If you have chewed a piece of gum purchased from your average grocery store in the past few decades, there’s a good chance it contained aspartame. Aspartame—known by its brand names Equal®, NutraSweet®, and AminoSweet®—is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners on the market today. Many people do not know the history of aspartame or even what it is made out of, just that it’s common on supermarket shelves. Aspartame can be found in a wide variety of foods including candy, yogurt, desserts, flavored waters, sports and energy drinks, coffee drinks, instant breakfast shakes, diet beverages (especially diet sodas), vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, and so much more.
Two hundred times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is being consumed by two-thirds of the population in over six thousand products in one hundred countries worldwide.It’s also one of the most addictive neurotoxins still used in the food supply.
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is composed of 40 percent aspartic acid, 50 percent phenylalanine, and 10 percent methanol, and is excreted by genetically modified E. coli bacteria. Aspartic acid is a nonessential amino acid, meaning the body can produce what’s needed on its own. Aspartic acid also functions as a neurotransmitter.
Phenylalanine, another amino acid, helps the brain create active nerve chemicals that affect mood, like epinephrine and dopamine. Too much phenylalanine can lead to chemical imbalances, such as a decrease in the amount of serotonin the body produces over time.
Perhaps best known for managing moods, serotonin also regulates sleep, appetite, and muscle contraction, and it even affects memory and learning abilities. Serotonin also keeps us from craving carbohydrates and helps us limit overconsumption; in other words, people with aspartame-induced serotonin inhibition may be driven to eat more.
Methanol—or methyl alcohol—is literally known as wood alcohol.
It is an industrial solvent typically found in antifreeze, paint, copy machine fluids, windshield wiper fluid, varnish, and fuel additives. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website (with the tagline “trusted health information for you”) says methanol is considered a “nondrinking type” of alcohol, and overdose can cause all kinds of awful symptoms, including headaches, blindness, difficulty breathing, convulsions, seizures, low blood pressure, coma, liver dysfunction, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, leg cramps, weakness, and even bluish-colored lips and fingernails.
Aspartame is an excitotoxin; that is, ingesting too much aspartame can actually stimulate overexcited neurons to the point of cellular death, which is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or young children who do not have fully developed blood–brain barriers. In fact, the EPA officially listed aspartame as a “chemical with substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity” on its database of developmental neurotoxicants.
There are at least ninety-two side effects of aspartame ingestion that have been reported to the FDA, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, memory loss, fatigue, dizziness, vision changes, rashes, muscle weakness, insomnia, hives, numbness, tingling, menstrual changes, difficulty breathing, and seizures, just to name a few.
Although it is in so many different foods and drinks, aspartame is most well known for being added to beverages, especially diet sodas. Unfortunately, aspartame has demonstrably limited stability in liquid, and studies have shown that over time, the additive breaks down into formaldehyde and diketopiperazine (DKP), a brain tumor agent. This breakdown happens even if the product containing aspartame is kept chilled in the refrigerator, but it seems to accelerate when the item is left at room temperature or— worse—heated.
Trocho et al (1998) determined, “aspartame consumption may constitute a hazard because of its contribution to the formation of formaldehyde adducts.”505 This independent research showed that the formaldehyde from aspartame accumulates in the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs.