The safety of aspartame, a product that the FDA refused to approve for more than eight years because of the seizures and brain tumors it produced in animals, continues to be questioned.
In 1981, after years of denial, the FDA finally approved the use of aspartame in dry goods. Since then it has been approved as an ingredient in every type of food product including baked goods. It is currently sold under the brand names: NutraSweet, Equal, and Spoonful. It appears on ingredient labels as aspartame. Food labels must also contain warnings because of the phenylalanine content in aspartame (2% of the population with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria cannot metabolize this chemical).
Since FDA approval a significant portion of the population has become hooked on sugar-free products that contain aspartame. Many Americans are consuming upwards of 3 diet sodas a day, fooling themselves into thinking they are doing a favor for their body by drinking sugarfree, calorie free beverages.
Aspartame consists of three chemicals; it is 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol or wood alcohol. Diketopiperazine (DKP) is a by-product of aspartame metabolism.
Ingesting high amounts of the amino acid phenylalanine results in a phenylalanine build up in the brain. This buildup potentially decreases the amount of serotonin in the brain, resulting in depression and mood disorders. Excessive buildup may result in brain damage. The phenylalanine content in aspartame breaks down into DKP, a brain tumor agent.
Aspartic acid is an amino acid and when digested in its free from it elevates the blood plasma concentration of aspartate and glutamate. This excess allows a high concentration of calcium into the cells which invites free radicals thereby destroying neurons. Aspartate and glutamate are referred to as “excitotoxins,” since they essentially “excite” or stimulate the neurons to death. High aspartic acid consumption directly leads to neurological damage.
Once the methanol in aspartame is ingested it converts to formaldehyde (a deadly neurotoxin) and then formic acid (a toxic metabolite) and causes metabolic acidosis. This is referred to as methanol toxicity. Multiple studies which conducted experiments on rats came to the conclusion that consumption of aspartame leads to the formation of formaldehyde adducts (chemical addition products) which accumulate in tissue proteins and nucleic acids.
A February 1994 Department of Health and Human Services report documented more than 90 symptoms of aspartame poisoning include fibromyalgia symptoms, depression, shooting pains, numbness in your legs, dizziness, joint pain, memory loss, slurred speech, headaches, vision loss, and anxiety attacks.
A study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry in 1993 proved that individual’s with mood disorders are especially affected by aspartame consumption.
Researchers have also singled out chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects and diabetes as being sensitive to aspartame consumption.
A study conducted by the Department of Neurology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa examined the relationship between migraine headaches and aspartame. The study confirmed that aspartame may provoke headaches in susceptible individuals. Additional studies on the topic confirmed the findings. Researchers in the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle conducted a double-blind crossover study on 32 subjects. The study found an increased incidence of headaches reported by the participants who ingested aspartame and reported that some individuals may want to limit their aspartame consumption.
Despite the FDA’s long term hesitation to approve aspartame they are standing by their decision. The FDA responds to complaints by stating that aspartic acid and phenylalanine are amino acids and methanol is found naturally occurring in fruits. However, when aspartic acid and phenylalanine are unaccompanied by other amino acids they are neurotoxic and fruit also contains ethanol which protects against the effects of the methanol. The FDA fails to address these major differences.
1. Tephly, T.R., “Comments on the purported generation of formaldehyde and adduct formation from the sweetener aspartame.” Life Science 1999;65(13):PL157-60.
2. Walton, Hudak, and Green-Waite, “Adverse Reactions to Aspartame: Double Blind Challenge in Patients from a Vulnerable Population.” Journal of Biological Psychiatry, Vol.34, 1993.
3. Blumenthal, HJ and Vance, DA. “Chewing Gum Headaches.” Headache 1997, Nov/Dec; 37(10):665-6.
4. Van den Eeden, SK, Koepsell, TD, Longstreth, WT JR., van Belle, G, Daling, JR, McKnight, B. “Aspartame Ingestion and Headaches: A Randomized Crossover Trial.” Neurology 1994 Oct; 44(10):1787-93.
5. Balch, James F., M.D. and Balch, Phyllis A., C.N.C. “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” Avery Garden Publishing Group.