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Aspartame: 100 Times Sweeter Than Sugar, But is it Safe?

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Posted Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, 2011

aspartame

We Americans…we are always looking for the shortcut, the inside track, the one pill solution to every problem. We want world peace resolved in a 30-minute sitcom and expect complicated medical problems to be solved with a clever review of an MRI.

Equally unrealistic is our expectation that there exists some Promised Land of guilt-free, sugar-free candies and desserts that allow us to keep eating anything we want. In fact, we want this fantasy so badly that we are willing to overlook little things like brain tumors, seizures, joint problems, and even death.

Those and 92 other dangerous side effects come from a commonly used artificial sweetener with a sordid history of poor research, cover-ups and other nonsense. But that hasn’t stopped this toxic poison from invading thousands of different foods and beverages we eat every day.

What is Aspartame…

Back in 1965, while people were protesting the Vietnam War and rocking out to the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, scientist James Schlatter tripped over one of today’s most commonly used and accepted chemical concoctions: aspartame.

While recrystallizing a chemical compound (aspartylphenylalanine-methyl-ester), some of the powder spilled and got onto Schlatter’s fingers. Not realizing his, he licked his fingers inadvertently and noticed the sweet taste.

Four years later, in 1969, the Journal of the American Chemical Society reported on aspartame, discussing the “accidental discovery of an organic compound with a profound sucrose (table sugar) like taste.”1

Sugar-like taste is an understatement. Aspartame is 100 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, depending on concentration. But what, exactly, is this chemical sweetener?

A Sweet Mess…

Whether you are talking about the little yellow packets of Equal or NutraSweet, aspartame remains a laboratory creation. It is composed of three elements: aspartic acid (40 percent), phenylalanine (50 percent), and methanol (10 percent).

Both aspartic acid and phenylalamine are amino acids, which sounds good, right? Not really. See, aspartic acid is a known excitotoxin, meaning it overstimulates your nervous system.

Phenylalamine is the precursor to tyrosine, which is used to make excitatory neurotransmitters. (Notice a pattern here?) Excitatory transmitters energize you and speed up process in your body.

Now add in the methanol. Methanol is used to make formaldehyde, which is a colorless, poisonous gas. It is commonly used to make resin adhesives, paint, disinfectants, and embalming fluid. Ah, yeah. And if you drink it straight, you can go blind.

Mix them all together and this combination has been found to have potent excitatory effects on brain chemistry, often leading to a whole host of health problems, including headaches, dizziness, anxiety, and depression.

Clearly, the “is aspartame safe” question is a resounding NO. So how is it that aspartame is even legal? Tricky maneuvering seems to be the answer.

The Methanol-Laced Diet Soda…

In 1973, pharmaceutical giant G.D. Searle and Company petitioned the FDA for approval of aspartame as an artificial sweetener. They submitted study after study “proving” its safety. But there was one issue…the studies were “single dose” studies.

This means that they were able to show that using aspartame daily, even in high doses, was safe. The issue was, the duration of the studies. They were frequently short, perhaps one to three months. This point was not lost on FDA physicians.

In fact, a Dr. Martha M. Freeman from the FDA Division of Metabolic and Endocrine Drug Products is quoted as saying, “Although it was stated that studies were also performed with diketopiperazine [DKP] an impurity which results from acid hydrolysis of Aspartame, no data are provided on this product.” She goes on to say, “It is not feasible to extrapolate results of such single dose testing to the likely condition of use of Aspartame as an artificial sweetener.”2

A second researcher, Dr. Matalon, takes it even further and compares aspartame to cigarettes, positing, “Let us say cigarettes were invented today, and you give 20 people two packs a day and after six weeks, no one has cancer, would you safe that it was safe? That’s what they did with NutraSweet.

In 1974, Dr. J. Richard Crout, then acting director of the FDA Bureau of Drugs evaluated 113 studies submitted by G.D. Searle regarding aspartame. He concluded, “The information submitted for our review was limited to narrative clinical summaries and tabulated mean values of laboratory studies. No protocols, manufacturing controls information or preclinical data were provided. Such deficiencies in each area of required information precluded a scientific evaluation of the clinical safety of this product….”

