Aspartame: Is This FDA-Approved Sweetener Causing Brain Damage?
March 24, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
Aspartame is the most popular artificial sweetener in the United States, but I think a more apt description would be the most dangerous food additive on the U.S. market.
Used in more than 6,000 products (often sugar-free or "diet" versions), millions of people consume this toxin, believing it to be a healthy alternative to sugar.
But people would likely stop using it in droves if they only knew the truth, which is that since its discovery aspartame has been linked to brain tumors.i
And just this month, research was published in Drug and Chemical Toxicology showing yet another route by which aspartame damages your brain …
Long-Term Consumption of Aspartame Leads to Oxidative Stress, and Imbalances in Your Brain
A new study investigated the effect of long-term intake of aspartame on the antioxidant defense status in the rat brain.
Male rats that were given a high dose of the artificial sweetener exhibited a lowered concentration of reduced glutathione (the active, antioxidant form of glutathione), and reduced glutathione reductase activity.
Glutathione deficiency has been linked to age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Examination also revealed mild vascular congestion -- an obstruction of the normal flow of blood within the brain -- in these rats. Researchers concluded:
"The results of this experiment indicate that long-term consumption of aspartame leads to an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain, mainly through the mechanism involving the glutathione-dependent system."
A Sweet-Tasting Neurotoxin
Aspartame is composed of three ingredients -- two amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid) and a methyl ester bond. In typical proteins like meat, fish or eggs, phenylalanine and aspartic acid comprise 4-5 percent each of the total amino acid profile. This is how nature intends the human body to encounter these two amino acids and there is nothing wrong with these substances if they occur naturally in a proper balance with other amino acids.
But in aspartame the ratio of these two amino acids is 50 percent phenylalanine and 40 percent aspartic acid (with 10 percent methyl ester bond, aka wood alcohol). In other words, on a percentage basis this is a massive quantity of two unnaturally isolated amino acids that are simply not found in this ratio in nature, bonded together by a known poison. The result of this chemical cocktail is a sweet-tasting neurotoxin.
Excess Aspartame May "Excite" Your Brain Cells to Death
As a result of its unnatural structure, your body processes the amino acids found in aspartame very differently from a steak or a piece of fish. The amino acids in aspartame literally attack your cells, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to attack your brain cells, creating a toxic cellular overstimulation called excitotoxicity. MSG is also an excitotoxin, and works synergistically with aspartame to create even more damage to your brain cells.
Aspartic acid, also known as aspartate, acts as a neurotransmitter in your brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate in your brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate is why they are referred to as "excitotoxins." They "excite" or stimulate the neural cells to death.
Adding to the problem, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, a retired neurosurgeon:
"Excitotoxins have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth and metastasis. In fact, one aspartame researcher noticed that, when cancer cells were exposed to aspartame, they became more mobile … "
The blood-brain barrier, which normally protects your brain from excess aspartate, as well as toxins, is not able to adequately protect you against the effects of aspartame consumption because it:
- Is not fully developed during childhood
- Does not fully protect all areas of the brain
- Is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions
- Allows seepage of excess aspartate into the brain even when intact
That excess aspartate slowly begins to destroy neurons, and the large majority (75 percent or more) of neural cells in a particular area of the brain are killed before any clinical symptoms of a chronic illness are noticed. Then, when they do occur, they may or may not be associated with aspartame consumption, even though examples of chronic illnesses that are made worse by long-term exposure to excitatory amino acid damage include:
|Multiple sclerosis (MS)
|Alzheimer's disease and dementia
If It's So Dangerous, How Did Aspartame Get Approved?
This is the first question that springs to many people's minds, as most would rather not believe that brain-damaging food additives are allowed on the market. The truth of the matter is the FDA rejected aspartame not once but multiple times. The scientific data just did not support it as a safe product. But the FDA is a federal agency subject to the political winds, and the people in charge of the agency have repeatedly and notoriously been accused of many conflicts of interest, both economically and ethically.
In 1975 the FDA came to the conclusion that aspartame should not be allowed on the market. They requested that further studies be conducted. The FDA's next move was to set up a public board of inquiry composed of outside experts to investigate the safety of aspartame, and in 1980 that board unanimously rejected aspartame's request for approval. Another internal FDA panel convened in 1980 also rejected aspartame for approval.
So it was three strikes against aspartame at this point, four strikes if you count the Bressler Report. This report was compiled in 1977 after FDA scientists looked into the field studies conducted on aspartame. The Bressler Report uncovered fraud and manipulation of data so serious that the FDA forwarded their files to the Chicago U.S. Attorney's office for prosecution.
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, please watch the 60-Minutes report below, as Wallace does a nice job of summarizing an otherwise long story.
Basically the results of the scientific data were fairly clear up until 1980: Aspartame was a dangerous, brain-tumor-causing man-made poison and the company trying to get it into the food supply was recommended for prosecution by the FDA. You would think that would be the end of aspartame, right?
Not by a long shot.
It is no coincidence that the FDA Chairman who stood in the way of aspartame's approval was removed from office the day Ronald Reagan took office. His replacement (Dr. Arthur Hill Hayes) was in part planted there by Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G.D. Searle (aspartame is produced by G.D. Searle Company), in order to allegedly get a friendly rubber stamp on aspartame's approval.
But even with a friendly new FDA Chairman in place, the agency still rejected aspartame for approval by a 3-2 margin. What reprehensible, bordering on criminal action did Chairman Hayes do next? He added a sixth member to the approval board, who voted in favor of aspartame. Then, with a 3-3 tie on the issue, Chairman Hayes himself broke the deadlock with his own vote of approval for aspartame.
So he packed the board and then used his own vote as a tie-breaker. All apparently perfectly legal ...
And one of Hayes' last acts in office before he left the FDA in1983 amid accusations that he was accepting corporate gifts for political favors, was to approve aspartame for use in beverages. Does this sound to you like a man-made synthetic chemical that should have never been allowed into the world's food supply?
Are You Suffering Health Problems from Aspartame?
You might not realize you're having a reaction to aspartame. In fact, most people don't make the connection, and a tremendous amount of time and money is spent by aspartame "reactors" (people sensitive to the chemical), trying to find out why they are sick. Some of the most common reactions include:
To determine if you're a reactor, take the following steps:
- Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet two weeks. (Note: If you typically consume aspartame in caffeinated drinks, you may want to gradually reduce your intake in order to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms.)
- After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce aspartame in a significant quantity (about three servings daily) and avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
- Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
- If you don't notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing aspartame, it's a safe bet you're able to tolerate aspartame acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run by this chemical and its breakdown products.
If you experience an adverse reaction to any aspartame product, I urge you to call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area. Also please forward this article to your friends and loved ones who are still drinking diet sodas and poisoning themselves. You can make a difference on this issue by helping to spread the word.
Tips for Ditching Aspartame (and Other Artificial Sweeteners)
First off, be sure you address the emotional component to your food cravings using a tool such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). More than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT works to overcome food cravings and helps you reach dietary success. If diet soda is the culprit for you, be sure to check out Turbo Tapping, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to get rid of your soda addiction in a short amount of time.
Avoiding sugar is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, but, instead of consuming a naturally low-sugar diet based on whole foods, some people are still trying to have their cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, the belief that artificial sweeteners can allow you to have the best of both worlds is a carefully orchestrated deception. So if you're still consuming artificially sweetened foods, snacks and beverages because you think it'll help you manage your weight, please understand that you've been sorely misled.
In reality, "diet" foods and drinks destroy your body's ability to count calories and actually promote weight gain. For example, drinking diet sodas has been found to double your risk of obesity! Complicating matters further, artificial sweeteners also appear to be highly addictive. It's important to understand that craving sugar is typically a sign that your body needs fuel. Using artificial sweeteners will NOT trick your body into thinking it has had its fill. Instead, artificial sweeteners can increase sweet cravings because your body didn't get the energy boost it was expecting from that sweet taste.
If you're determined to sweeten your foods and beverages, I urge you to consider using stevia extract -- a safe and natural sweet herb. Stevia is my sweetener of choice. However, like most choices, especially sweeteners, I recommend using it in moderation, just like sugar. I prefer to use it in its liquid flavored form and my favorite flavors are English Toffee and French Vanilla.
Most all sweeteners increase your insulin sensitivity but interestingly stevia has actually been shown to have an insulin-releasing effect, and actually INCREASES insulin sensitivity, so it appears to be safe to use. But it is probably best to avoid highly processed stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia, as these do not contain the whole stevia plant, which may compromise its safety.