In an attempt to avoid naturally occurring sugars, many have turned their tastebuds towards much less healthy choices. The followeing article describes some of the drawbacks to one of the best known artificial sweeteners
Diet sweeteners such as NutraSweet®, Sweetmate®, Canderal®, Equal®, or the generic, aspartame®, are composed of 90% phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Aspartame is also10% methanol (or wood alcohol) by weight, and breaks down further in heat and in the body into formaldehyde, next into formic acid and is then eliminated from the body in the form of carbon dioxide and water.
Phenylalanine, whose chemical reference is PHE, is an essential amino acid found in all animal protein foods and to a lesser extent in cereals, vegetables and fruits, and accounts for 50% of aspartame's composition. Proteins are composed of amino acids, so when we ingest proteins, we break them down to their amino acid forms, which we then use to build the kinds of proteins we need. Our bodies convert one ingested essential amino acid to another non-essential amino acid, such as the essential PHE into the non-essential tyrosine (TYR). All essential amino acids must be taken in through diet to prevent deficiency, as our bodies do not manufacture them. Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, are created by this conversion process or gotten through our food. Therefore, TYR or other non-essential amino acid deficiency, per se, does not occur as diet provides it in sufficient quantities.
Picking Aspartame, or Nutrasweet, as a topic for this report was an easy choice. Thirty years ago, I completed training as a Psychiatric Technician. As part of that training, I was thoroughly astounded to discover there was a serious developmental disorder whose onset was nutritionally based. Months later, when working directly with clients, I had the opportunity to work with two individuals suffering from the resultant disability. We know this disability as Phenylketonuria, referred to as PKU, or Hyperphenylalaninemia, an inability of liver cells to adequately process phenylalanine. Phenylketonuria is an inherited metabolic disorder characterized by an inability to convert the amino acid phenylalanine, manifesting in the inability to adequately digest and metabolize proteins. Left untreated in the early days of life, PHE then accumulates in the blood. Increased levels of PHE lead to severe mental retardation, this excess retarding physical and intellectual development. When appropriate treatment is given at birth, the PKU sufferer will develop normally, but must adhere to a PHE restricted diet for life. Thus, patients with PKU should avoid diet food and drinks containing high PHE sweeteners. Other diet restrictions include a strict limitation of protein foods, supplemented with amino acid preparations.
Having learned this thirty years ago, I have always been rather obsessed with the idea that anything which has such a profound effect on brain function, such as nutrasweet, couldn't possibly be good, or healthful, to use as an ADDITION to food, especially just to save a few calories. It would seem that modern research is now catching up to this way of thinking.
Each component used to create aspartame has its own set of potential dangers or side effects. We have explored one of the problems with PHE. As an essential amino acid, it requires a specifically sequenced intake, in combination with the seven other essential amino acids for it to be properly utilized. Without that balance, protein synthesis stops. Add to this the fact that Dr. Morgan Raiford's 1987 research shows that, in humans in general, excess levels of PHE leads to central nervous system damage, manifesting as PKU Neuro damage, as in 3,000 cases reported to, and ignored by, the FDA. When exposed to warm, or even room temperatures, as occurs in prolonged storage of soda pop, PHE also breaks down to DKP, or aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine, a known brain tumor agent. Studies show that the amounts of PHE, DKP and methanol increase over time with prolonged storage.
Aspartic acid is also an amino acid, and comprises 40% of aspartame's makeup. As an amino acid, it is not inherently harmful, and is present in many of the foods we eat. Nevertheless, as an amino acid, it remains harmless only when taken in combination with other amino acids. Again, not consumed in the proper balance, it enters the central nervous system. These abnormally high concentrations can lead to aberrant neuronal firing and the potential for cell death. Classified as an excitotoxin, the effects are cumulative, building in crescendo, with the ultimate potential of headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and seizures. Stimulating the generation of free radicals is another known side effect of excitoxins like aspartic acid. This can lead to the acceleration of degenerative diseases such as artherosclerosis, cancer, coronary artery disease, arthritis, and accompanying joint pain.
Stored at cold temperatures, as in refrigeration of soda pop, methanol will spontaneously create formaldehyde. Temperatures exceeding 86ºF creates "free methanol", which accelerates the absorption rate of methanol into the body. Further methanol breakdown occurs within the body, where it is oxidized to formaldehyde, or embalming fluid, and formic acid, or ant venom, both metabolites known to be toxic. The consumption of milk, and certain fruits and vegetables also produces this methanol to formaldehyde conversion. Though other foods ingested also produce methanol, it never appears alone, and is always accompanied by ethanol, an antidote to methanol toxicity in humans.
