It's a tiny molecule that is 180 times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories. But is aspartame a huge advantage in the battle against overweight or is it a dangerous chemical concoction that raises health concerns as well as the number on your scale?
Aspartame, marketed as such brands as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure, first appeared in the U.S. in 1981, when the U.S. obesity rate was forty-six percent. Today, the rate is sixty-three percent. Clearly, aspartame has not been effective in helping reduce the overall weight of U.S. citizens. Most experts now believe it has a negative impact on weight loss.
Along with the rising obesity rates, mounting questions about its effectiveness and its safety continue to plague the food additive. Although it may be possible to cut down on certain calories using aspartame, some of the unwanted side effects include:
* Increased hunger and cravings
* Lowered serotonin, which causes depression and/or mood swings
* The release of insulin in proportions to the sweetness of the food eaten, usually more than needed by the body
* With overproduction of insulin, fat cells grow faster
* Increased thirst because aspartame dehydrates the body
* Impaired sleep
Artificial sweeteners can also change your perception of what is sweet and alter the amounts of sweet it takes to satisfy you. Studies have proven that people who use artificial sweeteners consume more sugar than those who do not. In addition to the damage cravings can do (both emotionally and physically), dehydration is a major cause of weight gain. With greater thirst, many people just consume more soda laden with more chemicals.
It is also easy to confuse thirst and hunger and many people eat when they are actually thirsty. Do you crave something cold and sweet, like ice cream? It's probably not hunger--it's thirst talking to you.
Widespread Use and Widespread Adverse Reactions
According to a 1998 survey by the Calorie Control Council, 144 million American adults regularly consume sugar-free, artificially sweetened foods every day.
If one percent of aspartame users have adverse reactions, that is more than one million problems. The Food and Drug Administration has admitted that three-fourths of all its non- drug complaints are for the unwanted ill effects from aspartame use.
Some of the complaints include the following:
* Anxiety attacks
* Bloating and fluid retention
* Brain tumors
* Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
* Chest pains and/or heart palpitations
* Equilibrium problems
* Exacerbated diabetes and/or hypoglycemia
* Headaches and/or migraines
* Inability to concentrate
* Joint pain
* Memory loss
* Multiple sclerosis
* Rashes, hives, and skin problems
* Vision impairment
* Weight gain
In addition, reactions to aspartame can mimic the following diseases: fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, lupus, epilepsy, lymphoma, Lyme disease, attention deficit disorder, and other psychological disorders. It is also connected to atherosclerosis, cancer, coronary artery disease, and arthritis. It comes as no surprise that joint pain is a major complaint among aspartame users.
The chemical breakdown for aspartame is forty percent aspartate, fifty percent phenylalanine and ten percent methanol, a deadly poison (wood alcohol). The Environmental Protection Agency defines safe consumption as no more than 7.8 milligrams per day of this dangerous substance. A one-liter beverage, sweetened with aspartame, contains about 56 milligrams of wood alcohol, or eight times the EPA limit!
In addition, aspartame is metabolized by the body into carcinogens or cancer-causing agents and kills brain cells every time it is ingested.
Never give your children aspartame. Children do not have the same blood brain barrier development as adults and toxic substances like aspartame can have negative effects on their nervous systems. Aspartame may be a factor in ADD, hyperactivity, mental retardation, and various other neurological problems in children. More importantly, never use aspartame if you are pregnant or nursing.
Why Does It Remain on the Market?
The simple answer is that uneducated consumers buy it.
A more complicated answer involves the rigorous marketing and ad campaigns used for aspartame. After all, Monsanto, the current owner of NutraSweet, makes more than $1 billion per year from the product.
In addition, most governmental agencies have supported its safety, even in light of many scientific findings suggesting it should not be on the market at all. Many doctors and scientists have found it difficult to publish their studies confirming the dangers of aspartame. Some of these doctors and scientists are the same experts who testified before the FDA in 1980-81, urging the governmental body not to approve aspartame use in the U.S. Without getting into too much detail or venturing into "conspiracy" theories, most of the officials involved in the approval of aspartame during the Reagan administration left their government agencies for highly lucrative jobs directly linked to Searle, the pharmaceutical company which owned aspartame at the time of its approval by the FDA.
