Sweet & Dangerous
By: Suzanne Elston
Like so many other aging boomers, I struggle with the discomforts associated with middle age. Osteoarthritis has left me with creaky knees and stiff wrists, and too many years at the computer has kept my chiropractor in business trying to keep up with my various back complaints. None of this is life threatening; all of this I attributed to the aging process.
I have not gone quietly into this state of decay. For years I power-walked an hour every day. When my knees began complaining too loudly, I replaced pounding the pavement with peddling my exercise bicycle. I take the proper vitamins and supplements, try to eat right, and limit my alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Until very recently, my only real vice was diet cola. Almost every afternoon I would indulge my thirst for a (preferably caffeine-free) diet Pepsi or Coke with lime. It was delicious and guilt-free, or so I thought. After complaining loudly that despite my best efforts, my stiffness seemed to be getting worse, my husband Brian asked if I was still consuming aspartame and suggested that I might want to trying giving it up and see if things got any better.
The improvement was swift and dramatic. Within days I had better mobility and less pain. While I'm no doctor, the anecdotal evidence in my particular case was overwhelming. Searching the Internet, I soon discovered that despite the fact that over 200 scientific studies have confirmed the safety of aspartame, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that it isn't as safe as once thought.
Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, has been associated with numerous medical complaints including headaches, severe depression, ulcers and even death. To find out more, I visited Dr. Janet Hull's website.
Dr. Hull holds a Doctorate in Nutrition and a Master's Degree in Environmental Science and is also an "aspartame survivor." According to her website, "Aspartame may trigger, mimic, or cause the following illnesses: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Epstein-Barr, Post-Polio Syndrome, Lyme Disease, Grave's Disease, Meier's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, ALS, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), EMS, hypothyroidism, mercury sensitivity from amalgam fillings, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)."
And there's more. A recent study published by the respected journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (November 2005) concludes that aspartame causes cancer in rats at exposure levels currently approved for humans. This confirms a previous Italian study that linked the artificial sweetener to higher rates of tumors, leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers. Ouch.
All of this led to the introduction of legislation that will ban aspartame in the state of New Mexico. According to the Organic Consumers Association, the bill, known as Senate Bill 250 and House Bill 202 would, "allow the state to regulate poisonous and deleterious food additives in the interest of public health. A successful bill of this type could set a powerful precedent for the whole country."
Aspartame is currently found in 6,000 products and over 500 pharmaceutical preparations worldwide, and is the only artificial sweetener approved for use in all of four major markets in the world: the US, Canada, the European Union and Japan. It's comprised of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. (The later led to my husband's suggestion that I lay off the stuff. Twenty years ago I suffered an acute allergic reaction to phenylalanine.) And while phenylalanine is found naturally in protein-containing foods such as meats, grains and dairy products, the 1976 edition of Grolier's encyclopedia states that cancer cannot live without phenylalanine.
The question becomes, if the evidence is so controversial, how did aspartame get approved in the first place? The answer, apparently, is linked to politics and power, at least in the US. (Aspartame was approved for use both in Canada and the US in 1981.) According to www.newmediaexplorer.org, "Aspartame was approved in 1981 over the objections of the FDA's own scientists, when Donald Rumsfeld, former CEO of aspartame maker Searle, called in his "political markers". Since that time, the FDA has been stonewalling adverse reaction reports on the sweetener."
Saving the political implications of all this for another day, the bottom line is that when there's smoke inevitably there's fire, even if it's the sugar-free kind. More importantly, my not-so-aching joints tell me aspartame is one thing I'm much better off without.
NOTE: This is an industry-sponsored website that explains much of the science behind this controversial artificial sweetener.