Monsanto claims that this natural process is produced at significantly greater levels than that by the ingestion of aspartame, and is backed by the FDA in this claim . Yet, research listed on Monsanto's internet site: "Monsanto Investing News", states, "Formaldehyde has been shown to cause damage to the nervous system, immune system and irreversible damage." The authors conclude that "aspartame consumption may constitute a hazard because of its contribution to the formation of formaldehyde adducts." Formaldehyde "adducts" are the bonding of formaldehyde to proteins, and are a well-known cause of chronic toxicity.
The methanol present in nutrasweet is gradually absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine when this methyl group encounters the enzyme chymotrypsin. The 56 mgs. of methanol present in one liter of soda pop far exceeds the safety limits established by the EPA of no more than 7.8 mgs. per day. Continued low-level exposure to methanol has been shown to cause visual and gastro-intestinal disturbances, depression, insomnia, pancreatic inflammation, heart disease, dizziness, and a host of other symptoms.
The FDA receives thousands of annual complaints. Seventy-eight percent of all complaints are about adverse reactions to aspartame. Research is ongoing and continuous, often funded by Monsanto, who produces aspartame. Because of their research, Monsanto and the FDA, as well as the G.D. Searle Company, who originally developed aspartame, claim that aspartame has no significant, harmful side effects, and is therefore safe to use, except as regards persons suffering from PKU. In fact, they go so far as to say, "People of all ages, including pregnant or breast feeding women, teens and children over two years old, can enjoy products sweetened with aspartame while maintaining a healthful diet." Though shown to digest large amounts of aspartame in the same manner that adults do, the restriction for children under two, and infants, is because they require ample caloric intake for rapid growth and development.
Independent research paints an entirely different picture. Nearly 100% of this research has found problems with aspartame. In a total of 92 non-industry sponsored research projects conducted between 1970 and 1998, there were a total of seven positive findings, or findings in nutrasweet's favor. Of these seven, the FDA funded six studies . Of the remaining eighty-five studies, all identified adverse reactions to aspartame . To date there have been close to one hundred adverse reactions identified, including diabetic complications, cancer, seizures, and death.
In the lab, animals died. Others developed brain tumors, pancreatic tumors, uterine tumors and mammary tumors. During studies conducted with humans, in vision problems alone, ¼ of participants developed decreased vision, bright flashes, blurred and/or tunnel vision. The study went on to include pain in the eyes, decreased tears, trouble with contact lenses, and a 3% rate of blindness in one or both eyes. In further studies, partial to total optic atrophy occurred in 65 cases.
In an attempt to "get around" current lawsuits and still continue to produce their poison, Monsanto's NutraSweet Kelco Co. is awaiting approval of a new sweetener which is 8000 times sweeter than sugar, known as Neotame. It is composed of virtually the same formula as nutrasweet, with the addition of dimethylbutyl, which is listed on the EPA list of hazardous chemicals.
During an eight-year battle to get aspartame approved for use in baked goods, the FDA consistently denied approval. This denial continued until Ronald Reagan, a personal friend of G.D. Searle, took office as president. The then current and aspartame-opposing FDA Commissioner was fired. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. was appointed as new commissioner. He then overruled the Public Board of Inquiry, and approved aspartame.
Following FDA approval in 1983 of the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages, FDA Commissioner Hayes left the FDA, taking a position as a consultant with G.D. Searle's public relations firm. Between 1979 and 1982 four other FDA officials also left the FDA, taking positions with companies closely related to the NutraSweet® issue.
In conclusion, the use of NutraSweet® is a personal choice. The FDA has approved its safety. Yet, the FDA has, in the past, approved food additives, recalling their approval after further testing showed conclusive evidence of health damaging properties. This "approved" sweetener is clearly linked with a number of people who put the safety of human life far below the needs of their wallet. Many studies have shown the detriment to health by using aspartame products. It remains now for people to educate themselves about the choices they make, without relying on the so-called watchdogs of our society to determine the safety of our families. The choice is personal, but the choice is yours.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elisa Thorp is a Certified Diet Counselor & Certified Nutrition Educator