Lethal Conflicts and Artificial Sweeteners
By R. D. Flavin

4-10-2015

     War (either offensive or defensive) has always been about death and it appears drinking diet-soda is not only a waste of time, but perhaps is really bad for you as well (Stellman and Garfinkel 1986). Damn, seems like EVERTHING gets complicated at one point or another! Yemen is begging Pakistan for ground troops and ISIS has captured the large Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee camp not far from Damascus. As far as the recent agreement between America and Iran, Israel doesn't like it and Congress seems evenly divided with vocal opponents and quiet supporters. I've known for years that massive doses of artificial sweeteners given to rats have sometimes brought on cancer, but those were outrageously huge doses... Now we're reading consumption may actually 'increase' belly-fat? I forget, are eggs good or bad for you this week (after Easter, of course)?

     Libya remains without a government and is still run by pirates and thugs. Apparently the recent bold air-strikes by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates at the ports where pirates control the exporting of oil (Libya's number one money-maker) only made a dent in the anarchy. It seems we've lost track of the problems in Eastern Ukraine, yet find time to congratulate Iraqi troops who took back Tikret from ISIS. I wonder if Iceland has ever had a conflict more than deciding what tavern to visit?

     I've always been a drinker – a half-gallon of Kool-Aid every day as a kid, two pots of coffee a day in my twenties, a twelve-pack of beer in my thirties, a fifth of hard stuff in my forties, ...and I stopped drinking alcohol (except for those rarest of socially celebratory occasions), and have dutifully consumed two liters of diet soda a day in my fifties. The recommendation of soda-water with a splash of juice seems like it's going to be a difficult transition...

     While honey has been a common natural sweetener since prehistoric times, sugar (Saccharum barberi) from sugar-cane has a most respectable antiquity, originating in India and first mentioned in an eighth century BCE manuscript from China (Rolph 1917, p. 119). It took many years for other countries to grow their own sugar-cane, and it wasn't introduced to the Caribbean until the 17th century. Sugar from beets eventually became popular and is still used the world over today. The dreaded 'corn syrup' wasn't invented until 1812.

     Artificial sweeteners, however, are a modern development with “saccharin” first produced in 1879 by the chemist, Constantin Fahlnerg, working in Prof. Ira Remsen's laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and a journal article was jointly published about benzoic sulfimide (Fahlnerg & Remsen 1879). Fahlnerg subsequently moved to New York City, coined the term saccharin and made a fortune. Remsen was left out of the business (and profits) and is said to have remarked, "Fahlberg is a scoundrel. It nauseates me to hear my name mentioned in the same breath with him.


Süßstoff Saccharin from the Zucker-Museum (Sugar Museum) in Berlin.

     Working on a potential anti-fever medication, sodium cyclamate was accidentally discovered in 1937 by the graduate student, Michael Sveda, at the University of Illinois. Cyclamate has had its ups and downs, is often mixed with other artificial sweeteners like saccharin, holds up well under heat and is considered inexpensive (Richards et al. 1951; Miller et al 1966). Its popular and marketing name is 'Sweet'N Low'.


     Finally (as I'm NOT going through all of the modern artificial sweeteners), there's aspartame, like other compounds with unintended properties, was also accidentally discovered, this time by a chemist seeking an anti-ulcer drug in 1965. James M. Schlatter, working for G. D. Searle & Company didn't make a 'fortune', as his discovery was regarded as a work-product, and the new artificial sweetener was traded to various companies and is now most commonly known (and sold as) NutraSweet.

     It's easy to slip into some form of cynicism, as our sentience tells us our time will run out eventually, we just can't predict 'when'. Of course “War is Hell,” but sometimes just stepping off the wrong curb can be lethal. That obesity has achieved epidemic and widespread problematic conditions does seem to come as a surprise, though gluttony has long been considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins (if you go in for such). I mean, technically America is STILL fighting the Korean War, although that over-eating is killing our kids (as well as the mature) is ...flat out wrong, embarrassing, and stupid.

     I honestly do not believe there has been any actual increase in violence (murder, rebellion, war, etc.), it's just we live in a 'smaller' world, have more people counting such things, and we're more aware of the conflicts around us. That familiar anthropological expression, “We're basically cave-folk with computers” sums my personal take on our homicidal tendencies. It's not that 'evil' is winning or 'good' is losing – we're learning about events 24/7. May we one day be a more peaceful species and consume an 'average' and healthy diet. Oh, and it's time for another Star Trek television series, Pluto needs to be re-instated as a planet, and I need to date more. And, sniff, give up diet-soda...

Bibliography:

Fahlberg, C. and Remsen, I. 1879. "Über die Oxydation des Orthotoluolsulfamids." Berichte der Deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin. 12: 469–473.

Miller et al. 1966. "Distribution and excretion of 14 C-cyclamate sodium in animals." By Jonathan P. Miller, LE Michael Crawford, Robert C. Sonders, and Earl V. Cardinal. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 25, 2: 153-157.

Richards et al. 1951. “Studies on cyclamate sodium (Sucaryl sodium), a new noncaloric sweetening agent” By R. K. Richards, J. D. Taylor, J. L. O'Brien, and H. O. Duescher. Journal of Pharmaceutical Studies. 40: 1-6.

Rolph, George M. 1917. Something About Sugar: Its History, Growth, Manufacture and Distribution. San Francisco: John J. Newbegin.

Stellman, Steven D. and Lawrence Garfinkel. 1986. “Artificial Sweetener Use and One-Year Weight Change among Women.” Preventive Medicine. 15, 19: 5-202. See also: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/03/17/is-there-really-a-link-between-diet-soda-and-belly-fat/

Peace and health to all,
Rick

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