Some folks say that ‘ignorance is bliss’ and some say that ‘what you don’t know will definitely hurt you’, yet sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction (not unless you’ve already decided which saying in this case is fact or fiction).
Controversy has been around long before the word ‘artificial sweetener’ came into existence and yet so much has been said over the past few decades and its association with diseases with cancer, brain tumors and what not.
George Carlin (RIP) in one of his (delightful) rants scathingly remarked that it was really stupid to ban artificial sweeteners because a rat died…
But before we can laugh it off (and pay respects to the man), let’s study a little history and its composition before we delve into the side effects that has given aspartame a bad rap as a safety hazard.
Aspartame – History and Composition
In danger of stating the obvious, aspartame (as well know) is an artificial sweetener that was discovered by James L. Schlatter by accident while he was preparing an anti-ulcer drug.
Well, that’s very reassuring for starters.
Little did he know that aspartame would cause such a controversy in the years to come!
At first though, it was found (with delight, of course) that aspartame was 200 times sweeter that refined sugar minus the high energy value. But once safety testing measures were completed, lab results indicated that the rats used in the experiment were afflicted with cancer. And thus, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not approve of its use as a food additive until 1980. First, with dry food… then carbonated beverages to other beverages to baked foods and confections until 1993 when restrictions were completely lifted by the FDA. Today, it exists as an ingredient in almost 6000 foods and beverages sold worldwide.
As for its composition, it is the methyl ester of the dipeptide of the natural amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine, and the reason for all this uproar is due to the fact that upon its intake, aspartame breaks down into natural residual components, including aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol, and further breakdown products including formaldehyde, formic acid, and a diketopiperazine.
And that’s where the claims of brain damage and mental retardation have emerged because phenylalanine is not conducive to those born with the rare disease of phenylketonuria (PKU). Not that the tumors that were observed while testing the artificial sweetener on rats helped it cause anyways…
But the question remains: Can Aspartame cause brain damage or cancer in humans much like the rats?
Aspartame – Side Effects
Apart from the ailments mentioned above, there are almost 92 side effects that related to the intake of aspartame. Here’s a website that lists the side effects of aspartame comprehensively.
Apart from this information, the Department of Health and Human Services submitted symptoms associated with aspartame in complaints to the FDA on April 20, 1995. Take a look at the list below:
Scary… isn’t it?
Even though conspiracy theories are not my cup of tea, I smell a ‘rat’ (pun intended) even though aspartame was regarded as one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives that the agency (FDA) has ever approved.