Artificial Sweeteners Found in Water Supplies

Artificial sweeteners have many intended benefits for select individuals, such as diabetics and people suffering from obesity, but some research has suggested adverse effects, and even as a potential risk factor for cancer. A recent German study has concluded that water treatment plants do not remove artificial sweeteners totally from waste water, potentially putting entire societies at risk for artificial sweetener induced problems.

There are many different artificial sweeteners, but the presence of seven of the most common (cyclamate, acesulfame, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, neohesperidin dihydrochalcone and sucralose), within water supplies, were investigated in the current study. These various sweeteners find their way into many foods, beverages, and pharmaceuticals, and are subsequently a significant constituent of waste water.

There are a wide range of intended benefits for artificial sweeteners. They are low in food energy (less calories) compared to sugar and corn syrup, and therefore a method of weight loss or control (some past research has actually suggested that diet drinks have the adverse effect, with consumption leading to weight gain, but these results have been strongly contested). They also generally have minimal effects on blood glucose levels, making them potentially safer for diabetics to consume than sugar-loaded products. Artificial sweeteners also don’t cause cavities and other dental problems that are linked to heavy sugar consumption. For these reasons, artificial sweeteners are extremely popular in many developed countries.

Aspertame is the most widely used artificial sweetener, and also the most controversial. It’s used in diet sodas, desserts, gum, and many other consumables, but has been linked (many say inconclusively) to cancer, specifically of the brain. Saccharin has also been linked to cancer, and other sweeteners are considered to be “toxic,” though the toxicity is usually in sufficiently low dosage to not directly cause noticeable problems.

According to a thorough, “new analytical method,” utilized by researchers, four artificial sweeteners (acesulfame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose), were present in water after treatment, with the other three (including aspertame) being completely eliminated. The presence of these four artificial sweeteners after treatment is troubling, as this water is then sent into rivers and streams (which must have some unnatural effects on the aquatic animals as well), and then into communal water supplies.

This “incompleteness of water purification,” since found in the standard and developed water processing systems of Germany, suggests that millions of people around the world are unknowingly consuming artificial sweeteners. While the presence of these four sweeteners was only found in “traces” after water treatment, since it is not yet known what amounts of the sweeteners have negative effects on health, this finding is important and a potential step towards the development of more efficient water purification systems.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Robinson, Joan. Scheurer, Marco, et al. Analytical and BioAnalytical Chemistry news release. June 2009.