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Weighing in on aspartame

Meagan Dartch | Interrobang | News | December 4th, 2006

Cutting back on sugar for the purposes of dieting is much easier these days with aspartame -infused products from Diet Coke to yogurt. But is this chemical additive harmful?

This artificial sweetener is marketed under a number of trademark names such as “Equal”, “Canderel” and “Sweet-n-Low” and is an ingredient of approximately 6,000 consumer products sold worldwide.

Aspartame is commonly found in diet soft drinks, and is quite often provided as a table condiment.

Studies have linked heavy aspartame use to a condition called “Aspartame disease”, which mimics symptoms or worsens several diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, chronic fratigue syndrome and panic disorder.

However, according to Louise Vancer, a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes at St. Joseph's Health Care in London, as well as other studies done on the affects of aspartame, ingestion of the artificial sweetener is not linked to long term cancer risks.

“It's not dangerous at all,” Vancer said.

Vancer added that the only co-related risks of aspartame are allergies, which is being currently studied.

Although Vancer did suggest a limit on quantity, to about 20 twelve-ounce glasses of diet pop per day.

“Too much of anything isn't good for you,” Vancer added.

She stated that aspartame is 180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, which is why most people use very little of it.

Ten per cent of aspartame is methanol, also known as wood alcohol. This substance (if ingested in extremely high quantities) is very unsafe. The absorption of methanol into the body is sped up when “free methanol” is ingested. “Free methanol” occurs when aspartame is heated to 86 degrees Fahrenheit or above, like heating up a food or beverage containing the artificial sweetener.

Aspartame was not approved until the year 1981, in dry foods. At one point, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refused to approve of this product because of the seizures and brain tumours it caused in lab animals.

They continued to refuse it until President Ronald Reagan, fortieth President of the United States (1981-1989), took office, and fired the FDA Commissioner who refused the sweetener.

According to Vancer, the body breaks aspartame down into amino acids, which are then absorbed into the blood. They do not accumulate and are the basic components of proteins, or as Vancer called them, “the building blocks of protein.”

In all products containing this toxin, ethanol is also present in greater amounts, as ethanol is an antidote for methanol toxicity in humans.

Reactions to aspartame can include abdominal pain, anxiety attacks, arthritis, fatigue, dizziness, chest pains, muscle spasms and hives.
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