Last week, we talked about the serious side effects and addictive properties of sugar. In response to the negative effects of sugar, people began producing zero calorie sweeteners claiming to be a healthy alternative to sugar. Let’s take a look at one of these sweeteners and see what the research says.
Aspartame is the most popular artificial sweetener. Discovered in 1965, aspartame was first used in foods in 1981, then in beverages in 1983. Unfortunately, this sweetener has been associated with a number of health issues, including weight gain, memory loss, vertigo, fatigue, tachycardia, and seizures. Aspartame is comprised of three ingredients: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.
The first ingredient, aspartic acid, turns into aspartate in our plasma. In natural amounts, aspartate helps neurons communicate. In unnatural amounts, it essentially stimulates neurons to death. Because it’s in the plasma, the blood-brain barrier meant to protect our brains from excessive aspartate has a difficult time warding off the chemical—especially in the case of young people whose bodies are not fully developed, or people whose bodies are weakened by disease. The FDA reports that side effects of this kind of exposure can lead to anxiety attacks, nausea, asthma, and even depression.
The second ingredient, phenylalanine, also occurs naturally within our bodies. However, ingesting aspartame raises the levels beyond what is healthy. Excess phenylalanine in the body affects the brain in such a way that it produces less serotonin, which leads to depression. Chronically unhealthy levels of phenylalanine, like those that invariably result from aspartame consumption, can cause brain damage and even lead to schizophrenia and seizures.
The final ingredient is methanol. Methanol is poison. When the body processes it, it turns into formaldehyde, a fatal neurotoxin. A known carcinogen, formaldehyde also causes birth defects and vision problems. Methanol exposure has a number of negative side effects, including weakness, headaches, nausea, vertigo, numbness, and memory lapses. Methanol, when consumed with ethanol, is relatively harmless because ethanol acts as an antidote to the methanol’s toxicity. In aspartame, methanol is alone and able to wreak havoc on the body.
While aspartame touts the benefits of being low-calorie, it is certainly not without its risks. Unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are all tied to the consumption of artificial sweetener. Extended exposure to this sweetener causes serious health problems, many of which far outweigh the health problems caused by sugar. It is very important to avoid aspartame when you are pregnant and to keep it away from young children. Their bodies’ defense systems are much less developed than ours, and chemicals like aspartame can do much more harm to them in a shorter amount of time.
If you have questions about eating a healthy diet or are wondering how to eliminate sugar and aspartame from your foods, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to help you on the path to living a healthier life.
Photo Credit: Sweetener Book