Aspartame: Friend or Foe? (2)

(Below is the second part of my article on Aspartame. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.)

Artificial Sweetener - Equal
Artificial Sweetener – Equal (Photo credit: Bukowsky18)

Aspartame is a man-made sweetener, used in some diet drinks and foods, that many of us know as Equal, Nutrasweet, or Canderel. Claims have been made that use of Aspartame is safe, and even beneficial. But what, exactly, is this chemical sweetener made up of? The contents of Aspartame can be broken down into the following:

1. aspartic acid

2. phenylalanine

3. methanol – which breaks down in your diet coke into formaldehyde

Wait! Formaldehyde? Isn’t that a chemical that is carcinogenic? So when we drink diet coke, we are actually drinking a chemical that causes cancer!?! And Aspartame is claimed to be safe? Let’s look at this a little more closely …

The side effects of the use of Aspartame have been documented in studies: symptoms which can occur gradually or immediately. When looking at the list I found, these are the side effects that stood out to me:

• Loss of memory

• Seizures

• Headaches

• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

• Trouble with vision

• Epileptic seizures

• Irritability

• Aggression

• Insomnia

• Shortness of breath

• Joint pain

• Weight gain due to overeating of foods sweetened with Aspartame

• Increased hunger and cravings

• Increased thirst because Aspartame dehydrates the body.

The list I found includes 92 symptoms (yes, you read correctly!) submitted to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) on 20 April 1995. It certainly makes for scary reading!

Diet Coke
Drinking Diet Coke (Photo credit: ipythias)

I find it ironic that, although Aspartame is touted as helping with weight loss, one of the side effects of using this sweetener include weight gain and increased hunger. How does this work? Aspartame stimulates the appetite and the body’s craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods. In addition, it affects the eater’s ability to determine the sweetness of a food – and the body’s ability to receive the body’s signal that you have eaten enough dessert, chocolate, or whatever food it is that you are eating. And to top it all, the increased thirst experienced by ingesting Aspartame leads to drinking even more soda laden with chemicals and additives!

The body’s reaction to Aspartame can look like one of the following diseases: ADD, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, Lupus and epilepsy. In addition, some doctors believe that the use of this chemical contributes to hyperactivity and other neurological problems in children. Aspartame has also been connected to cancer, atherosclerosis, and arthritis. Dr Betty Martini wrote an article on how Aspartame increases the chance of getting cancer. The article makes interesting reading because:

  1. it describes how the FDA supported the use of Aspartame in foods even though it was known to be carcinogenic;
  2. it refers to two studies that have proven Aspartame increases the chance of experiencing cancer.

Dr Martini first mentions a 2005 study that took place at the Cancer Research Center in Bologna, Italy. This study confirmed that the formaldehyde breakdown product of Aspartame damages cellular DNA; that this damage is accumulative; and that the damage increases one’s risk of developing leukemia, lymphoma, or even a malignant brain tumour. Secondly, she mentions a 2007 study conducted by Dr Morando Soffritti that proved low dosages of Aspartame causes cancer – findings which confirmed the 2005 study. Russell Blaycock, MD, reviewed both studies and commented that both used doses within the range seen in everyday users of Aspartame.

English: Diet Coke Products
Diet Coke Products (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may now be asking yourself what foods and drinks contain Aspartame? Reduced calorie products (those claiming to be sugar-free or with no added sugar), cereals, fruit spreads, diet soft drinks (both the carbonated and non-carbonated ones), sugar-free cookies, fat-free and sugar-free yoghurt, nutritional bars, low calorie dessert. The list includes more products than you would expect. The best way for you to know whether a product has Aspartame in it, is to read the nutrition label.

Which would be the lesser of two evils for you: a refined natural product like cane sugar, or the artificial chemical made by man? Will you reach for that diet soda the next time you want to have a drink? Will you still choose the fat-free yoghurt over the full cream one? Mmmmm, personally I think I will start reading labels and try to avoid a chemical that could be harmful to my body.

What would you chose?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

27 thoughts on “Aspartame: Friend or Foe? (2)

  1. Thanks, Colline. I’ll be checking things more carefully, although I am not. Diet coke drinker, I do drink ‘Ice’ which is a flavored water with zero calories, but I’m checking anyway, just to make sure. I’m also big on Truvia. Time to head to the cabinets and frig…


  2. Aspartame is pretty evil. I stopped drinking diet Coke (and all sodas, for that matter, because who needs all that sugar?) a long time ago…when my nephew was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and we had to learn about what he could and could not have. Sure he was allowed to have diet sodas but only a little more reading and…what the heck? Now I generally stick to tea, coffee, water. And yogurt = unsweetened Greek with a drizzle of honey and some fresh fruit, none of that pre-sweetened fruit on the bottom junk. I’m with you in the no aspartame camp!


  3. Great post, its funny, i just saw a video on youtube about aspartame and the foods we consume and it scared the crap out of me! We eat pretty healthy, but realized we consume aspartame through crystal light. I am gonna try and cut that out although it will be hard. :/ It’s a shame that eating healthy can be costly too.


    1. Instead of using crystal light you can flavour your water with a few drops of lime/lemon juice concentrate. Put a few ice cubes in the drink with a piece of mint and you have a perfectly refreshing drink 🙂


  4. I have family members who only drink diet sodas; some because they don’t want the calories and others because they aren’t supposed to have the sugar. Personally I think that most artificial sweeteners have a nasty taste and can’t stand them. I never let my kids drink diet sodas when they were little because I had heard it could have bad effects on growing kids. Hopefully I saved a few of their brain cells along the way!


    1. I am sure you did. I focus on giving my children natural tastes to eat and drink. Hopefully when they are older they will not feel the need to ingest artificial tastes and sweeteners.


  5. I was afraid that these negatives were going to emerge! Personally, I go for natural – or as near natural as one can get with everything being meddled with to some extent.
    The only argument in favour of using these substances is the fact that, as many homeopathic remedies demonstrate, the most deadly poisons can be beneficial if used in sufficiently tiny quantities. Here, though, one doubts if quantities are tiny enough or that the substances have a benefit, anyway.


    1. Unlike homoeopathic medicines which I understand use natural substances, this sweetener is made from a man-made fusion of chemicals. I doubt if even minuscule amounts can be beneficial.


  6. I shied away from aspartame not for health reasons, but because of its taste. The health reasons are just additional impetus for me to stay clear, way clear, of aspartame. 🙂


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