by Sarah Chandley
In the 1980s, a product called aspartame revolutionized the dieting industry. It was a calorie free sweetener that appeared to be the perfect solution to a dieter’s sugar cravings. Diabetics were encouraged to use it as studies showed that it did not raise blood sugar levels. Aspartame was marketed under the name NutraSweet and has since become widely used in low-calorie soft drinks, candies, and foods, but is this artificial sweetener really so harmless? Recently, scientific studies as well as personal claims have revealed that aspartame may be responsible for many adverse health issues in its consumers.
Suspicions about the safety of aspartame were raised in the early to mid-90s when a woman named Betty Martini gave a lecture at the World Environmental Conference. Martini discovered a link between the consumption of aspartame and an increased risk of Multiple Sclerosis and lupus. Her groundbreaking address sparked an enormous amount of interest in the effects of aspartame on the general public, and in Monsanto, the industry giant that produces NutraSweet. A 1994 report from the Department of Health and Human Services documented 92 different ailments contributed to aspartame. A few of these include: headaches, dizziness, seizures, nausea, depression, insomnia, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, and joint pain, as well as hearing and vision problems.
In the October 1999 issue of Oxygen Magazine, Dr. Christine Lydon, a well-respected health writer and fitness expert, states that because of its toxicity, aspartame is thought to be especially dangerous to those with weak immune systems, elderly people, infants and young children. In addition, a Norwegian study linked aspartame to brain cell destruction, particularly in the area of the brain used for learning. The study concluded that because the brain of a child takes years to develop, children especially should not consume aspartame.
Further findings by the Director of Medical Genetics at Emory University, Dr. Louis J. Elsas, illustrate that aspartame has been shown to cause birth defects in newborns and should not be used by pregnant women. Independent patient studies by Dr. Mark Gold, a researcher of 20 years on the subject of aspartame, suggest that the following illnesses can be worsened by the ingestion of aspartame: brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.
Dr. H.J. Roberts, a specialist in diabetes and hypoglycemia, was thrilled when aspartame first came onto the market, but his excitement was short lived. Many of his patients began to experience serious complications after using it, which included increased hypoglycemia, more frequent insulin reactions, and impaired vision. After discontinuing the patient’s use of aspartame, these problems were alleviated. Roberts now advises all of his patients to use alternatives to aspartame, as do many other health professionals, such as Dr. Andrew Weil and nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman.
According to a study conducted by the University of Barcelona, the danger of aspartame is in its composition. Aspartame is composed of 10% methanol, 40% aspartic acid, and 50% phenylalanine. Methanol is a highly toxic substance that, when heated above 86 degrees F (as it is in your body), is metabolized into formaldehyde (embalming fluid) and formic acid (the poison in fire ants). Methanol is also found in some fruits and vegetables, but not without ethanol and pectin.
According to an Arizona State University study, ethanol and pectin prevent methanol from breaking down into formaldehyde and formic acid, but aspartame lacks these two antidotes. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids also found in natural foods, but always in a chain of complex protein. When consumed by themselves, as in aspartame, these substances rapidly enter the brain and nervous system, over-stimulating brain cells, and causing many health problems.
With so much evidence of its dangers, why is aspartame still so widely used? For eight years prior to 1981, the FDA refused to approve aspartame because of the seizures and tumors it caused in lab animals. In 1981, a new commissioner was put in charge and he overruled the Board of Inquiry’s decision to ban aspartame and allowed it on the market. This commissioner later took a job with G.D. Searle Co., the company who created aspartame.
"Aspartame is an 'approved sweetener' because of a few greedy and dishonest people who place profits above human life and well being," Gold said.
There are so many alternatives to aspartame these days (see our Health Tips section for information on stevia and xylitol) that it is unnecessary to use a chemical substitute in replacement of regular sugar.
If you suspect that you exhibit symptoms of aspartame poisoning, Roberts advice is to simply stop using any products with aspartame. Many people’s symptoms improve immediately, but some may take up to 60 days. If you would like to learn more about the possible dangers of aspartame, check out the links below, or conduct your own search. There is a wealth of information on the internet and in popular media.
- “Aspartame Warning.” 2001. 321 Recipes.com Homepage. October 2003.
- Gold, Mark. “Aspartame. . . the Bad News.” 1995. Dorway.com. October 2003.
- Gold, Mark. “The Bitter Truth about Artificial Sweeteners.” 1995. http://whale.to/b/aspartame.html
- Martini, Betty. “The Famous Nancy Markle Letter.” The Nancy Markle Homepage. October 2003.
- Roberts, H.J. M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P. Aspartame (NutraSweet): Is it Safe? October 1, 1992.
- Roberts, H.J. M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P. “Professional Opinion Of H. J. Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P. Concerning The Use Of Products Containing Aspartame (Nutrasweet) by Pregnant Women, Infants And Children.” 24 September, 1995 . The Nancy Markle Home Page. October 2003.