Aspartame – As sweet as we think?
There is a lot of conflicting information about aspartame available to consumers. Soft drink companies and government regulators will tell you that it is safe. On the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website they state that “Scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener in food.” but there is in fact a lot of scientific evidence to the contrary.
Aspartame was initially approved in the US in 1974. The initial approval process raised allegations of bribery and corruption, which prompted many people to doubt its safety, but governments have stood firm in their statements that it is safe. Over the years there has been increasing evidence that this is not true.
The initial fear was that aspartame could cause cancer. These concerns seem to be unfounded, but scientists have discovered it causes other problems. Most recently a French study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 66,000 women over 14 years. The authors found that, compared to regular soft drinks, there was a 15% higher risk for diabetes in those who drank just 500ml/week of diet soft drinks, and a 59% higher risk for those who drank 1.5L/week. Although aspartame is suggested for people with diabetes, it may actually be making it worse.
In a 2011 study in the US, people who drank diet soft drinks, as an overall group, had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users. Those who were in the highest bracket and drank two or more diet soft drinks a day had a 500% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.
One of the metabolites of aspartame is methanol. There have also been studies that have found detectable methanol in the blood after chronic consumption of aspartame affecting the brain.
There have been many studies on rats and mice consuming aspartame. Although these can’t be directly applied to humans, it is cause for caution. Aspartame has been found to promote hyperglycemia and insulin intolerance and impair spatial cognition and memory. It may accelerate atherosclerosis as well as lead to liver damage. Aspartame and saccharin consumption, when compared to sucrose (sugar), resulted in increased weight gain even at the same caloric intake. So even if you are eating a low calorie diet, you may not lost weight simply because you are consuming products containing aspartame.
Clinically, I have had patients lose weight just from taking diet soft drinks out of their diet even if they replace them with regular ones.
Artificial sweeteners are just that, artificial. The body does not recognize them and so cannot digest them properly. This can lead to the body holding on to fat and water in an attempt to dilute these unknown particles.
Make sure you always check labels especially on products that say they are low in sugar. Aspartame can also be written as ‘951’ on an ingredients panel.
Although regulators have deemed it safe, there is enough evidence to the contrary that it doesn’t seem worth taking the chance.
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Accessed 5 February 2013
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