From 1960 to l976, there was virtually no change in the number of Americans who were overweight: roughly 24 percent of the population. However, from the mid l980s to the present, this number has more than doubled to 54 percent! This coincides with the massive infusion of non-caloric chemical sweeteners and sugar-free “diet” foods that are eaten by close to three-quarters of the adult population.
Although several factors contribute to these alarming statistics, our blind acceptance of the most popular of these artificial sweeteners, aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful), plays a significant role in our current weight problems. Far from helping us lose weight, aspartame has been proven to increase appetite, especially cravings for sweets. Imagine “diet” products that help you pack on extra pounds!
And aspartame’s downside unfortunately does not end with weight gain: This sweetener is associated with multiple health problems.
According to research, aspartame actually contributes to weight gain as opposed to weight loss. The assumption is that because aspartame doesn’t contain the calories sugar does, you lose weight, but the exact opposite appears to be true in the case of aspartame. Studies have found people actually gain more weight consuming aspartame than people consuming regular sugar!
Most likely, this is because weight is regulated by insulin and leptin, and aspartame negatively affects both of these hormones.
Aspartame affects the brain’s functioning and protein synthesis, how the synapses operate in the brain, and affects DNA, as well as numerous other organs.
Symptoms associated with aspartame use include:
•Changes in behavior or mood
Adverse health effects observed in laboratory rats after 30 months of aspartame was placed in drinking water (the amount of sweetener is equivalent to the typical American’s daily consumption of diet soda, or 7 % of the daily caloric intake:
•Neurological effects: difficulty walking, falling over
•Torticollis (also known as wryneck: neck stiffness associated with muscle spasms, resulting in tilting your head to one side)
•Symptoms of cerebral palsy
•Eye disorders: infected eyes, bleeding, blindness, bulging eyes
•Skin disorders: lesions, thinning and yellowing of fur
• Genetic damage
Genetic damage is a very important consideration, as aspartame was approved about 30 years ago, which is about one generation in human terms. So we’re only now beginning to see the offspring of the people who have been consuming aspartame for most of their life.
A note for people against animal studies*: There are good reasons for using animals in lieu of humans in controlled studies. First of all, in many cases using humans would simply be unethical, but the human lifespan is also so long that a controlled study would be extremely impractical. This is a major reason for using rats, as their lifespan is far shorter, making generational study possible.
Other aspartame research performed by the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center of the European Ramazzini Foundation found that after being fed the human equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day, the rats developed high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers. At the highest dose level, 25 percent of the female rats developed lymphomas-leukemias compared with just 8.7 percent of the controls. The researchers determined that the results of this mega-experiment indicate that APM [aspartame] is a multi-potential carcinogenic agent, even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, much less than the current acceptable daily intake.
By 1984, three years after its initial approval for use in tabletop sweeteners and dry food, US consumption of aspartame had already reached 6.9 million pounds per year. This number doubled the following year, and continued to climb well into the 90’s. According to aspartame.org, diet soda accounts for 70 percent of the aspartame consumed. A 12 ounce can of diet soda contains 180 mg of aspartame, and aspartame users ingest an average of 200 mg per day.
According to statistics published by Forbes Magazine, aspartame had conquered 55 percent of the artificial sweetener market in 2003. One of the driving factors behind aspartame’s market success is the fact that since it is now off patent protection, it’s far less expensive than other artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame can be found in some 6,000 food products and beverages, and the list is growing longer as we speak.
However, it can be quite difficult to calculate just how much you’re really ingesting, especially if you consume several types of aspartame-containing foods and beverages. Dosing can vary wildly from product to product. For example, the amount of aspartame will vary from brand to brand, and from flavor to flavor. Some can contain close to twice the amount of aspartame as others, and some contain a combination of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
The unique property of this chemical, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, was accidently discovered in l965 by a chemist trying to develop an ulcer drug. Although the FDA rescinded its initial approval because of studies showing that it caused seizures and brain tumors in lab animals, the agency eventually capitulated to political and monetary pressure and in l981 gave aspartame the stamp of approval. In doing so, this bureaucracy overrode the 3-0 decision of a Public Board of Inquiry, which had reviewed the scientific data and had recommended delaying approval pending further studies on the sweetener’s link with brain cancer.
In the intervening years, safety concerns have mushroomed. Ralph G. Walton, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, reviewed all the studies on aspartame and found 166 with relevance for human safety. Every one of the 74 studies funded by the aspartame industry gave it a clean bill of health, while 92 percent of those independently funded revealed safety problems.
For more details on the story of how aspartame made it through the FDA approval process despite warning signs of potential health hazards and alleged scientific fraud from our trusted FDA, please watch the 60-Minutes report, as Wallace summarizes an otherwise long story.
Being informed and educated about this harmful and toxic ingredient in order to you and your family’s health is the true key here. Your beverage of choice should be water. (Try perking it up with a slice of lemon, orange or cucumber.) Sparkling water, diluted fruit juice, and homemade iced tea flavored with the herbal sweetener stevia are other options. A few drops of stevia also nicely sweeten hot tea, coffee, cereal, yogurt, and other foods. Natural stevia is sold in health food stores is my recommendation.
Resources: OrganicHealthAdvisor.com, Mercola.com, Livestrong.com, NaturalDoc.com