Two artificial alternatives to what nature provides have recently come up in the news. Not because of their benefits, but because of their potential dangers: artificial sweeteners and artificial turf. Recent events and new studies indicate that artificial sweeteners and artificial turf may be causing unexpected health problems for people who use them.

Artificial Sweeteners

New studies are pointing to a link between artificial sweeteners and glucose intolerance. Although studies have only been conducted in rats, the studies show that artificial sweeteners decreased the amount of beneficial bacteria and made other changes to the gut microbiome similar to people with obesity and diabetes. ( See this article in TheScientist). The study indicates that there may be a relationship between glucose intolerance and artificial sweeteners. It is too soon to jump to conclusions, but studies done with rats can be good predictors of the effects on people. (See Wikipedia info on animal studies).

Glucose intolerance is a term used to describe metabolic conditions that lead to hyperglycemia, a pre-condition to diabetes. An estimated 41 million people are glucose intolerant, so this study and further research could have a significant effect on our understanding of the causes of diabetes in the US.

This does not come as a surprise to many people in the organic foods community. Many people in the organic community have been raising concerns over Asparatame, a popular artificial sweetener,  and it’s effects on people.  Asparatame has been extensively tested and approved by the FDA.

Additionally, studies will not find what they are not looking for. Testing the effects of artificial sweeteners for glucose tolerance is something new and may lead to a new perspective on artificial sweeteners. This new study may vindicate the people who have been pointing to the dangers of artificial sweeteners. Whatever your perspective, the debate on the health benefits and risks of artificial sweeteners is important. Millions of people use artificial sweeteners as a replacement for sugar.

What is the best course of action? Being aware of what foods and drinks you consume and doing your best to avoid artificial sweeteners is a good start. Until further testing is done and definitive conclusions are reached, it is your call.

Artificial Turf Made with Crumb Rubber

Officially, artificial turf is considered safe. However, a recent spate of cancer cases, all involving female soccer goalies, have started people wondering about its safety. Goalies who play on artificial turf are in contact with the turf more than any other players. They commonly pull rubber crumbs out of their clothes and hair after games. Rubber crumbs get into their skin, nose and mouth as well.

The recent spate of cancer cases is causing alarm and pointing to a possible link between artificial turf and cancer. The crumb rubber that is now on thousands of athletic fields and playgrounds around the country is made from old tires. These old tires contain a mixture of synthetic materials and scrap tire, which can contain hazardous materials, such as benzene, carbon black and lead.

There are no studies to show a link between crumb rubber turf and the high incidence of cancer among goalies. However, this may be due to a lack of research. Meanwhile, these softer artificial surfaces may be having unintended heath effects on kids around the country that play on them.

The NBC story on cancer incidence among goalies has sparked this debate and given it national attention. The Synthetic Turf Counsel has posted a response to the story here. They point out that no definitive evidence exists linking crumb rubber to cancer and that many studies have been done over the last 22 years. Yet, the incidence of cancer among women soccer goalies is a pattern that bares investigation and caution.

Use Caution When Using Artificial Products

It is impossible to simply reject all things artificial. However, it is also important to not accept artificial alternatives to natural products without investigation and a little bit of scepticism. There are numerous examples of artificial products that once were considered harmless to later be deemed harmful. BPA in plastics is just one such example. In the near future, artificial sweeteners and crumb rubber may become another.

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