It’s no shock that of today’s non-sugar sweeteners, aspartame claims approximately 50% of all sales by United States consumers. Aspartame is roughly 200 times sweeter than conventional sugar thus providing the desired sweetness to food, drinks and gum without adding many calories. Currently, it is FDA-approved.
Doesn’t sound all that bad, right?
Wrong. Throughout the U.S. there has been a longstanding tension between market desire for a low-calorie sugar replacement and fears regarding the safety and toxicity of such products. When you consider the fact that aspartame was out in the open, starting anti- and pro-approval controversies and waiting for the FDA to finally regulate the substance for many years before finally being approved, it’s no wonder the substance still carries with it such controversy.
But historic ties are not the only controversial baggage aspartame carries. Aspartame is used in diet or sugar free products because it is an artificial, non-saccharide (carbohydrate) sweetener. It was fist synthesized in 1965, and has been sold under various brand names, NutaSweet, AminoSweet, Equal, etc. since its original patent expired in 1992. The molecule itself wreaks turmoil within the brain of its most-likely-dieting user, and is often partnered with caffeine to create a sweet sensation.
Aspartame by itself is a neurotransmitter that is a type of excitatory amino acid. When combined with caffeine the two act as a detrimental excitotoxin within the brain. Meaning, they over-stimulate cells to create an addicting “buzz” then because of the excessive stimulation the cell simply stops functioning and dies.
The nervous system is naturally designed to control the concentration of excitatory amino acids in the extracellular space, the fluids surrounding neurons. When aspartame, and similarly glutamate, override our systems, the functions used to regulate their predominance ultimately fails.
Studies show that as aspartame consumption increases in an individual, their risk of yielding the ill effects it can cause rises as well. Some of the risks associated with aspartame consumption are recognized as dehydration as well as a potential link to epileptic seizures.
People who have already been diagnosed with disorders and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, epileptics and those with kidney disease, eating disorders or who are pregnant, adolescent or elderly are especially affected by neural disturbance induced by aspartame.
Overconsuming any product, especially artificial or synthetic ones, is risky in itself and should be considered as such. If you are trying to lose weight or decrease caloric intake for whatever reason, be mindful of the effects the food or products you put into your body have on your health. It is important to listen to your body, and less so to craving or advertisements telling you what you want to hear—that’s their job; yours is to take care of you.