Yet, aspartame was approved for use in dry goods on July 26, 1974. But only briefly. Dismayed by serious issues in 13 of the studies regarding genetic mutation, as well as outrage from a public-interest group and concerns from Dr. John Olney, a neuropathologist who had connected aspartame with brain lesions in mice, FDA commissioner Alexander Schmidt froze the approval.

He then ordered a task force to examine the safety of aspartame. In March 1976, the task force presented their findings. It didn’t look good for G.D. Searle and aspartame. The task force had major issues with the types and quality of studies Searle had performed.

Specifically, FDA Lead Investigator and Task Force Team Leader, Phillip Brodsky went so far as to say he had never seen anything as bad as G.D. Searle’s studies.

Seems clear cut, right? Wrong.

After a series of legal and political maneuverings that are confusing at best and unethical at worst, the FDA changed its position and, in March 1979, said that Searle’s aspartame studies could be considered.

Not that it mattered, because in 1980, the Public Board of Inquiry voted unanimously to reject aspartame until more studies were conducted regarding aspartame and brain tumors.

A few studies were conducted by Searle, and in January 1981, they reapplied for the approval of aspartame. On May 18, 1981, three of five scientists on the FDA approval panel raised issues with aspartame. They included concerns that the brain tumor data was “worrisome.” They also felt some of the data had been fabricated.2

At this point, they inexplicably brought in a toxicologist to weigh in, bringing the panel to a total of six members. After pressure to come to a resolution quickly, the panel was split three to three regarding the approval of aspartame.

Using this information, then FDA commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., overruled the Public Board of Inquiry and approved aspartame for use in dry goods on July 18, 1981. Two years later, it was also approved for use in carbonated drinks (i.e. diet soda).

Fast forward to 1996, when the FDA gave aspartame blanket approval as a “general purpose sweetener,”3 despite on-going concerns regarding its habitual, long-term use, and long list of side effects.

This is particularly odd when you consider that 75 percent of all adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA are due to aspartame!!!!4

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the FDA has been required to keep of list of reactions and related aspartame side effects…all 92 of them. They include:

  • Death
  • Headaches and seizures
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Joint pain
  • Breathing difficulties

And these issues are mild compared to the other dangers of aspartame consumption. Turns out, many conditions are worsened or even brought on by aspartame, including cancer,6 brain tumors,7 Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Weight GAIN, Not Weight Loss…

But the aspartame dangers don’t end there. Evidence also suggests that aspartame doesn’t even do what it’s touted to do: aid in weight loss. In fact, it very likely may have the complete opposite effect!

And, according to the January 1997 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, aspartame and sucralose may in fact cause weight gain.8 Researchers divided 14 women into three groups. One group was given four aspartame-sweetened lemonades; one received four sucrose (or sugar) sweetened lemonade, and the third group received carbonated mineral water on three separate days.

Researchers found that the group that drank the aspartame-sweetened lemonade ate more calories in the two days that followed, as compared to those women in the regular lemonade and water groups. Additionally, the majority of those additional calories came from carbohydrates.

Interestingly, there was no difference in appetite ratings between the groups. In other words, while the “diet” lemonade didn’t increase calories during the day of consumption, it clearly led to greater intake of food, particularly carbohydrates, in the days that followed. So much for “diet.”

Step Away From the Packets…

So, what do you do? Do you trust the government’s flip-flopping on a chemical compound that has proven, documented health risks and concerns? One that doesn’t even deliver on the promise of having your cake and eating it too? Um, no way.

Two amino acids and formaldehyde do not a natural product make.

We say pass on the packets and the possible risk of aspartame poisoning and its toxic symptoms. For a sweet boost, opt for stevia instead.

This naturally sweet herb comes in both powdered and liquid forms and is the only sugar replacement that has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity rather than decrease it.9 Which means you can use it to sweeten anything your heart desires, without losing your soul.

References:

1Mazur, RH et al. Structure-taste relationship of some dipeptides. J Am Chem Soc. 1969 May 7;91(10):2684-91.

2Constantine, A and Gordon, G. History of aspartame. http://www.wnho.net/history_of_aspartame.htm. Posted 2004 Mar 12.

3Kovacs, B. Artificial Sweeteners. www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=81475.

4Mercola, J. Aspartame Dangers and Side Effects. http://aspartame.mercola.com/.

