Sunday, July 5, 2015

Saccharin Affects Weight, Blood Lipids, Glucose & Liver Markers at Doses Equiv. to 3 Packs of Common Sweetener

Implications for diet coke? None!
While I have deliberately ignored all previous studies discussing potential detrimental effects of saccharin on human health based on super-dose animal models, the one at hand is worth mentioning, because the dosage used is way below the RDA of 0.44mg/kg.

But let's tackle one thing after another. In contrast to the myths about aspartame which are still totally unfounded, the rumors about ill effects of saccharin on kidney and liver metabolism have been concrete enough for all the major players to pull saccharin from their products (see Table 1).
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In fact, Tab, a diet cola soft drink introduced in 1963 and was created by Coca-Cola after the successful sales and marketing of Diet Rite cola, owned by The Royal Crown Company has long disappeared from the market... for a reason?
Table 1: Overview of  the amounts of artificial sweeteners in the most popular sodas (Wikipedia. 2015)
If we go by the results of a very recent study from the Universities of Dammam and Cairo, it would seem that the decision makers in the Coca-Cola Company did - whether knowingly or not - the exact right thing when they pulled the Diet Coke precursor from the market.
Figure 1: Changes in markers of liver and kidney health (left) and antioxidant status (right), in the former all changes were statistically significant, for GSH & co only the changes in the high dose group were (Amin. 2015).
You are right, the changes in ALT, AST, ALP usw. (Figure 1, left) Kamal Adel Amin and Hessah Mohammed AlMuzafar observed, would have been a good incentive to pull it now, if they hadn't done that already. Overall, the study is not without flaws, though.

There is more than one reason not to jump to potentially unwarranted conclusions

I will not go into detail on the dozens of spelling and grammar mistakes, as this is nothing that impairs the accuracy of the experimental results, but the fact that the researchers report the diet composition as follows,
"Rats were nourished on the regular basal diet and supplied with tap water and the contents of experimental diets were according to Kim et al., [21], it composed of: lipid 5%, carbohydrates 6%, protein 20.3%, fiber 5%, salts 3.7%, and vitamins 1%" (Amin. 2015),
makes me scratch my head. It's afte all not only that the figures don't add up. If you follow up on the reference, you will find that Kim et al. (2005) used a low and a high fat diet of which none contained only 5% of lipids (instead it's 11.7% and 40%).
Of these three only the violet packet still contains saccharin. Most other sugar-replacements and many sugar-reduced foods rely on other agents.
What's the human equivalent dose of the amount of saccharin used in the study? The human equivalent doses of 10mg/kg and 500mg/kg are 1.6mg/kg and 81.1mg/kg. For the calculation of the RDI which is 5 mg/kg body weight for kids and 340mg of saccharin every day over his or her lifetime for adults, scientists use a standard weight of 150lbs or 68kg. Accordingly, the low dose used in the study at hand would equal a human dose of 108.8 mg which is 32% of the RDA or ~3 packs of the (still popular) sugar-replacement Sweet'n'Low which contains 36 mg saccharin per packet.
Ok, this may still be a typo, but the fact that the scientists administered the 10mg/kg or 500mg/kg body weight saccharin via a stomach tube without having a sham fed control is negligent, because being tube fed is a daily stressor for the rats in the active treatment group that was not present in the rats in the non-supplemented group.
Figure 2: Changes in body weight gain, makers of lipid and glucose metbolism, only full bars are stat. sign. (Amin. 2015).
Yes, you can argue that the group that received methyl-salicylates, the safety of which was assessed in the same study may serve as a control, but come on... what kind of control is that, even if there were no significant changes in any of the measurable variables observed in the third and fourth study groups that received 80 and 250 mg/kg body weight methyl salicylates, a natural or synthetic oil with a characteristic wintergreen odor and taste that is used as a counterirritant in ointments or liniments for muscle pain and also as a flavoring agent.
Chronic Aspartame & Acesulfam-K Use Doesn't Mess W/ Your Microbiome | No Link Between Bad Lifestyle & Sweetener Use | No Good Advice from Dietitians | read more.
So what do we make of these results? In spite of the questionable experimental quality of the study, the "side effects", which include next to allegedly positive effects like lower blood lipids and glucose, and the absence of a clear dose-response effect (if you increase the dosage by factor 50x you would expect a greater increase in harm if saccharin was actually "toxic") a sign. reduced growth rate of the pubertal rats and messed up liver transaminases, too, this study will fuel the rumors about potential ill health effects of saccharin. What it will not do, though, is to settle the debate by "proving" that these negative effects are (a) for real and (b) relevant to human health.

I mean, the small decrements in antioxidant defenses and allegedly large, albeit not linearly dose-dependent increase in liver enzymes are alarming, but in an experiment that was as sloppily done and presented as the study at hand, I simply cannot take the results seriously enough to ignore the fact that previous studies with much higher doses of saccharin in the water found no "difference between the activities of the serum enzymes, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT, and alkaline phosphatase [or creatinine]" (Udem. 2011) | Comment on FB!
  • Amin, Kamal Adel, and Hessah Mohammed AlMuzafar. "Alterations in lipid profile, oxidative stress and hepatic function in rat fed with saccharin and methyl-salicylates." International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine 8.4 (2015): 6133.
  • Kim, Ji Hyun, et al. "Effect of crude saponin of Korean red ginseng on high-fat diet-induced obesity in the rat." Journal of pharmacological sciences 97.1 (2005): 124-131.
  • Udem, Samuel Chukwuneke, and Emmanuel C. Nwobodo. "Investigation into the short-term effect of ingestion of different concentrations of saccharin sodium on some hematological and biochemical profile of rats." Comparative Clinical Pathology 20.5 (2011): 471-474.
  • Wikipedia contributors. Tab (soft drink) [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2015 Jul 4, 23:49 UTC [cited 2015 Jul 5]. Available from: