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Aspartame is a sugar substitute used in baked goods including
and in soft drinks and other beverages. The low-calorie sweetener is sold under
several different brand names with Equal and
NutraSweet being the most well known. It can currently be found in over a
hundred countries and in thousands of products on the supermarket shelf.
The white odorless powder was discovered in 1965 by chemist James Schlatter and
tastes like sugar but is actually 200 times sweeter. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration approved the product for use in 1981. Before approval however the
product went through a lengthy waiting period and many safety tests. Though the
product has been controversial from the start, the
FDA stance continues to be that for the majority of people, the product is
safe to eat, drink and even use in a
chocolate chip cookie recipe.
The composition of aspartame is as follows:
This essential amino acid found in the sweetener usually breaks down in the
body. However, for those suffering from a rare genetic disorder called
phenylketonuria, the phenylalanie in aspartane could lead to brain damage.
Because of this, any product containing aspartame is required to carry a
label that says it contains the amino acid.
Aspartic acid: Like phenylalanine, this amino acid can break down
in the human body. Since it is in free form (unbinded from protein), there
is concern among some in the scientific community that its use may cause
damage to nerve and brain cells.
When entering the small intestines methanol or wood alcohol breaks down into
formaldehyde. Methanol is a toxic substance but is present in many fruits
and vegetables and formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Both of these
substances are also naturally produced in the human body.
Diketopiperazine: As aspartame sits in products it breaks down and
aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine forms. This is a specific type of
diketopiperazine and there seems to be a relation between diketopiperazine
and brain tumors.
Negative Side Effects
From its beginning their has been much hearsay and Internet rumors circulating
about potential negative effects of aspartame. Individuals have reported
neurological affects including headaches, dizziness and mood swings. Worries
over its possible side effects delayed aspartame from being sold in the 1970s.
Serious complaints have even linked the product to Alzheimer's, epilepsy and
weight gain. Diabetics have also had concerns over aspartame, but the American
Diabetes Association has stated that the product does not raise blood sugar
levels and safe to consume.
Aspartame Studies and Articles
Aspartame and Cancer: This aspartame fact sheet from the National Cancer
Institute describes if there is a link between the substance and cancer.