...How Aspartame Acts Inside Your Body
The two primary components of aspartame, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, are amino acids that are combined in an ester bond. You normally consume these two amino acids in the foods you eat. These amino acids are harmless when consumed as part of natural unprocessed foods. However, when they are chemically manipulated and consumed out of the normal ratios to other amino acids, they can cause problems.
Your body initially breaks down the ester link between the two amino acids to turn them into free amino acids. The neurotoxic effects of these chemicals in their "free form" can result in immediate health consequences such as headaches, mental confusion, dizziness, and seizures.
Your body does require small amounts of these amino acids to function properly. However, the high concentration of these chemicals in the form of aspartame floods your central nervous system and can cause excessive firing of brain neurons. Cell death is also possible.
This is a condition called excitotoxicity. Your body doesn't recognize phenylalanine and aspartic acid in their free form, but your system will try to manage them through metabolization. Whenever your body tries to process an unrecognizable substance, the stage is set for health problems. The chemicals in aspartame will be absorbed by your intestinal cells, where they will be broken down into other amino acids and byproducts. A large percentage of the absorbed chemicals will be used immediately in your small intestine.
A Formaldehyde Cocktail
Ultimately, aspartame will be fully absorbed into your body. Ten percent of what is absorbed is the breakdown product methanol (wood alcohol). The EPA defines safe consumption of this toxin as 7.8 milligrams a day, which is the amount found in about half a can of diet soda.
It's not the amino acids themselves or the methanol that are toxic to your system. It's the breakdown products they turn into along the way -- either during transport, on the store shelf, or during the metabolization process.
Stored at warm temperatures or for a prolonged period of time, phenylalanine turns into diketopiperazine, a known carcinogen. Methanol can spontaneously break down to formaldehyde, also a toxin, which can accumulate in your cells and result in severe health consequences.
Methanol is found naturally in some of the foods you eat. However, it is never bound to amino acids in nature, as it is as an ingredient in aspartame. In nature, for example, methanol is bound to pectin. Pectin is a fiber which allows the methanol to pass through your body without being metabolized and converted to formaldehyde.8
Since methanol in aspartame has no natural binder, nearly all of it turns into formaldehyde in your body. Formaldehyde (which is used in, among other things, paint remover and embalming fluid) is a poison several thousand times more potent than ethyl alcohol.
The EPA has determined formaldehyde causes cancer in humans. Specifically, it is known to increase your risk of breast or prostate cancer. Incidents of both types of cancer have been on the rise at a pace closely associated with the expanding use of aspartame throughout the world.9 The EPA has also concluded there is no known "safe" level of formaldehyde in your body -- risk depends on the amount and duration of your exposure.
The end waste product of formaldehyde is formate. An accumulation of formate in your body can cause metabolic acidosis, which is excessive acidity in your blood. Metabolic acidosis can cause methanol poisoning and can result in blindness, fatal kidney damage, multiple organ system failure, and death.10
The Major Element of Aspartame -- Phenylalanine
Your body converts the amino acid phenylalanine to neurotransmitters that regulate your brain chemistry. These important neurotransmitters are:
However, if your system is flooded with phenylalanine as a result of an aspartame overdose, the resulting increased levels of neurotransmitters can cause problems in the physiology of your brain -- problems which have been linked to a variety of psychiatric disorders. You can also be prone to anxiety attacks, depression, headaches, seizures, and tremors.
If you consume too much aspartame in a short period of time, you might also experience immediate reactions including nervousness, sweating, feelings of fear, and heart palpitations. In pregnancy, the concentrating effects of the placenta can magnify phenylalanine levels in a baby's blood by as much as four to six-fold, and can reach levels so high that cell death results.11 It's not much of a stretch to be concerned consumption of high doses of this chemical during pregnancy could result in birth defects.
The genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU) is a condition in which your body is unable to use phenylalanine at all. If a toxic buildup occurs, it can result in mental retardation. People with PKU must avoid all sources of phenylalanine, including aspartame.
Aspartic Acid and Cell Death
The second largest component of aspartame is aspartic acid. Aspartic acid functions as a major excitatory neurotransmitter in your brain. People who suffer from depression or have brain atrophy have been found to have low levels of aspartic acid in their bodies. As you might expect, the chemical is found in abnormally high levels in people who suffer from seizures and strokes. In very high doses, aspartic acid can cause brain damage.
The term excitotoxicity was coined by Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon.12 It describes the ability of certain amino acids like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartic acid to literally excite cells to death.
The scientific community has shown widespread acceptance of Dr. Olney's concept of excitotoxins and its link to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Unfortunately, the FDA refuses to acknowledge the connection between free form amino acids and excitotoxicity. Consequently, no demands have been made of food manufacturers to eliminate chemicals like MSG and aspartic acid from the food supply.
Excitotoxins can also encourage the production of free radicals. Free radicals can damage tissues and organs throughout your body and may accelerate diseases like arthritis, atherosclerosis, cancer, and coronary artery disease.13, 14
Your blood brain barrier (BBB) is a system of capillary structures that prevent toxins from entering your brain.If you have diabetes, hypertension, or are a smoker, your BBB may be compromised and you might experience a heightened reaction to aspartame. Unborn children and infants up to one year of age have incomplete and not well-insulated BBB's. Excitotoxins enter their nervous systems easily and quickly. Babies under a year are four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than adults.
During the first year of life, irreversible brain damage can result from chemicals in breast milk that have crossed the unborn child's blood brain barrier. And yet -- few if any pregnant and breastfeeding women are warned of the dangers of consuming artificial sweeteners.
Are Your Health Problems Related to Aspartame Consumption?
