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A new study on aspartame has the potential to reignite the decades-old controversy behind this artificial sweetener's safety, or lack thereof. As far back as 1996, folks were writing about the potential link between aspartame and increasing brain tumor rates.[i] Indeed, its intrinsic neurotoxicity and carcinogenicity has been confirmed in the biomedical literature. And yet, aspartame has been approved for use in thousands of consumer products in over 90 countries, [ii] and is still being consumed by millions worldwide on a daily basis – despite the fact that over 40 adverse health effects of aspartame have been documented.
The new study, published in the September edition of the Journal of Bioscience and titled, "Effect of chronic exposure to aspartame on oxidative stress in the brain of albino rats," aimed to test the hypothesis that chronic consumption of aspartame may be causing neurological damage in exposed populations.
They found that chronic (90 day) administration of aspartame to rats, at ranges only 50% above what the FDA considers safe for human consumption, resulted in blood and brain tissue changes consistent with brain damage.
Aspartame is metabolized into three distinct components: aspartic acid, methanol and phenylalanine. While aspartic acid is a well-known excitotoxin, phenylalanine only presents a serious health concern to those with a genetic disorder known as phenyletonuria. Methanol, on the other hand, is far more problematic, as it is not naturally found in significant quantities in the human diet.
According to a recent review
Until 200 years ago, methanol was an extremely rare component of the human diet and is still rarely consumed in contemporary hunter and gatherer cultures. With the invention of canning in the 1800s, canned and bottled fruits and vegetables, whose methanol content greatly exceeds that of their fresh counterparts, became far more prevalent. The recent dietary introduction of aspartame, an artificial sweetener 11% methanol by weight, has also greatly increased methanol consumption.[iii]
Moreover, the aspartame metabolite methanol (also known as wood alcohol) is highly toxic and is metabolized into the known human carcinogen formaldehyde and formic acid,[iv] which is known to be highly toxic to the central nervous system. Considering the fact that the normal human body temperature is approximately 98.6 degrees Farenheit, and that aspartame will convert to its toxic metabolites at temperatures as low as 86 degrees Farenheit, the finding that aspartame is neurotoxic to animals is not a surprise. The authors of the new study surmised that the observed adverse brain changes were due to the generation of oxidative stress in brain regions.
Aspartame, of course, is a proprietary synthetic chemical not found in nature, and exists primarily because plants like stevia, which have significant, clinically-substantiated healing properties, can be grown in your back yard for free and are therefore not profitable commodities that can be produced and controlled only by a few.
But, aspartame is not the only toxic sweetener on the market. A growing body of research now shows that sucralose, known by the brand-name Splenda, is also capable of suppressing the immune system, causing inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, migraine headaches, and DNA damage.[v]
The trick is to stick with naturally occurring compounds, whose sweetness is not associated with adverse health effects. Below is a list of natural alternatives, along with the number of potential health benefits associated with each, as indexed on our website.
Compounds whose sweetness is not associated with adverse health effects
[i] J W Olney, N B Farber, E Spitznagel, L N Robins. Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame? J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 1996 Nov;55(11):1115-23. PMID: 8939194
[ii] "Aspartame". Sugar Substitutes. Health Canada. Archived from the original on October 09 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-08.
[iii] Woodrow C Monte. Methanol: a chemical Trojan horse as the root of the inscrutable U. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Mar;74(3):493-6. Epub 2009 Nov 5. PMID: 19896282
[iv] Harris, Gardiner (10 June 2011). "Government Says 2 Common Materials Pose Risk of Cancer". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-11.