In 1998, Ralph G. Walton, MD, a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio University's College of Medicine, analyzed 164 studies relevant to human safety questions associated with aspartame. Of those studies, 74 studies had aspartame industry- related sponsorship and 90 were funded without any industry money.
Of the 90 non-industry-sponsored studies, 83 (ninety-two percent) identified one or more problems with aspartame. Of the seven studies that did not find a problem, the FDA conducted six of those studies. Given that a number of FDA officials went to work for the aspartame industry immediately following approval (including the former FDA Commissioner), many consider these studies to be equivalent to industry-sponsored research.
Of the 74 aspartame industry-sponsored studies, all 74 (100%) claimed that no problems were found with aspartame.
83 Out of 84 Independent Reports Found Problems
The aspartame industry-sponsored studies are usually the ones the American public sees cited in news and television reports.
How far does the public relations machine of Monsanto reach? The American Diabetic Association (ADA), although it is supposed to exist to educate diabetics about risks to their health, has admitted that the company that makes NutraSweet wrote their "Fact Sheets" presentation on aspartame, which gives it the thumbs up. Is this effective consumer education?
Dieting Without Aspartame?
In a cruel and ironic twist, aspartame may actually cause weight gain. Phenylalanine and aspartate, found in aspartame, stimulate the release of insulin. Rapid, strong spikes in insulin remove all glucose from the blood stream and store it as fat. This can result in hypoglycemia and sugar cravings.
Eighty-three out of 84 independent reports that did find problems are under-reported.
Research shows aspartame actually stimulates appetite and brings on a craving for carbohydrates and sugary foods. In 1986, the American Cancer Society documented the fact that persons using artificial sweeteners gain more weight than those who avoid them.
When a diet drink is ingested with a meal, aspartame causes the brain to cease production of serotonin; therefore, the feeling of fullness is greatly delayed and the body continues to give out hunger signals.
In a recent study, a control group switching to an aspartame- free diet resulted in an average weight loss of 19 pounds in one year!
The only thing better than losing that much weight is the fact that most people who cut aspartame from their diets report a huge lift in their spirits. In my own practice, all of my clients who give up aspartame report relief from a low-level depression they did not even recognize was present in their lives.
Feel better! Guard your health! There is nothing more important than your health and well being, and aspartame may not be enhancing your health.
Tips for Cutting Back on Aspartame
1. Cut back slowly. If you add it to food and drinks, cut your portions in half, then cut back to one quarter of your normal serving. If you drink three sodas a day, cut back to two for a week, then go to one for a week, then one-half.
2. Pay attention to your sense of sweet. It may change drastically. When you crave something sweet, allow yourself to eat a very small portion of whatever you are craving (provided it has no NutraSweet in it), paying absolute attention to what you are eating. Eat slowly and savor it.
3. Read food labels. Aspartame is "hidden" in many foods, especially yogurt, low calorie jams, salad dressings, candy, breath mints, cereals, sugar-free chewing gum, cocoa mixes, coffee beverages, instant breakfasts, frozen desserts, and shake mixes. Some drug and supplement manufacturers are allowed to avoid listing aspartame on the label if they state the words, "contains phenylalanine." You may also see the phrase "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine" instead.
4. Recognize that it may take 60 days to rid your body of the effects of aspartame. Most people report positive changes happen much faster but long-term use may make your recovery slower.
5. Other sweeteners to avoid: neotame; sucralose (Splenda); acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One); cyclamates; saccharin; and sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol).
Pat Barone is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) Certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant and ACE Certified Personal Trainer. Ms. Barone has spent years researching weight loss, nutrition, and fitness, as well as strength and weight training. More information and articles can be found on her web site: www.patbarone.com.