Aspartame

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An 11 min Fox News clip going into the general shenanigans that led to us being able to eat and drink as much aspartame as we like.    The products shown are All American, like Jello and so on.  But we cannot be complacent here in the UK since we too have a very sweet tooth, burgeoning waistlines, and the fond belief that eating less calories and doing more will sort out the problem. A way of life that we’ll start tomorrow, but for now we’ll make a start by buying low calorie drinks.

So is Aspartame a problem?  Well according to Dr Morando Soffritti, who has researched carcinogens for 28 years and who ran a study on people’s intake of aspartame and their health, it really is.  Click on the link to read an article in the NY Times about his 7 year research project on rats.  The principle acknowledged problem with aspartame is it is neurotoxic; this means it is a poison for the nerves, and is particularly bad for the brain. Now there is some slightly good news;  the way aspartame is processed in the body means it competes with other proteins and loses, so if we really want to drink some diet drink laced with aspartame, if we eat a proper protein with it, it will not be so damaging.  By proper protein, I mean meat or fish and not tofu, milk, nuts or quorn.   Aspartame drunk without protein is damaging to health, no matter how much the chemists at Monsanto or Searle declare otherwise.

Aspartame is made from phenylalanine and aspartic acid, both parts of proteins, collectively called amino acids.  In the manufacturing process, they utilise methanol – also called wood alcohol, something highly toxic in humans and lethal for foetuses.  If I were pregnant, I really wouldn’t go any where near aspartame.  It is just not worth the risk. Anyway, according to who you read, aspartame is not only made of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol, it breaks down into these components in the body as we metabolise it.  Here is a short breakdown of these 3 substances and the controversy about aspartame becomes clearer.

Starting with phenylalanine.  This is found in the breast milk of mammals – including us.  As we metabolise phenylalanine (good job its not alcoholic or we’d never be able to pronounce it) we change it to tyrosine, LDOPA, dopamine and finally the adrenalins, norpepinephrine and epinephrine.  So it is most emphatically an upper, not a downer. The body uses the same channel as tryptophan for phenylalanine to cross the blood brain barrier.  This is significant since we convert tryptophan from protein in the diet to serotonin, the neurotransmitter of calmness and frequently described as an anti-depressant.  So taking in high quantities of phenylalanine will interfere with the production of serotonin in the brain. This is a prime reason to not drink too much diet pop or soda. The other relevant fact about tryptophan is it competes with other amino acids and loses,  the uptake channel gets blocked, hence the advice to take protein with aspartame to protect the brain. 1

There are some people who genetically cannot handle phenylalanine, a condition called phenylketonuria or PKU.  Hence why products containing phenylalanine, in the form of aspartame, for instance, carry health warnings.

Aspartic acid, also called aspartate, is an acidic non-essential amino acid.  Non-essential means we can manufacture it in our own body.  So aspartic acid is benign. In the body we use it to make glucose out of non carbohydrate foods.  It is a myth that we need carbs for energy.  Stone age man in England had precious little carbs to live on, yet he survived as do Eskimo tribes and the old red Indian tribes.  However, these days we do need our greens for something other than energy and fibre.  We need them to alkalise us – as we are just about to see as we examine methanol.

Methanol or wood alcohol is horrible stuff.  In large quantities it causes permanent blindness blindness; it is a central nervous system depressant.  We metabolise it to formaldehyde then to formic acid.  Now formic acid causes lack of oxygen in the cells and a condition called metabolic acidosis or hyper-acidity.  There will be a blog on this subject, but for now this places a huge load on the body and particularly the kidneys, as the body tries to alkalise itself.  The symptoms of hyper-acidity include chest pains, palpitations, headaches and severe anxiety.  To counteract hyper-acidity, we need to eat loads of vegetables, which are alkaline.  And not take in too much aspartame.

So if we really want to have our aspartame, it is wise to restrict how much we consume and make sure we consume it with good protein.  If we poke about on google or youtube, there are many articles and videos about the toxic effects of aspartame.  The similarity is just how much of the stuff people consume.  On a final note, I am going to quote the final paragraph from the NY Times piece about aspartame.  It gives food for thought.

Putting restrictions on aspartame would come at a significant cost.  Food companies and consumers around the world bought about $570 million last year [2005].  New regulatory actions on aspartame would also jeopardize the billions of dollars worth of products sold with it.  Already, in the US, many companies are opting to use sucralose, or Splenda, in their new low-calorie products because it is less controversial.

So there we have it.  What is more important, profits or health?  Just as long as we keep believing that fat is fattening, that grains are the cornerstone of our food intake and that low calorie diets work long term, we will waddle along like increasingly stupid sheep, not noticing the increasing brain fog and lowering of energy levels.   For after all, we are getting older and what can we expect?  As I have been saying in the previous sugar blogs, our natural taste for sweetness knows no  limitations and we really do have to get it under control to avoid the bad health consequences of giving into it.  We don’t have to follow the crowd, there is still a choice.

  1. Wikipedia, phenylalanine page.  I know people are sniffy about dear Wiki.  All I can say is they don’t do what I do.  For a kick off point for research it is very good .  And I do know professional researchers who swear by it for just this. An amino acid is an amino acid and how we metabolise them is not particularly controversial []

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