Aspartame is a commercially produced sugar substitute made from:
- 50% phenylalanine (an essential amino acid)
- 40% aspartic acid (a nonessential amino acid)
- 10% methyl alcohol (wood alcohol, which is a precursor to formaldehyde).
The soft drink industry is quick to point out that the alcohol is a very minor amount that causes no harm in the body. Claims are also made stating that this alcohol is rendered non-toxic by the liver. However, that minor amount soon magnifies when you consider the average quantities consumed today. For instance, the amount of wood alcohol in one litre of diet soda is equal to 4/5th of an alcoholic beverage. A litre of diet soda is an average daily intake for millions of people.
In the body, the methanol in aspartame is released from the protein bond to become a free radical, targeting certain organs for poisoning:
- central nervous system
- GI (gastrointestinal) tract
Since it is a free form, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Methanol found naturally in foods is always accompanied by ethanol or ethyl alcohol, which counteracts the dangerous effects of methanol. Aspartame does not contain ethanol. The recommended maximum intake of methanol is 7.8 mg. per day. A one-litre drink containing aspartame contains 56 mg. of methanol.
Methanol is also widely used as a solvent and not meant for human consumption. Within the body, methanol can be converted to formaldehyde and formic acid, two toxic substances known to affect the thymus gland in particular and the immune system in general.
If methanol is accidentally ingested, the standard treatment would be to pump the stomach and then have the patient consume ethanol – which causes “drunkenness.” By saturating the system with ethanol, methanol is degraded into acetaldehyde, which is not as life threatening as leaving the methanol in the system. If one were to take this standard treatment into everyday life, the only safe way to consume aspartame then would be to have it along with an alcoholic beverage which should not be a feasible option for a three-year-old eating an aspartame-sweetened ice cream bar.
Common symptoms of methanol poisoning include:
- irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- burning in the nose
- bronchial spasms
- leg cramps
- back pain
- severe headaches
- visual loss
- labored breathing
- pancreatic inflammation
- sometimes death
Many more aspartame side effects can be found from Janet Starr Hull, who has done extensive research into this dangerous sugar substitute.
Aspartame also inhibits the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Researchers are well aware that aspartame interferes with thyroid function. The pituitary gland uses serotonin to signal the thyroid what to do. The interrupted signal then does anything it wants, including disrupting sleep patterns. Seratonin concentrations are significantly lower in hyperactive children than in the average child.
Hyperactivity decreases while seratonin levels increase. Five servings of an aspartame-sweetened product for a fifty-pound child would increase the phenylalanine blood level by 300-400%. In 1986, 8 thousand tons of aspartame were found to be in the food supply in the United States, including children’s vitamins and pain relievers, producing 8 million pounds of phenylalanine.
This is a cumulative toxin that takes its time to cause carcinogenic (cancer) action. While it lurks, it begins to cause damage to the retina and DNA replication, leading to birth defects. Even moderate amounts of aspartame during pregnancy can produce increased risks of children born with diminished brain function.
Aspartame should not be used by those at risk for PKU (phenylketonuria). PKU is a disorder that causes mental retardation, resulting from an inability to metabolize phenylalanine. Children so affected often have fairer complexions than their siblings and can become so retarded as to require institutional care.
Millions of people every day consume drinks containing aspartame sweetening. It is not long before visual disturbances appear, usually beginning with a black dot in the center of vision. However, people react differently as their vision begins to fail.
The macular area of the retina of the eye and the optic nerve fibers are highly reactive to methanol toxicity. These areas require up to six times the oxygen nutrition required by other areas of the body. The rods or cones cannot go without oxygen for more than ninety seconds without some vision loss.
Aspartic acid is a neuroexciter affecting the central nervous system (CNS) in high concentrations. In addition, both phenylalanine and tyrosine (which the body makes from phenylalanine), appear to interfere with neurotransmission. Research by the Arizona State University Biochemical Department has shown links to headaches and epileptic seizures from aspartame consumption. Some scientists are suggesting that this may be the cause for mood and behavioral changes which lead to depression or seizures, but the FDA is still refusing to acknowledge studies that point this out.
Several drinks a day containing aspartame can produce neurologic disorders. Hyperactivity in children can be stimulated by aspartic acid. Excessive aspartic acid, as well as calcium, causes neural cell damage, triggering free radicals which kill cells. Chemicals, not meant to enter the brain, piggyback on an isolated amino acid into the brain’s control center. Interestingly, some cultures recognize the danger of substances entering the brain. For instance, Indias belief in protecting the brain is known as the Third Eye, and acknowledged by traditionally placing a jewel or a circle on the forehead.
Hoping to lose weight, millions of people turn to diet products. However, aspartame actually increases the cravings for carbohydrates and sugar. This is how.
The use of artificial sweeteners robs the body of the needed sugar for brain function, causing it to scream out through cravings. When a sweet taste hits the tongue, a message is sent to the hypothalamus warning of the incoming sugar. The message is then forwarded to the pancreas to secrete insulin in preparation. In the case of artificial sweeteners, which are significantly sweeter than sugar, no sugar arrives. The secreted insulin does its job by lowering the blood sugar, even though there is no sugar to compensate for the lowering. The lowered blood sugar level drops even more to where the brain can no longer function, causing lethargy and faintness. Fainting spells, dizziness, and seizures are common, along with pounding headaches.
