Artificial Sweeteners (cont.)

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Aspartame: What are the cons?

Aspartame is one of the most controversial artificial sweeteners. There are numerous web sites, books, and articles stating various reasons why aspartame should not be consumed. Some site studies to support their theories while others base their claims on industry-related conspiracies. One fact is that aspartame does get metabolized, meaning that it doesn't get excreted in the same form that it is when ingested. This is the reason why it can't be consumed by people with the metabolism disorder PKU. The following is a summary of some of the controversial dangers of consuming aspartame.

Industry conspiracies: Conflicts of interest in the studies performed on aspartame and the way in which its approval was obtained is an ongoing controversy. Dr. Robert Walton surveyed the studies of aspartame in the peer-reviewed medical literature. He states that of the 166 studies felt to have relevance for questions of human safety, 74 had Nutrasweet industry (those who make aspartame) related funding and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent of the research performed by the company who makes aspartame confirmed aspartame's safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research found problems with consuming aspartame. Other reports of federal employees working for the companies responsible for the testing and distribution of aspartame are cited on all of the sites and books opposing the use of aspartame.

Aspartame disease: H.J. Roberts, MD, coined the term "aspartame disease" in a book filled with over 1,000 pages of information about the negative health consequences of ingesting aspartame. Dr. Roberts reports that by 1998, aspartame products were the cause of 80% of complaints to the FDA about food additives. Some of these symptoms include headache, dizziness, change in mood, vomiting or nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, change in vision, diarrhea, seizures/convulsions, memory loss, and fatigue. Along with these symptoms, links to aspartame are made for fibromyalgia symptoms, spasms, shooting pains, numbness in your legs, cramps, tinnitus, joint pain, unexplainable depression, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, blurred vision, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and various cancers. While the FDA has assured us that the research does not show any adverse health complications from aspartame, there has been some evidence to suggest that some of the following symptoms can be related to aspartame.

Headaches: One study confirmed that individuals with self-reported headaches after the ingestion of aspartame were in deed susceptible to headaches due to aspartame. Three randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with more than 200 adult migraine sufferers showed that headaches were more frequent and more severe in the aspartame-treated group.

Depression: In a study of the effect of aspartame on 40 patients with depression, the study was cut short due to the severity of reactions within the first 13 patients tested. The outcome showed that individuals with mood disorders were particularly sensitive to aspartame and recommended that it be avoided by them.

Cancer: In an initial study, 12 rats out of 320 developed malignant brain tumors after receiving aspartame in an FDA trial. There have been other studies to both support and contradict this finding. A recent study, conducted by Italian and French researchers indicates there is no association between low-calorie sweeteners and cancer. The researchers evaluated a variety of studies between the years of 1991 and 2004. These studies assessed the relationship between low-calorie sweeteners and many cancers, including oral and pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, larynx, breast, ovary, prostate, and renal cell carcinomas. The researchers examined the eating habits of more than 7,000 men and women in their middle ages (mainly 55 years and over). Based on the data evaluated, there was no evidence that saccharin or other sweeteners (mainly aspartame) increase the risk of cancer at several common sites in humans. The debate continues while more research is conducted.

Increased hunger: A study done with 14 dieters comparing the effects of aspartame-sweetened and sucrose-sweetened soft drinks on food intake and appetite ratings found that substituting diet drinks for sucrose-sweetened ones did not reduce total calorie intake and may even have resulted in a higher intake on subsequent days. In another study of 42 males given aspartame in diet lemonade versus sucrose-sweetened lemonade, there was no increase in hunger ratings or food intake with the diet group. Weight loss results from consuming fewer calories than your body needs. When you replace a caloric beverage with a noncaloric beverage, you will be saving calories and could lose weight if it is enough calories to put you in a negative balance. For aspartame to increase weight, there would have to be something else going on. There is not enough research to determine if something does exist so the jury is still out on this one.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2014

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