Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965, when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company was testing an anti-ulcer drug. Aspartame was approved for dry goods in 1981 and for carbonated beverages in 1983.
Aspartame is the most common artificial sweetener that goes by the names NutraSweet and Equal. Its claim to fame is that it provides a sweet taste without calories. You find aspartame in diet soda, sugar free gum, low-fat yogurt, sugar less candy etc. If something says “low-fat” or “sugar-free” be weary of the potential for aspartame.
Dr. Alan Gaby, MD, reported in Alternative Medicine Review in 2007 that aspartame found in commercial products or heated beverages may be a seizure trigger and should be evaluated in cases of difficult seizure management.
People who have the genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) shouldn’t use aspartame because the amino acid phenylalanine builds up in the body and can cause brain damage. Also, people who are taking medications for schizophrenia should also avoid aspartame.
According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame:
Brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, parkinson's disease, alzheimer's, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.
While aspartame is indeed approved by the FDA, the consumer advocate organization Center for Science in the Public Interest has cited numerous studies that suggest problems with the sweetener, including a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Research is ongoing to confirm or invalidate connections between these ailments and aspartame, but currently there is still inconsistent outcomes in studies. Some research reports increased risk, symptoms or disease acceleration, while others report no negative outcomes with aspartame intake.
Natural alternatives to aspartame
The controversy over aspartame continues. Available evidence doesn’t suggest long-term negative effects, but research is ongoing. Before you switch back to sugar (which is high in calories and has no nutritional value), you can consider natural alternatives to aspartame. You may try sweetening foods and beverages with:
While such products are indeed more “natural” compared to artificial versions like aspartame, you should still consume these alternatives in limited quantities.
Sweeteners like aspartame – which is about 200 times sweeter than sugar – can also confuse the body's responses. When you consume sweets, the body expects calories to follow; but sweeteners don't deliver the payoff.
That can actually lead to people seeking out more sweets. Many big diet-drink consumers describe themselves as having an insatiable sweet tooth.
So, what are we to take from all this?
Basically, that aspartame is not a dangerous chemical. But nor is it a panacea for what ails our sugar-obsessed society.
Extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume 2, #28 (Oct-Nov '95) and Volume 3, #1 (Dec '95-Jan '96).