial sweeteners meant to aid in weight loss may have the opposite effect on weight. While not a direct connection, this “indirect effect” means that the sweeteners “may alter the microbiome – and that…alters metabolic processing”. Yogurt, fermented products, fruits, and vegetables could “counteract the effect and push your gut microbes in a better direction”.6
What is BPA?
BPA, or Bisphenol A is used in the production of some epoxy resins and plastics. Commonly, it is found in DVDs, CDs, sports equipment and water bottles, as well as water pipe liners and coatings in cans. It is also in the thermal paper that is used for receipts. The concern about BPA is that it “exhibits hormone-like properties”. The FDA no longer authorizes the use of BPA for infant formula packaging or baby bottles, but this is due to “market abandonment, not safety”; however, Canada and the European Union have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles. A 2009 study found that babies and children cannot eliminate BPA from the body as easily as adults can, through liver detoxification. Levels of Bisphenol A in children have been found, in recent studies, to “exceed the EPA’s suggested safe limits figure”.7 BPA has been used for many decades to harden plastics. Besides compact discs, water bottles and food can linings, BPA can be found in dental sealants and medical devices, as well as in many other places. This chemical may also be picked up through dust, air, and water. As a result, “more than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies right now”. The FDA maintains that BPA is “safe at the current low levels of human exposure”, but there is “some concern about the potential effects…on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands” in infants and children, due to evidence mostly from “animal studies”. The chemical can disrupt hormones, cause brain and behavioral problems, might increase later cancer risk, and it could be related to heart problems. As a result of these issues, even though “there are no restrictions on the use”, the FDA suggests taking precautions against exposure, such as purchasing BPA-free products, selecting non-plastic containers for food, not heating plastic with Bisphenol A (in the microwave or dishwasher, for example), using canned foods less often, and avoiding “plastics with a 3 or 7 recycle code on the bottom”.8
BPA Dangers in Receipts
While it has been known for years that Bisphenol A has been present in plastics, news has recently come out that BPA is in receipts, and exposure to the chemical significantly increases after hand sanitizer is used. Bisphenol A is used as a developer in thermal paper. Problems arise especially after hand sanitizer use, since these gels have “chemicals that help the liquids get into your skin” called “dermal penetration enhancers”. Skin-care products with these chemicals can make BPA levels spike after handling a receipt, even with only “45 seconds of contact”. As a result, the Environmental Working Group suggests washing hands after touching a receipt and before handling food.9 Cashiers and bank tellers are most at risk of receipt exposure. BPA is “‘bounded’, or attached to other molecules” in bottles and cans, but in receipts it is a “loose powder”, which leaves a high concentration of the chemical on the fingers. A study showed evidence that the exposure came through the skin, not from breathing in the powder. Women of childbearing age, adolescents, pregnant women, and other “vulnerable” people should “consider some kind of protective gloves” to act as a “barrier”, according to Dr. Shelley Erlich, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.10 Recommendations for limiting exposure in the general public, besides wearing gloves, would include declining to take a receipt, having the receipt put in the bag (but not with foods that are eaten raw), keeping receipts in one place for accounting purposes, and washing hands after contact with the receipts. For businesses that use the thermal paper receipts, it is recommended to find a supplier that offers BPA-free paper. Appleton Paper is a big manufacturer of thermal paper receipts, and in 2006 they went BPA-free.11
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