By now I think we all know to avoid the artificial sweetener aspartame. But did you know that the manufacturer has recently come up with a new name for aspartame? NutraSweet and Equal are both aspartame but the manufacturer’s latest name for this toxic substance is AminoSweet.
So what exactly is aspartame?
Here’s the science bit: As the name “AminoSweet” suggests, aspartame is a non-saccharide sweetener derived from amino acids. Specifically, it is the methyl ester of aspartic acid and the dipeptide of phenylalanine, a molecule consisting of two amino acids coupled by a single peptide bond. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid and a precursor to tyrosine, a signaling molecule that stimulates the synthesis of the skin pigment melanin and certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Got that?
The history of aspartame
Aspartame was approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981. Not long after, researchers began to find evidence that aspartame was a possible carcinogen. The controversy surrounding the safety of this substance arose and has persisted to this day. In July 2005, the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences (ERF) published a carcinogenicity study in which the researchers concluded that aspartame causes cancer, namely lymphomas and leukemias in male and female rats. In April 2007, the FDA released a statement announcing that the agency did not find sufficient evidence to support the ERF’s conclusion. In addition, the FDA maintained its position that the use of aspartame is safe.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) notes that a 1996 report showing an increase in the incidence of brain tumors between 1975 and 1992 correlated these statistics with the introduction of aspartame in the U.S. Later, the results of a 2005 laboratory study in which rats were fed high doses of diet soda sweetened with aspartame once again suggested a link to an increase in lymphomas and leukemias.
What does all of this mean for you?
First, it means that no one really knows if aspartame – or other artificial sweeteners, for that matter – causes cancer or not. However, if the question of toxicity exists, why use the stuff at all? What is certain is that some people do have a sensitivity to aspartame. Even the FDA concedes that excess levels of free aspartic acid in the body can trigger migraines, asthma attacks, anxiety, depression and other reactions. In addition, because this amino acid impairs glucose uptake in the brain, it may cause fatigue and memory loss.
So what is the solution?
The best thing to do is to stick to natural sweeteners like raw honey, turbinado sugar and coconut palm sugar.