Aspartame is a man-made substance that’s 200 times sweeter than sugar. Unlike sugar, however, Aspartame has almost no calories. This, of course, is why it’s used by food manufacturers and by individuals as a substitute for sugar and other caloric sweeteners. Aspartame was once the most popular artificial sweetener in the world, but this distinction is now held by sucralose (Splenda). Still, there are over 6,000 products made with aspartame, including drinks, foods, gums, candies and medicines.
Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 and was first introduced into our food supply in 1981. It’s frequently blended with acesulfame potassium to make it taste more like sugar and/or with maltodextrin to make it more heat stable and to extend shelf-life. Aspartame is available to individuals for table-top sweetening as both NutraSweet and Equal.
From day one and continuing to the present time, aspartame has been the subject of intense scrutiny and health controversy. This is the reason the name is being changed from Aspartame to AminoSweet. The new name wasn’t randomly pulled of a hat. For one thing, aspartame is synthesized from two amino acids: L-phenylalanine and L-aspartate. And for another, the term “amino acid” sounds natural, healthy, safe and important.
Aspartame’s bumpy history started during the FDA approval process when the product was first introduced to the public. It’s alleged that Donald Rumsfeld had to lean on his close personal relationship with Ronald Reagan to push the FDA to approve aspartame despite the questionable science behind it. Rumsfeld was then the CEO of Searle, the company that owned and manufactured aspartame, and Reagan was the newly elected U.S. president. Since then, there have been repeating allegations of flawed science, disregard for impartial research, and reliance on biased studies funded by the manufacturer and/or related organizations.
In response to these criticisms, the FDA asserts that aspartame is the most studied substance in FDA history. Altogether there have been a total of 26 reviews, the last one was in 2015. They all draw the same conclusion: that aspartame is safe for human consumption. The WHO (World Health Organization) says Aspartame is safe. The FAO United Nations says aspartame is safe. The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) claims that it’s safe.
That said, empirical claims by individuals about neurological problems continue, and they continue full force. The most common and minor complaints are headaches and sleep disorders. The most severe complaints are seizures, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. Some physicians suggest that Aspartame and other excitotoxins could also be contributing to the epidemic in autism and hyperactive behavior and in degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
As noted above, Aspartame is an excitotoxin, and this is what makes it different and potentially more dangerous than every other artificial sweetener or reduced calorie sweetener. The name excitotoxin was coined by scientists who observed that a certain group of chemicals had the ability to overstimulate (excite) brain cells, which exhausts and then either damages or kills the cells.
Over 70 types of excitotoxins have been discovered. In addition to aspartate (the excitotoxin in aspartame), the other most prevalent excitotoxin is glutamate. Glutamate is the primary ingredient in MSG (monosodium glutamate), hydrolyzed vegetable protein, plant protein, auto-lyzed protein, and in genericly named catch-all substances such as “natural flavors” or “spices.”
Independent researchers are critical of current Aspartame studies because they’re conducted over a two-year or less time span. This produces a false negative result because the study is too short to reveal the problem of slow, cumulative brain damage. It can take years before a tipping point is reached where the clinical signs become more obvious. For example, “… the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease do not manifest themselves until over 80 to 90% of the neurons in the involved nuclei… have died. The neurons didn’t all suddenly die at the same time, rather they slowly and silently deteriorated over many years. The same is true for Alzheimer’s disease.” [From Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills by Russell L Blaylock, MD, page 92].
There’s a need for more in-depth, time-extended studies and for more advanced understanding of how brain barriers and placenta barriers are breached by excitotoxins. Until this happens, and it will probably take years, it’s best to avoid products made with Aspartame/Aminosweet. The population groups most vulnerable to brain cell damage from excitotoxins are young children, unborn children who get excitotoxins through their mothers, elderly people, and people with a family history of neurological disorders.
Why take the risk? Luckily for the consumer, there are many other artificial sweetener or low-calorie sweetening options available, and they’re all less objectionable than Aspartame. Consumption of any artificial sweetener or low-calorie sweetener should ideally be limited to 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) per day.
Even though Aspartame has a brand new AminoSweet name, it’s still the same old excitotoxin. Don’t be fooled! Always check the ingredients list of any packaged food or drink to see if it’s listed there.