Why Aspartame (in soft drink) is Dangerous

The artificial sweetener aspartame is used in more than 6,000 products worldwide especially in soft drinks, including Diet Coke products.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aspartame for use in dry foods in 1981 and as a general artificial sweetener in 1996.

Unlike other artificial sweeteners that move through the body without being digested, aspartame can be metabolized by your body and exerts a number of concerning effects.

For instance, aspartame has been found to increase hunger ratings compared to glucose or water and is associated with heightened motivation to eat (even more so than other artificial sweeteners like saccharin or acesulfame potassium).

The fact that aspartame may actually increase weight gain. Aspartame also exerts changes on the microbial composition in your gut.

“Regular consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks is associated with disorders of the metabolic syndrome, including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance, dyslipidemia and high blood pressure.

In particular, daily diet soda consumption (primarily sweetened with N-a-L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester, aspartame, APM), is reported to increase the relative risk of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome by 67 percent and 36 percent respectively.

Given this data, and the presence of APM in over 6000 food products, there is a need to understand the potential role of APM sweetened products in the development and maintenance of metabolic disease.”

Independent Studies Link Aspartame with Depression, Headaches and Other Adverse Effects

A 2004 BMJ study gave aspartame a clean bill of health, in part because it noted 100 percent of industry-funded studies concluded aspartame is safe.

Yet, in an editorial response published in BMJ in 2005, it’s revealed that 92 percent of independently funded studies found aspartame may cause adverse effects, including depression and headaches.

Aspartame is made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. But the phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group as that provides the majority of the sweetness. That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol.

When aspartame is in liquid form, it breaks down into methyl alcohol, or methanol, which is then converted into formaldehyde and represents the root of the problem with aspartame.

Why aspartame is toxic

Both animals and humans have small structures called peroxisomes in each cell. There are a couple of hundred in every cell of your body, which are designed to detoxify a variety of chemicals.

Peroxisome contains catalase, which helps detoxify methanol once it is turned into formaldehyde. Other chemicals in the peroxisome then convert the formaldehyde to formic acid, which is harmless, but this last step occurs only in non-human animals.

When methanol enters the peroxisome of every animal except humans, it gets into that mechanism. Humans do have the same number of peroxisomes in comparable cells as animals, but human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid.

According to Dr. Woody Monte, professor emeritus at Arizona State University in food and chemistry:

“Every cell in your body cannot metabolize methanol. Wherein the animal body, every cell can metabolize and turn it to formic acid, which is safe. What happens to the methyl alcohol?

That’s the key. In humans, methyl alcohol could just as easily not be metabolized at all. That would be the ultimate and best outcome, and you could urinate it away or sweat it out and you would be fine.

Unfortunately, there are some locations in the human body, particularly in the lining of the vessels of your body, especially in your brain, that are loaded with alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) that converts methanol to formaldehyde …

… [A]nd there is no catalase present so enormous amounts of damage are created in the tissues.”

How Aspartame May Harm Your Brain

So to recap, in humans the methyl alcohol from aspartame travels through your blood vessels into sensitive areas, such as your brain, that is loaded with ADH, which converts methanol to formaldehyde. And since there’s no catalase present, the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.

Symptoms from methanol poisoning are many, and include headaches, ear buzzing, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances, and neuritis.

The most well-known problems from methanol poisoning are vision problems, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision, obscuration of vision, retinal damage, and blindness. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication and may cause birth defects.

Not surprisingly, the most comprehensive and longest human study looking at aspartame toxicity found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and leukemia. Aspartame appears to exert a number of additional neurological effects as well.

The researcher concluded, “individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged.”

The Direct and Indirect Effects of Aspartame on Your Brain

Another study looked into the direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain, noting that phenylalanine, which makes up 50 percent of aspartame, plays an important role in neurotransmitter regulation. Aspartic acid, which makes up 40 percent of the artificial sweetener, is also thought to play a role as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. According to the study:

” … [I]t has been reported that consumption of aspartame could cause neurological and behavioral disturbances in sensitive individuals. Headaches, insomnia and seizures are also some of the neurological effects that have been encountered, and these may be accredited to changes in regional brain concentrations of catecholamines, which include norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine.

… [W]e propose that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders (DSM-IV-TR 2000) and also in compromised learning and emotional functioning.”

Aspartame may even affect your serotonin levels, which may not only play a role in its link to depression but also in other health conditions, like low libido.  In all, there are more than 50 health conditions associated with aspartame, from kidney problems and cognitive dysfunction to DNA damage and mental disorders. Despite this, major food and beverage manufacturers, like Coca-Cola, continue to use it in their products.