Aspartame is the primary component in Nutrasweet, Equal, Spoonful and Equal-Measure. This sugar substitute is common in many foods, but many doctors feel it causes serious mental slowdowns when taken over several years. Dr. Atkins in particular advised those on his low carb diet to stay away from aspartame and use other sweeteners instead.
Some people react to aspartame immediately, while others can take 10 to 20 years for the aspartame reaction to become noticeable. Problems attributed to aspartame include:
* anxiety and panic attacks
* problems concentrating and focusing
* loss of memory
* depression or irritability
You might wonder why aspartame is used in food, then. In fact, the FDA refused to approve aspartame initially, but in 1981 President Reagan took office and appointed Dr. Hayes as FDA Commissioner. A Public Board of Inquiry was set up on the issue - and the board recommended aspartame not be approved. Instead, Dr. Hayes overrode this and approved aspartame. He soon quit and went to work doing public relations for Searle, maker of NutraSweet.
From the FDA website: "Therefore, the PBOI recommended against approval of aspartame at that time and concluded that further study was needed. In 1981 after extensive review of the record by FDA scientists, then Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes approved aspartame as a food additive." The FDA, of course, now stands by the decision made. But looking at the research, you might wonder why.
When the FDA reviewed the submission for Aspartame done by Searle, it found issues. "In their investigation, the FDA 1975 Task Force reviewed a study done for Searle in 1969 by Dr. Harry Waisman, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. The study involved feeding aspartame mixed with milk to seven infant monkeys. After 300 days, five monkeys had gran mal seizures and one died. Dr. Waisman died before all of his studies were completed. The Task Force uncovered that when Searle had submitted the Waisman study to the FDA, all the negative data had been omitted"
Dr. Mercola on Aspartame
Dr. Hecht of the Philadelphia Inquirer recommends staying away from aspartame especially if you are pregnant: "The concern about its safety stems from the fact that the breakdown products of aspartame - aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol (methyl alcohol) are not safe for the brain and could induce birth defects and keep a baby's brain from developing properly. The FDA counters that aspartame has been studied since 1965, and research that aspartame causes harm is inconclusive or inadequate (except for rare reports of seizures, depression, headaches and memory impairment); opponents counter that the FDA is either ignoring or suppressing research evidence that aspartame is dangerous."
Dr. Hecht's Full Statement
From TheStraightDope: "In 1993 R. G. Walton et al reported that they had been compelled to halt a study of aspartame use by people with a history of depression because two participants suffered severe eye problems while the study was underway. One patient suffered a subconjunctival hemorrhage for the first time in her life while another required emergency surgery for a detached retina. The depressed patients also suffered other less severe symptoms." The eye problems might be coincidence, but this study was never repeated again to follow up on the symptoms ... one has to ask why not.
The Straight Dope
The Wikipedia free encyclopedia says: "Aspartame breaks down at a lower temperature than other artificial sweeteners, and is unsuitable for use in baking or to sweeten coffee and tea. "
Headaches and Aspartame: "Department of Neurology, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa, USA. : Aspartame, a popular dietetic sweetener, may provoke headache in some susceptible individuals. Herein, we describe three cases of young women with migraine who reported their headaches could be provoked by chewing sugarless gum containing aspartame. Headache 1997 Nov;37(10):665-666"
Headache Reference Link
Depression and Aspartame: "This study was designed to ascertain whether individuals with mood disorders are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of aspartame ... the project was halted by the Institutional Review Board after a total of 13 individuals had completed the study because of the severity of reactions within the group of patients with a history of depression ... We conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged."
NIH Govt Website on this Research
Note that there is a HOAX message blaming aspartame for Lupus and MS. You can Read the Hoax Information at Snopes. Aspartame is NOT thought to be related to those two situations.
You can use MedLine to read through research papers yourself if you wish. A review of the papers there found that 100% of NutraSweet-industry-sponsored research found that it was OK ... but that 92% of independent research found issues with the sweetener.
In any case, whether you believe that damage caused by aspartame is "common" or "rare", both sides agree that it exists. With other sweetener options out there to use in cooking, there's no need to take the risk. Your diet needs to include 8+ glasses of water a day. Research shows that red wine helps promote a longer life and fights heart disease and cancer. Why would you be drinking diet soda anyway? :)
Calorie Control Council and Aspartame Safety
Phenylketonuria, phenylalanine, PKU and aspartame
Methanol, Methyl Alcohol and aspartame
500 Low Carb Recipes
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Lisa Shea's Library of Low Carb Books