Aspartame, a non-nutritive chemical sweetener that’s ubiquitous in sugar-free foods and beverages, has come under fire in recent years for its dubious safety record. Although the United States government labels aspartame as “generally recognized as safe,” plenty of medical data, studies and anecdotal reports demonstrate otherwise. Indeed, roughly three-quarters of food additive-related adverse reactions are caused by the sweetener. Furthermore, there are more than 90 documented side effects, including headaches, migraines, tinnitus, seizures and heart palpitations. However, some of aspartame’s potential health hazards warrant special mention.
Methanol and Formaldehyde
Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a highly toxic by-product of aspartame metabolism. It not only causes central nervous system depression but also blindness. Methanol is broken down into formaldehyde in the body by alcohol dehydrogenase, the liver enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Furthermore, some studies on aspartame have discovered that the formaldehyde settles in the brain as crystallized deposits, opening the door to a wide variety of neurological and cognitive problems.
Artificial sweeteners are marketed to people who want to avoid gaining weight from unnecessary calories while still indulging their sweet tooth. However, research shows that aspartame doesn’t just fail to prevent weight gain. It actively promotes it. Unlike sugar, aspartame won’t trigger the body’s appetite suppression hormones. Therefore, there is nothing to tell you it’s time to stop eating.
In addition, studies have found that aspartame actually makes you chronically hungry by damaging the leptin system, which regulates appetite and tells you when you’re full. As a result, people who consume foods and drinks containing aspartame often continue to struggle with weight gain.
Although there are no clinical trials underway yet, researchers have confirmed that aspartame can cause liver, pancreatic and lung cancer in animal models. What’s more, the effects were dose-dependent, so the more aspartame is consumed, the more likely it is that cancer will develop.
According to a scientific review in 2013, phenylalanine, another by-product of aspartame metabolism, has a significant negative impact brain levels of dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are responsible for contentment, happiness, relaxation, memory, motivation, learning and enjoyment. When levels of these critical neurotransmitters are reduced, depression and anxiety will result.
Dopamine has another essential function in the body, and that is its role in proper motor function. Low dopamine levels, which is a proven side-effect of aspartame consumption, is what causes the loss of motor skills seen in Parkinson’s patients. While there are currently no studies that prove a link between aspartame and the onset of Parkinson’s, numerous reports demonstrate an increase in symptoms that at least mimic those of the disease.
Aspartame is widely used by people who want to avoid diabetes, as well as those who already have the disease. Unfortunately, numerous studies have found that that the sweetener does nothing to lower the risk of diabetes. Indeed, it appears to make diabetes more likely. One such study involving animal models showed that long-term consumption of aspartame lead to higher fasting blood sugar and a more severe degree of insulin resistance.
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