Addicted: To Aspartame

March 19, 2009
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Are you planning to drink a Diet Coke at lunch? Will you chew a piece of Orbit gum to get rid of bad breath? All of these things contain Aspartame, which is the generic name for the artificial sweetener used in Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel. These sweeteners are used in over 6,000 beverages and foods sold worldwide, including diet sodas, some chewable vitamins (to add flavor but not detract from nutrition), and some sugar-free gums. Aspartame, however, has been thought by the media and conveyed to the consumer to possibly be related to diseases such as brain tumors, brain lesions, and lymphoma. Many people are “addicted” to aspartame, or aspartame- containing products, such as diet sodas. So, what truly is the risk of this “dangerous” artificial sweetener?

Most studies were based on studying the four metabolites, or products of metabolism, of aspartame: methanol, phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine.

First of all, approximately 10% of aspartame that is ingested is broken down into methanol in the small intestine. Of that 10%, most of the methanol is quickly absorbed and converted into formaldehyde, which can build up from extreme aspartame ingestion. It has been proven, by a team of Spanish scientists in 1998, that formaldehyde hooked onto protein and DNA in the brain, liver, kidneys, and other tissues after the ingestion of simply 20 mg of aspartame. However, these levels were not proven to come specifically from methanol, and could not be proven to be linked directly to the health problems experienced.

Next, Phenylalanine, which is what approximately 50% of aspartame is broken down into, is broken down and absorbed very quickly. Phenylalanine is believed to be completely safe to ingest except for people that suffer from phenylketonuria, or a person that is deficient of Phenylalanine Hydroxylase, or the product needed to make Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is also known to cause an increase in blood plasma levels. Another alternative artificial sweetener, neotame, has been developed and is believed to solve the “Phenylalanine problem” that is supposedly caused by aspartame.

Aspartic Acid, the third metabolite of aspartame, protein that is made of broken down aspartame (approximately 40% of the aspartame) is not known to cause any serious health defects, but it may cause an increase in blood plasma levels.

Finally, aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine, or DKP, is a metabolite of aspartame that lingers in one’s digestive system, as one study showed that 6 months after aspartame was ingested, 25% still existed in the body as DKP. Some people are concerned that DKP could release a chemical release in a processed called nitrosation, which could potentially cause brain tumors. However, it has been proven that the nitrosation of DKPs in the stomach cannot cause brain tumors.

So, despite what you may hear, aspartame is safe to ingest, cannot cause cancer, and can replace sugar without causing any side effects.





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