written by Helene Leonetti

Back in 1965, a chemist working for the G.D. Searle Company accidentally discovered aspartame while testing an anti-ulcer drug. By 1983 it was approved by the FDA as an additive – an artificial sweetener trademarked as NutraSweet – to carbonated beverages, despite objections from many scientific investigators.

My curiosity about Nutrasweet started when one of my patients told me about her husband’s hospitalization for a gran mal seizure. Of course the routine investigations were performed, looking for brain tumors, infections of the spinal cord and covering of the brain (meningitis), and any infectious or metabolic cause responsible for convulsion. All tests showed up negative. Finally, what surfaced was this man’s habit of drinking 3-4 cans of diet soda each day!

Upon investigating, I was shocked to learn what Nutrasweet was all about. Aspartame is comprised of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Let’s start with the methanol, better known as wood alcohol, a deadly poison. In the body, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, a neurotoxin, and DKP (diketopiperazine), a compound that causes brain tumors in animals. The EPA recommends limiting consumption of methanol to 7.8 mg/day. One liter of soda sweetened with Nutrasweet contains about 56 mg of methanol. It’s not uncommon for some of us addicted to diet soda to consume 250 mg of methanol daily, which is 32 times greater than the EPA limit.

Side effects of methanol poisoning include: headaches, buzzing in the ear, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness, shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances and neuritis. The most well known problems relate to vision and include misty vision, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring vision, retinal damage, and blindness.

Going to the next ingredient, aspartate or aspartic acid, an amino acid, we know that it acts as a neurotransmitter that facilitates the transmission of information from neuron to neuron (brain cells). When there’s too much aspartate, brain cells are killed off because of an influx of too much calcium into the cells. A few of the many chronic illnesses that have been shown to be impacted upon by long term exposure to this amino acid include multiple sclerosis (MS), ALS, memory loss, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, Lyme’s disease and fibromyalgia.

The final ingredient of aspartame, phenylalanine, also an amino acid, may be recognizable if I remind you of the heel stick given to your newborn baby. This is a test for a rare genetic disorder, phenylketonuria (PKU), in which the body cannot metabolize phenylalanine, leading to lethal doses of this substance in the brain. Studies have shown that ingesting large amounts of aspartame, even in those of us without this rare disorder, can cause dangerously high levels of phenylalanine in the blood. Excessive levels in the brain can cause serotonin levels to decrease, leading to emotional disorders such as depression.

Taking the whole of aspartame into consideration, it’s toxicity can result in tremors, slurred speech, confusion, chronic fatigue, depression, irritability panic attacks, marked personality changes, phobias, tachycardia (rapid heart beat), chest pains, high blood pressure, diarrhea, abdominal pain, itching, menstrual problems, weight gain, hair loss or hair thinning, joint pains, and bloating.

If you’re diabetic, you might know that the American Diabetic Association recommends Nutrasweet as an artificial sweetener. What you might not know is that aspartame can:

* Precipitate clinical diabetes
* Cause poor diabetic control in diabetics on insulin or oral drugs
* Lead to aggravation of diabetic complications such as retinopathy, cataracts, neuropathy, and impairment of the digestive tract
* Cause convulsions

Remember that our wonderful earth provides natural sweeteners, such as stevia, made from a South American plant. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar, so it’s used in extremely small amounts. Diabetics in many parts of the world use it. And what’s more, since it occurs in nature, it can’t be patented.

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