Effects at High Altitudes
Before airline pilots realized the danger of consuming aspartame, some were passing out or having seizures at the controls. When changes in air pressure occur, as in take offs and landings, blood vessels dilate in the brain, allowing aspartame to cross the blood/brain barrier to alter normal function.
Hypoxia is also probable at high altitudes as a result of the methanol in aspartame binding with oxygen molecules, literally suffocating the brain. Naturally, these men lost their jobs minor, considering the alternative. However, when they made a link to their consumption of aspartame, their health improved, with symptoms never returning unless consumption resumed.
Even though the link was made and health improved, the pilots were still not allowed to return to work. Those that are working have had to police themselves by not consuming any aspartame product at least forty-eight hours before a flight. In addition, many pilots avoid aspartame two days before their annual physicals because the effects have been known to spike EKGs.
Dangers Known Since 1969
Studies done by Dr. Harry Waisman in 1969 were deleted when aspartame was first submitted to the FDA. His studies showed that after 300 days on aspartame, one of his lab monkeys died and five others had grand mal seizures. Later research revealed that holes developed in the brains of mice fed aspartame.
The following year, cyclamates were banned and saccharin suddenly developed a tainted reputation, just in time for aspartame to come into favor. Interestingly, shortly after the approval of aspartame in July 1983, Arthur Hayes, the FDA commissioner, resigned and joined aspartame’s public relations firm of Burston Marsteller.
Professor Richard Wurtman of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has shown that a number of neurochemical changes take place. In rats, aspartame doubled the levels of phenylalanine in the brain, doubling again when carbohydrates (sugars) were consumed at the same time. This combination raised the levels of tyrosine (derived from phenylalanine) in the brain by over 300%.
The amount of sweetener used in this study equalled amounts consumed by a normal North American child on a hot afternoon in the form of soft drinks, ice cream, ices, etc.
In The Lancet, this same Professor Wurtman wrote describing the possible link between seizures in healthy adults and the use of aspartame and gave incidents backing his fear. Patients not only experienced seizures but mood swings, depression, headaches, and nausea preceeding the seizures. In all cases, symptoms disappeared when aspartame was removed from the diet.
Aspartame should not be used in baking or even in processed foods that require high heat. One reason is that high heat, for long periods of time, causes a chemical change in its amino acid content, eliminating the sweet taste.
The other more significant reason is that by heating to 30° C (86ºF) which is lower than body temperature, aspartame breaks down, freeing the methanol. Some are advocating the combination of saccharin and aspartame. This combination causes a chemical reaction that increases temperatures to the boiling point, potentially capable of scalding the bladder.
Aspartame is known to cause Grave’s disease. Interestingly, the former President George Bush and his wife and dog were diagnosed with this disease, which hardly ever occurs outside of kin, never mind in the family pet.
Grave’s Disease is a disease of the thyroid. The only known medical cure is to remove the offending organ. In this case, the person will have to remain on medication for the rest of his life to the tune of at least $100 a month. This, of course, is after the cost of the surgery. Many have been able to avoid all of this expense and risk and have their symptoms reversed, simply by avoiding any aspartame products. In addition, diabetics who stopped using aspartame were able to decrease their insulin. Most hypoglycemics returned to normal, with their symptoms disappearing entirely.
The FDA has put out a list of symptoms from complaints they received (over 8,000 of them) about aspartame that include several hundred seizures and some deaths. The FDA receives thousands of complaints each year about various products, but the complaints regarding aspartame makes up more than 85% of them.
Aspartame has been linked to migraine headaches, seizures, fainting spells, dizziness, numbness, nausea, muscle spasms, weight gain, depression, irritability, insomnia, hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing), breathing difficulty, blurred speech, memory loss, rashes, fatigue, tachycardia, visual disturbances, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, loss of taste, and joint pain just to name a few.
In 1998, Monsanto introduced another sugar substitute called Neotame, stating that it is based on the aspartame formula. Neotame has added dimethylbutyl (a carcinogen) to the already proven dangerous combination of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.
Aspartame is found in over 5,000 food products under such brand names as:
From 1981 to 1992, the NutraSweet company, a wholly owned susidiary of the Monsanto Chemical Company, has been the only company patented to sell aspartame in the US. A Japanese company, Ajinomoto, retains the original patent and, even though aspartame is manufactured by the Japanese, it is not used by them. They prefer to use the natural sweetener, Stevia.
- Adverse reactions in those subject to mood disorders http://www.mindfully.org/Health/Aspartame-Adverse-Reactions-1993.htm
- Hull, Janet Starr. Sweet Poison: How the World’s Most Popular Artificial Sweetener Is Killing Us. 1999. Janet Starr Hulls website http://www.sweetpoison.com/
- List of Adverse Reaction Studies http://www.dldewey.com/columns/asparst2.htm
- 92 symptoms listed from the FDA
- Scientific summaries http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame/abuse/seizures.html
- Stoddard, Mary Nash. Deadly Deception: Story of Aspartame. 1998. Mary Nash Stoddards website http://www.aspartamesafety.com/DeadlyDeception.htm
This page was updated in December 2005.