Guest blog by Dr. Susan Blum, M.D.
We all know there are artificial sweeteners and additives in much of the food sold in American supermarkets. We have become accustomed to seeing chemicals listed on food labels, assuming they are safe because they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency that is supposed to be safe−guarding our health. Well, it turns out there is an additive known as Aspartame that accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Since there is ample research documenting the negative effects of Aspartame in our body, why is this chemical still allowed in our food?
The fact is there were always concerns over aspartame’s toxicity, and, for eight years, the FDA denied it’s approval, effectively keeping it off the world market. This caution was based on compelling evidence, brought to light by numerous eminent scientists, litigators and consumer groups, that aspartame contributed to serious central nervous system damage and had been shown to cause cancer in animals. Eventually, however, political muscle won out over scientific rigor and aspartame was approved for use in 1981. The FDA’s reversal opened the floodgates for aspartame’s swift approval by more than 70 regulatory authorities around the world. But, as the remarkable history of the sweetener shows, the clean bill of health given to it by government regulators − whose raison d’etre should be to protect the public from harm − is simply not worth the paper it is printed on.
The Pentagon listed aspartame as a biochemical warfare agent some years ago. Today it’s an integral part of the modern diet. Sold commercially under names like NutraSweet and Canderel, aspartame can be found in more than 5,000 foods, including fizzy drinks, chewing gum, table−top sweeteners, diet and diabetic foods, breakfast cereals, jams, sweets, vitamins, and over−the−counter prescription drugs. There is a good chance that you and your family are among the two−thirds of the adult population and 40 percent of children who regularly ingest this artificial sweetener. Because it contains no calories, aspartame is considered a boon to health−conscious individuals everywhere; and most of us, if we think about it at all, think it is safe.
When aspartame was approved for use, Dr. H. J. Roberts, director of the Palm Beach Institute for Medical Research, had no reason to doubt the FDA’s decision. “But my attitude changed,” he says,” after repeatedly encountering serious reactions in my patients that seemed justifiably linked to aspartame.”
As a guide for other doctors, Roberts, a recognized expert in difficult diagnoses, has published a lengthy series of case studies, Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic (Sunshine Sentinel Press), in which he meticulously details his treatment of 1,200 aspartame−sensitive individuals, or reactors, encountered in his own practice. Following accepted medical procedure for detecting sensitivities to foods, Roberts had his patients remove aspartame from their diets. With nearly two−thirds of reactors, symptoms began to improve within days of removing aspartame and improvements were maintained as long as aspartame was kept out of their diet.
Roberts’ case studies parallel much of what was revealed in the FDA’s report on adverse reactions to aspartame − that toxicity often reveals itself through central nervous system disorders and compromised immunity. His casework shows that aspartame toxicity can mimic the symptoms of and/or worsen several diseases that fall into these broad categories. Roberts’ research suggests that some people diagnosed with, for example, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or chronic fatigue syndrome may end up on a regimen of potentially harmful drugs that could have been avoided if they simply stopped ingesting aspartame−laced products.
So what are the possible symptoms related to regular consumption of Aspartame? Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, entitled “Direct and Indirect Cellular Effects of Aspartame on the Brain” outlines the exact mechanisms by which aspartame has negative health effects on our body. (My guess is that this study was possible in Europe, away from the industry/political influences in our country.)
Aspartame is made up of 3 components that all have effects on the brain and cause direct changes in neurotransmitters and neurons: Phenylalanine (50%), Aspartic Acid (40%) and Methanol (10%). The first 2 are Amino Acids that directly effect neurotransmitters and are considered excitatory. Phenylalanine is converted to Tyrosine, another excitatory neurotransmitter. Excitatory neurotransmitters can do things like cause seizures, migraines, anxiety, and insomnia. People often think it is the caffeine in diet sodas that are causing these symptoms, when in fact it is the Aspartame. In persons consuming large amounts of Aspartame, the overwhelming amounts of phenylalanine and tyrosine can not only cause symptoms such as headaches, insomnia and seizures, but can also prevent other important amino acids from crossing into the brain, especially important neurotransmitters like serotonin, and serotonin precursors, resulting in lower brain serotonin levels. Serotonin, as we know, is important for mood, but also for behavior and control of sleep, temperature, appetite, and other neuroendocrine functions. And let’s not forget the third component of aspartame: methanol which is also a huge problem on it’s own. It is converted to formaldehyde in the body which is both carcinogenic and mutagenic, and there have also been concerns that this accumulation of formaldehyde in the retina can cause blindness.
Review of these studies leave no doubt that excessive Aspartame consumption can lead to overall oxidative stress, imbalanced neurotransmitters and neurodegeneration in the brain, and might be involved in the development of certain mental disorders and in compromised learning and emotional functioning.
My belief is that Aspartame toxicity can mimic any number of diseases and is to blame until proven otherwise. In my practice, we eliminate it from the diet and observe the miraculous disappearance of symptoms.
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