5Humphries, P et al. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008;62:41-62.

6Soffritti, M et al. Life-span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Sep;115(9):1293-7.

7Olney, JW et al. Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame? J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 1996 Nov;55(11):1115-23.

8Lavin, JH et al. The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice in female, moderately restrained eaters. Int J Obes. 1997 Jan;21(1):37-42.

9Lailerd, N et al. Effects of stevioside on glucose transport activity in insulin-sensitive and insulin-resistant rat skeletal muscle. Metab. Clin. Exp. 2004 Jan;53(1):101-7.

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  • Nicco1o1

    In Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Dr Blaylock establishes a clear link between Aspartame and dementia. MSG also uses the same mechanism to destroy neurons.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Thanks for the reference!

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

      • sierrame

        I use Xylitol it is a natural plant sweetner that does not leave an after taste. I have used it for a few years now. According to Dr White and a few other people it has many healing properties. One of them is to stop bacteria and virus holding onto the walls in your body. I have not had flu badly since I have been using it, everyone around me gets really sick but not me. I decided to give up anything sweet so stopped using it. this is the first time in a few years I have had flu and was really sick. Coincidence, maybe but I am not so sure so, I am back on Xylitol.
        It is supposed to help with stopping cavities and so far so good.
        The thing I wonder about if it is so good why don’t more people know about it.
        thank you for a very comprehensive article.

  • Jefe

    Please keep up thess articles, everyone around me uses theses poisons, we all need the papers until the ones you love will understand the problem. I print them out and hand them to thoes who will read it. Thanks

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Jefe,

      You keep reading them, we’ll keep writing them.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Guest

    I don’t disagree with this article, but please. Quoting a study of 14 women over 3 days to support a claim is at least as bad as what they’re accusing Searle of doing:
    “And, according to the January 1997 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, aspartame and sucralose may in fact cause weight gain. Researchers divided 14 women into three groups. One group was given four aspartame-sweetened lemonades; one received four sucrose (or sugar) sweetened lemonade, and the third group received carbonated mineral water on three separate days.”

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Guest,

      That is a valid point and we don’t disagree. The problem is there are very few studies NOT funded by those looking to support the use of aspartame. We wish there were.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Peggyinoz

    I have been warning friends for years about this rotten stuff! My sister is still trying to rid herself of the addiction to Pepsi Max and suchlike and TO GET RID OF THE TRIPLE HER WEIGHT GAIN she put on WHILST DRINKING THAT STUFF(only taken her 13 years so far – and she is still obese).

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Good for you and all the best to your sister. Between the caffeine and the aspartame, kicking the habit can be tricky indeed.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Peggyinoz

    Guest – there have been quite a number of other findings made about aspartame over the last few years and the hugely bad effect it has on people – just google aspartame and side effects and you will be appalled what is happening.
    Same story with fluoride (which they are introducing to Australia the foolish trail-behind the rest of the world (who are no longer using this particular poison either) politicians – check the Japanese they’re smart no aspartame allowed. They mostly use Stevia. Check it out – do not solely rely on ONE SOURCE of information (and check who pays for the “trials and findings”) check it out and if you find it so – tell everyone around you.
    It appears since “artificial sweeteners” have been introduced in the 1980’s the obesity rates for Americans have gone up by over 30% (probably more by now) Do a good deed – check it out and pass the info onto others who may be totally unaware of what is in their food (it’s not just in the fizzy drinks). Cheers

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Thank you Peggy. Obesity is a very serious epidemic here in the U.S. and promises of chemical-laden “guilt-free” sweetness does not seem to be the answer.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Alfredfreitas

    In discussing the approval of this poison for use as a food additive you mention that the scientific inquiry but totally fail to examine the political climate.  Who was elected to the White House?  Who did he appoint to the Cabinet?  Who selected the appointee to head the FDA? and where did he come from?  Science said “no go” for this product but industry saw huge profits and got political appointees into places where science would be overruled.  This did not stop with new Presidents and seemed to get worse after 2000.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      You raise an interesting question; however, we try to stay away from the politics and stick with the research and science. While they do intertwine on many occasions, we find the research is the best way to go.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Debbie Morgan

    Very good read. thanks for sharing. I must admit to using the little yellow packets for about four years until I started growing my own Stevia in a container on my patio. 
     I love making my own stevia simple syrup by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. It works perfectly for sweetening beverages. 