You might not realize you're having a reaction to aspartame. In fact, most people don't make the connection, and a tremendous amount of time and money is spent by aspartame "reactors" (people sensitive to the chemical), trying to find out why they are sick. To determine if you're a reactor, eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet. If you typically consume aspartame in caffeinated drinks, you'll want to gradually reduce your intake in order to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms. After one to two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, take note of how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming the sweeteners.
If you don't notice any significant difference in how you feel, it's likely you're able to tolerate aspartame acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run by this chemical and its breakdown products. My advice is to remain artificial sweetener-free, whether or not you notice an immediate difference in your health. If you notice a positive change in how you feel after stopping aspartame, chances are your body has a particular sensitivity to this toxin.
Formate, which is the waste product of formaldehyde, is suspected of inducing poly chemical hypersensitivity (PCS) in some individuals. If your body develops acute sensitivity to multiple chemicals, you may be unable to tolerate relatively low exposure to preservatives, perfumes and other substances, many of which are unavoidable as you go about your daily life.
Whether or not you're an aspartame reactor, keep in mind aspartame is completely metabolized by the human body, and its byproducts can create a serious risk to your health. Neurological damage can occur from long-term aspartame use.
Adverse Reactions to Aspartame
There have been more reports to the FDA for aspartame reactions than for all other food additives combined. And, there are over 900 published studies on the health hazards of aspartame. You can find a list in the National Library Medicine Index. There are also some 10,000 documented reports of adverse reactions to aspartame, including death. Since it is estimated only about one percent of people who experience a reaction report it, it is safe to assume at least a million people have had a reaction to this chemical. Migraines are by far the most frequently reported reaction. Other commonly reported symptoms of an aspartame reaction include:
Change in mood
Change in vision
Convulsions and seizures
Change in heart rate
Nausea and vomiting
Fatigue and weakness
Debilitating, Life-Threatening Conditions Linked to Aspartame
Aspartame has been implicated in a number of diseases, and there is special concern among doctors and scientists regarding the role aspartame plays in migraine headaches, epilepsy, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Aspartame has been identified as a definitive causative factor in the following serious health concerns:
• Migraine Headaches
Aspartame has been shown to trigger migraines, and to cause more frequent, severe headaches in regular sufferers. This is especially true with long-term exposure to the chemical.
In the mid-1990s, a hotline was established specifically for pilots to report acute adverse reactions to aspartame. The hotline received several hundred calls from pilots complaining about reactions to the chemical, including many who suffered grand mal seizures while in the cockpit. In 1992, the United States Air Force issued a warning to pilots to avoid products containing aspartame because it has been linked to seizures and vertigo, dizziness, sudden memory loss, and gradual loss of vision.
Seizures are a primary side effect of aspartame consumption. As if that weren't disturbing enough, they occur in people who've never had a seizure before, and disappear just as quickly when aspartame consumption is stopped. MIT conducted a survey of 80 seizure sufferers. Survey results showed the role aspartame played in those seizures met FDA criteria for an imminent hazard to the public's health.15 This measure is what the FDA normally relies upon to pull unsafe products from the market. Products other than aspartame, apparently.
A study begun at Northeastern Ohio University to determine whether aspartame was linked to depression had to be halted. Can you guess why?
Nearly a third of the test subjects in the depressive group dropped out due to the severity of their reactions to aspartame consumption. Two others left the study due to serious eye problems -- one developed a detached retina that ultimately led to blindness, and the other experienced a bleeding conjunctiva of the eye.
• Visual Changes
The individual ingredients in aspartame as well as their breakdown products can do serious harm to your retina and optic nerves. Aspartame has been linked to blurred vision, eye pain, visual hallucinations, and blindness. Formaldehyde is known to cause retinal damage, and methanol poisoning can lead to changes in your vision and ultimately, blindness.
According to Dr. H.J. Roberts, an expert on aspartame who has treated hundreds of patients with sensitivity to the chemical, the visual problems seen in frequent aspartame users are identical to those found in people who developed methanol poisoning from wood alcohol during the era of prohibition.
• Brain Cancer
The subject of aspartame and cancer continues to be controversial. However, there is sufficient evidence of a link to warn off anyone who is concerned about maintaining good health. On the heels of its approval for use in diet soda in 1983, over a million pounds of aspartame was consumed. Less than a year later, in January 1984, the incidence of brain cancer took off at a rate far higher than any other type of cancer.16
According to the National Cancer Institute, there was a 10 percent increase in malignant brain cancer in 1985 -- just two years after aspartame flooded the market in diet beverages. Young women who drink large quantities of aspartame-laced diet drinks are especially susceptible to developing three specific types of brain cancer:
◦ Primary lymphoma
Equally alarming is evidence women of childbearing age who consumed aspartame during pregnancy were delivering babies with an increased risk of brain and spinal cord cancer.17, 18
• Aspartame and Weight Gain
Would it surprise you to learn aspartame may cause you to gain weight? It's true -- products marketed as "reduced calorie," "sugar-free," and "diet" can actually sabotage your weight control efforts.19 The two main ingredients of aspartame, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, stimulate the release of insulin and leptin -- hormones which instruct your body to store fat. In addition, a large intake of phenylalanine can drive down your serotonin levels. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that tells you when you're full. A low level of serotonin can bring on food cravings which can lead to weight gain.20
What Will You Do, Now That You Know?
I hope this report has convinced you one of the worst things you can put into your body, or feed to your family, is the artificial sweetener aspartame. You can read more about aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in my comprehensive book, Sweet Deception, as well as in the outstanding book by H.J. Roberts, Aspartame Disease -- An Ignored Epidemic. I also recommend you watch the excellent documentary Sweet Misery...
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