Reasons to Avoid Aspartame
When Tim Gullickson, former professional tennis player and coach to Pete Sampras, died in 1996 from complications related to brain tumors, I distinctly remember reading about Tim's fondness for diet Coke; according to one close friend, Tim was addicted to the stuff - he always seemed to have a can in hand.
When I began private practice a year later, within a few months, I encountered three patients who had brain tumors and drank several diet sodas a day. These findings were easy to notice and group together in my mind, as I took a detailed dietary survey during each new patient evaluation.
From that point on, I shared my suspicions about aspartame with family, friends, and patients. And over time, I learned about the ways in which aspartame injures nervous tissue on a cellular level - most of my education on this issue has been from the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock, a retired neurosurgeon who has long maintained that aspartame and MSG are harmful to human health.
Aspartame, the technical name for popular brand names NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure, has been documented by the United States FDA to be a cause of the following symptoms:
* Inability to concentrate
* Short-term memory loss
* Trouble sleeping
* Depression and irritability
* Muscle spasms
* Difficulty breathing
* Heart irregularities
* Joint Pain
Why is Aspartame Harmful to Your Health?
To put it simply, aspartame is toxic to your nervous system. Enough exposure to aspartame can lead to nerve cell death.
Aspartame - also know as 1-aspartyl 1 phenylalanine methyl ester - is made up of the following components:
* Wood Alcohol (methanol) - about 10%
* Phenylalanine - about 50%
* Aspartic acid - about 40%
Problems with Wood Alcohol
The United States Environmental Protective Agency says that the average person can consume 7.8 milligrams of wood alcohol per day without negative effects - some cans of diet soda have been found to have double this amount.
Although wood alcohol naturally occurs in some of the foods that we eat, it doesn't come naturally bound to amino acids as it does in aspartame. Rather, in nature, wood alcohol typically comes attached to fiber that allows it to pass through the digestive tract without being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Since wood alcohol that comes with aspartame doesn't have fiber to keep it out of your bloodstream, just about all of it gets absorbed into your blood, where it can spontaneously convert to formaldehyde, a poisonous substance that is an established carcinogen.
Metabolism of formaldehyde in your body can lead to the production of formate, a waste product that, if accumulated in large amounts, can cause metabolic acidosis and ensuing blindness, kidney damage, and even death. Clearly, this could only potentially happen if you consume extremely large quantities of aspartame and your body's buffering mechanisms fail to prevent metabolic acidosis.
Problems with Phenylalanine
When exposed to high temperatures or simply stored for a long period of time, aspartame breaks down into a few different compounds, one of which is aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine (DKP).
Since many food products and beverages are exposed to extremely high temperatures during distribution and storage, especially in areas of the world where the climate is hot year-round, the presence of and potential harmful effects of DKP become more worrisome in regions and countries that are closer to the equator.
Also, it's worth noting that whenever your body is exposed to a sudden surge in phenylalanine, the break down of phenylalanine to a larger-than-normal supply of neurotransmitters (L-dopa, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) may create imbalances in nerve signaling that may cause any number of symptoms, including:
* Anxiety attacks and nervousness
* Heart palpitations
Problems with Aspartic Acid
Like phenylalanine, aspartic acid is an amino acid that naturally occurs in foods. When your body obtains these amino acids along with other naturally occurring amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, your cells can put phenylalanine and aspartic acid to use for normal metabolic activities.
When you introduce abnormally large amounts of phenylalanine and aspartic acid (synthetically bound together by an ester bond) into your bloodstream - which is exactly what happens whenever you drink a can of soda that is sweetened with aspartame - your cells can be overwhelmed.
Specifically, a surge in aspartic acid can lead to over-stimulation of nerve cells and sometimes even nerve cell death - this overstimulation is what Dr. Blaylock refers to as excitotoxicity.
The risk of experiencing nerve cell death from ingesting too much aspartame is higher in people who smoke, have high blood pressure, or have diabetes, as all of these factors potentially increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier that is supposed to protect your nerve cells against excitotoxins. It's safe to assume that the more your overall health is compromised, the more susceptible your nerve cells are to the toxic effects of aspartic acid.
Pregnant and nursing moms should know that babies in the womb and newborns are particularly susceptible to having aspartic acid cross the blood-brain barrier, so it's especially advisable to avoid aspartame during these times.
If you'd like to avoid aspartame, please keep in mind that it's a common ingredient in many packaged foods and beverages, particularly those that are marketed as being sugar-free or low in calories. Examples include sugar-free or low calorie:
* Chewing gum
* Soft drinks
* Cookies and candy bars that are made for diabetics
* Frozen desserts
* Artificial sweeteners
* Cough candies, drops, and syrups
* Chewable vitamins
Be sure to read through the list of ingredients on all packaged foods and avoid those that list aspartame, NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure.
If you're relatively healthy, your body can likely handle some exposure to aspartame without experiencing irreversible damage. Still, it's hard to justify hurting your health, even just a little, by knowingly ingesting aspartame.
The great danger with aspartame is in regularly consuming it - the most common example is the person who drinks a few or more diet sodas every day. If you know anyone who belongs in this category and is open to looking into this matter, please consider sharing this post.
If you happen to be one of those people who just can't do without the "bite" that sodas provide, one healthy alternative is to combine fruit juice with sparkling water. Too much fruit juice isn't good for your blood sugar-regulating mechanisms, but every once in a while, a glass that combines three-quarters fruit juice and one-quarter sparkling water should satisfy your need for a biting beverage.