    Debbie

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Debbie,

      Your syrup sounds great! Thank you for sharing.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • http://twitter.com/MoonGrassHealth Moon Grass Health

    People should be careful using stevia, especially in large quantities, as it has been proven to lower blood sugar. Numerous reports exist of stevia users becoming hypoglycemic

    • guest127

      Can someone please reply to Moon Grass Health’s claim as to the side effects of stevia causing hypoglycemia or any other malady?  I have hypoglycemia and use stevia almost daily.  Thank you

    • Erinvalynn

      When I was a child I had severe hypoglycemia to where I would pass out pretty much everyday and often had seizures while I was out.  When my dad started giving me pure whole-leaf stevia concentrate in my formula I needed for my special diet, I stopped passing out, so the seizures stopped too.  In fact, I have never passed out since and that was when I was 6, and I am 34 now. 

       Therefore, the stevia actually helped balance and properly regulate my blood sugar, perhaps even saving my life, or at least my brain since I had all those seizures.

      This form actually has been used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia, and high blood pressure.  A good qualtiy stevia contains about 100 different nutrients.

      I now work for Wisdom Natural Brand, the makers of SweetLeaf Stevia.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/QHRUML5XFH7AMSWH63TQH7F7E4 MalikTous

    I consider Aspartame suitable for flavouring rat poison, and won’t drink or eat products containing it. I consider Papaya and Agave based extracts, Stevia, and Sucralose (Splenda) safe enough to use, Saccharin suitable for occasional use, and real sugar, corn syrup, and honey suitable as long as dietary considerations are kept in mind.

  • Shirley Gekler

    Thank you for this article.  Aspartame is one of those items that have been out of my diet for many years.  I agree with using stevia  as a sweetner, since I believe that it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels.  Also, thanks to Erinvalynn (below – your answer to Moon Grass Health) for your information regarding the Stevia.  We can all learn from these articles by Natural Health Sherpa and the various responses.

    • Erinvalynn

      You’re welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jewel.andersson Julia Andersson

    LOL… I love this.  Clearly you get a kick out of being controversial.  Good tactic for a website owner I guess :)  But I agree with you that artificial sweeteners are NOT the way to go.  It’s kinda scary when you look at where these things come from.  The deadly chemical cocktail they contain.  Maybe if people realized what was in them they would be less inclined to use them.  Personally I prefer stevia.  Been used for thousands of years with NO negative side effects.  I don’t like the aftertaste so what I do is use two cups of regular sugar with a flat teaspoon of stevia extract (the white one with 90% stevia rebaundia) and that allows me to cut my sugar intake by about two thirds.. with one flat teaspoon compared to two heaped teaspoons of regular sugar.  Sugar here in Australia is manufactured from sugar cane.

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  • Nor

    I use Truvia in my tea and I love it. Can it be used too much? My nutritionist says that this is still considered processed and the best thing to use is the powdered leaves themselves, which is harder to come by. She also said that when your taste buds detect a sweet taste this automatically signals a rise in insulin levels. Is this true?

  • Victoria

    I love using xylitol in everything. It lowers blood sugar in everyone when eating it and is especially great if you are diabetic..as it keeps blood sugar low and eats the sugar off your teeth as well. The only downside so far is that you have to be careful not to eat too much or you will get the runs..as it works as a purgative if you over do it. Also you can’t give it to dogs as it also lowers their blood sugar which can put them into a hypoglycemic coma. They don’t eat sugar like we do so their system is very sensitive to it. Other than that..xylitol is made from the white birch tree and it tastes wonderful with no aftertaste at all. It does however feel cold in your mouth..like sweet ice. It can be ordered online or bought in health food stores. Make sure you get the kind from birch trees and not GMO from corn from China. That one is no good. Hope this helps.

  • Diane Jones

    Aspartame makes me barf within minutes of having any and Splenda took down my red blood cells .Anemia in one year, two years for my Mom. My doctor ordered me to never use artificial sweeteners again.

  • Diane Jones

    I have to ask every time someone offers me whether or not this poison is in it. If I take it on their word that it isn’t; I get sick right away. I have tried to tell everyone about what these do.

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