Aspartame is an artificial sweetener marketed under the brand names of Equal and Nutrasweet. It has become an increasingly popular additive in a number of foods, such as soft drinks, gum, cereals, frozen desserts, cocoa mixes, topping mixes and many other products. Aspartame has a sweetness level that is 200 times that of sugar, which makes it a very economical way for manufacturers to sweeten these products.
Although the sweetener is touted as an aid for those managing their weight or those managing blood sugar levels in diabetes, a number of health concerns have surfaced regarding the high levels of aspartame that the public now consumes.
The Invention of Aspartame
Aspartame was the accidental result of research by Mr. James M. Schlatter, a chemist working at the pharmaceutical company, G. D. Searle, based in Skokie, Illinois. Schlatter was investigating compounds for an anti-ulcer drug when he noticed the sweetness of one particular one. By 1973, G.D. Searle had filed papers to the FDA for the new food additive, which they named “aspartame.”
In 1974, aspartame was approved for use in certain types of food. Questions remained about the legitimacy of the company’s initial safety studies, but the FDA went on to approve its use in soft drinks in 1983. Since that time the use of aspartame in various types of drinks escalated dramatically.
Concerns about Aspartame Dangers
The widespread use of aspartame has increased concerns about the safety of the sweetener. Reports of links with increased risk for cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and other serious conditions have dogged the artificial sweetener for years, but no clinical studies have been able to find a conclusive link with these problems. However, anecdotally, many people have chosen to remove artificial sweeteners of all kinds, including aspartame, from their diets and have reported improvement in their physical symptoms.
Reported Side Effects of Aspartame Use
In some people, the use of aspartame can cause a number of different side effects, whether they are from the toxicity of the sweetener’s components or from individual sensitivity to the substances. These side effects include:
- Migraine headaches
- Gastrointestinal pain/gas/diarrhea
- Pins & needle sensations and neurological problems
- Mood disturbances
- Increased hunger and weight gain
The Aspartame Apologists
The artificial sweetener industry, the FDA and a variety of organizations actively work to answer concerns about the safety of aspartame. However, many people who suffer from migraines, inflammatory bowel syndrome, mood disorders and other vague, troubling symptoms have chosen to stop consuming the product and have found immediate relief. It may be that animal studies do not effectively translate to human reactions to the compounds into which aspartame breaks down. Until more is understood about aspartame and its components, as well as their effect on the human body, individuals may be well advised to switch to more natural sweeteners, unless it is recommended by their physicians.
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