Is aspartame safe?

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDo you know what aspartame is? Well, even if you don't, given its ubiquitous nature, its a virtual certainty that you have already crossed paths with it in your life at one time or another.

For the uninitiated, aspartame is a low-calorie sugar substitute most often used in carbonated beverages, you know, the diet or lite variety. Here in the Philippines, it is commonly known by the brand names NutraSweet and Equal.

The reason why it has significantly fewer calories is because its not carbohydrate based. Its a methyl (methane derivative) ester (organic compound) dipeptide (two amino acids joined by a single peptide bond) consisting of aspartic acid as the first amino acid, and phenylalanine as the second. Its about 180 times sweeter than typical table sugar, and as such, a little goes a long way. A single pellet of Equal (18 mg of aspartame) has about the same sweetening strength as a teaspoon of ordinary white sugar (about 5 ml). Do the math.

It was first discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a chemist working for G.D. Searle & Company, while he was developing a drug for ulcers. It was subsequently approved in the United States for use in 1981 for dry goods, 1983 for softdrinks, 1993 for baked goods and confections, and finally in 1996 for virtually any food product. The initial delay of sixteen years from its discovery to its first approval was due to concerns about its potential carcinogenic effects.

And therein lies the rub.

While the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified aspartame as generally safe for human consumption (except for those suffering from a condition known as phenylketonuria, a relatively rare genetic disorder in which the body is unable to metabolize phenylalanine), questions still abound as to its safety.

In the United States alone, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of anecdotal, testimonial, and even scientific reports linking aspartame consumption with such conditions such as brain tumors, lymphoma, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), mental retardation, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and, believe it or not, diabetes. The last condition enumerated is quite poignant since sugar substitutes such as aspartame have proven quite popular with diabetics, given their bodies' inability to metabolize sugar properly.

Of course, there is no direct evidence to prove that aspartame can cause all these conditions, well, at least according to the U.S. FDA.

The irony is that, if you type in the search phrase aspartame studies in Google, you'll find hundreds of references to studies indicating that aspartame is dangerous toxin.

Here are the top five results:

Aspartame What You Don't Know Can Hurt You - FDA is not protecting you
Aspartame Research Studies 2003 and 2004
The Bressler Report
Dr. Olney Feb. 1997 Brain Tumor Update, answering the skeptics! (part 1 of 3)

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Below the top five results are hundreds more, all basically saying the same thing, that aspartame is dangerous. For the sake of balance, I tried looking up a study on the opposite side of the fence, one that would conclude with the fitness of aspartame for human consumption. Guess what? I didn't find squat. The only reference I found to aspartame's supposed safety is the abovecited link to the U.S. FDA. Lest you think I didn't try hard enough, try it yourself.

So what's the danger regarding aspartame? It all boils down to how aspartame is metabolized by the body. Among the byproducts of aspartame are methanol, which is quickly converted by the body into formaldehyde. Yup, that's the very same chemical used to embalm corpses. Another byproduct is aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine, a known carcinogen. Phenylalanine, a key component of aspartame, in large amounts is a potential neurotoxin.

Don't you just find it unusual that there are tons of studies concluding that aspartame is a dangerous food additive, and yet, the U.S. FDA is unqualifyingly sticking to its guns in classifying aspartame as safe?

Even more disappointing is the fact that our very own Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) seem oblivious to aspartame's disease-causing potential. Just because a food additive is approved for use in another country, even if its the United States, it shouldn't automatically mean its approval here as well, especially in situations where there seems to be tons of testimonial and circumstantial evidence linking the food additive to various neurological disorders.

At the very least, we should conduct our own studies on this matter. But time is of the essence. Tons and tons of food products and beverages containing aspartame have already flooded our market, and most of these are consumed by young adults and children. Our children. If unchecked, we could face the possibility of a generation suffering from a smorgasbord of neurological maladies potentially caused by aspartame.

You may want to watch the documentary below. It may just change the way you feel about aspartame.


Turn off the background audio first at the bottom of the page before clicking the play button.

Sweet Misery - A Poisoned World

Google Video occasionally has teething problems, so if you prefer to watch this documentary on YouTube, go here.

Quite telling in the above documentary are the alleged conspiracies and cover-ups regarding the true nature of aspartame, just because of its marketability.

I don't know about you, but it never hurts to be cautious, especially about stuff we eat or drink, and, more importantly, the stuff our loved ones eat or drink.

While I have to give credit to aspartame for helping me lose weight and keeping it off, I'm giving it up. There are tons of ways dealing with weight problems. Neurological problems are another story altogether.

I'm considering writing the BFAD about this. I'm no physician, or chemist, just a concerned citizen, and I believe that this issue deserves prompt attention. Hell, I used to drink tons of diet soda! If its truly dangerous, it should be removed from the marketplace, no ifs and buts.

I wonder what the physicians and chemists out there have to say about this?

What we really need is a truly unbiased, definitive and conclusive study on whether aspartame is dangerous to humans or not. And we need the regulatory bodies to really take whatever results these definitive studies come out with into consideration. At the very least, post a warning label for God's sakes.

But we may be in for a long wait. It took decades before the tobacco industry admitted that smoking is actually dangerous. The same might just happen in the case of aspartame.


Aspartame is NOT safe. DORway to Discovery has the WHOLE truth!


After more thorough searching, I managed to find some sites which sit at the opposite side of the fence - that aspartame is safe for human consumption. Here are some of them:

Aspartame Information Service
Aspartame Archives

Now, the question is, who to believe?

Its hard being caught in a propaganda war when its your health that's at stake.


Aurea said…
Interesting post. I also drink diet sodas to avoid gaining weight, but I think I'll avoid them. I already exercise, avoid sugar, and try to eat natural foods, so I might as well go healthy all the way and cut artificial sweeteners as well.

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