Judy, a 55-year old secretary visited her family physician after suddenly developing excruciating joint pain and lower back pain.
Her symptoms, which also included memory loss, severe dizziness and depression, had all appeared within one week’s time.
After undergoing several expensive tests with no answers, her doctor finally asked Judy to keep a food and activity journal to see if it could provide any clues. On a hunch, he asked her to stop drinking a powdered tea mix she had recently purchased to see if that helped. Amazingly, it did.
The pain was completely gone within a week of stopping use of the aspartame-containing product. To confirm the diagnosis, her doctor instructed her to begin adding aspartame back into her diet for a challenge test.
After each of three challenges, says Judy, “my whole body ached from my toes to the neck. I felt as though I had arthritis in my whole body and it hurt to move an arm or even my hand….Since that time, I have not touched anything sweetened with aspartame, and have experienced no unusual aches, joint pain, memory loss or dizziness.”
Judy’s not alone. The artificial sweetener aspartame, consumed by Americans at the rate of about 20 million pounds a year, may well be the cause behind any number of painful and life-altering conditions, including joint pain, headaches, severe drowsiness, extreme irritability, depression, and weight gain.
How Much Is Too Much?
It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of aspartame to cause trouble. In fact, just three or four 12-ounce diet drinks per day contain enough aspartame to harm us.
Don’t drink diet soda? You don’t have to. Aspartame is found in over 6,000 processed foods – from powdered drinks, gelatin, tea, coffee, cocoa, juices, frozen desserts, to chewing gums. It’s even in vitamins (including children’s) and medications.
This means the very source of your chronic pain could be in your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator right now.
The introduction of aspartame as a sweetener started after chemist James Schlatter accidentally tasted the new anti-ulcer drug he was developing in 1965, not realizing he had discovered a goldmine. What he discovered was a product 200 times sweeter than sugar.
By the early 70s, aspartame spread quickly to tables in restaurants, diners, and the homes of Americans under the brand names Nutrasweet, Equal, Equal-Measure and Spoonful. Aspartame gained popularity quickly because it didn’t have the aftertaste that its predecessor, saccharine did.
What is Aspartame… Exactly?
Aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent). It’s classified as an excitotoxic amino acid. What that means for you is it reacts with specialized receptors in your brain in a way that causes the destruction of certain types of brain cells.
Methanol itself is a poison to your body. The EPA defines a safe consumption limit of it as 7.8 milligrams per day. The problem is a small one-liter bottle of your favorite diet beverage sweetened with aspartame contains about 56 milligrams, or eight times the EPA’s own limit, of this poison!
Remember Free Radicals?
If you’ve read much about health related issues at all, you’ve likely heard of free radicals. In a nutshell, these are the unstable organic molecules floating around your body which promote aging and the general breakdown of your body.
They’re implicated in many degenerative illnesses including atherosclerosis, cancer, coronary artery disease and arthritis.
Once you realize excitotoxins like aspartame help generate free radicals, not to mention direct effects such as headaches, mental confusion, and balance problems, the long list of aspartame related illnesses and disorders becomes less surprising. Of course, the effects are subtle, cumulative and develop over a prolonged period of time which is why most people don’t immediately suspect aspartame in conditions like:
- Birth defects
- Migraines and severe headaches
- Hives and other allergic reactions
- Endocrine disorders
- Specific types of obesity
- Increasing severity and progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Cancer Risk Higher Than Thought
Independent scientists have long suspected a link between aspartame and cancer. But a few years ago, a massive study conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation in Italy conclusively documented the direct link.
The study fed groups of rats from 8 weeks old until their natural death a feed mix laced with varying concentrations of aspartame. A significant increase in lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers were found in rats that were fed aspartame, particularly those fed daily doses equal to 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Compare this to the 50-milligram level currently deemed acceptable for humans in the United States. A year later, a second study confirmed the results.
The best thing to do is stop using any form of aspartame immediately. While discontinuing use of aspartame can lead to the disappearance of many of the above symptoms, patients who develop full-grown tumors, diabetes, and other more serious diseases cannot usually be cured. Omitting aspartame from one’s diet, however, can sometimes potentially lessen the severity and ongoing degeneration associated with certain disorders. Exercising, improving your nutrition, and adding the appropriate supplements to reduce inflammation will also help. In other words, it’s never too late to start doing the right thing for your body.
I really shouldn’t have to spell this out for you, but if you’re using any form of aspartame… stop, right now! Like Judy, you may quickly notice an improvement in pain symptoms. Or you may simply reduce the risk of dying of cancer or suffering from horrible degenerative diseases for the rest of your life. Either way, the change is worth it.
Clearly, adding a ton of sugar back into your diet isn’t great for your health, either. But if you must use sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and even turbinado sugar (raw sugar) are all healthier alternatives to aspartame.
Another great alternative is stevia, produced from the leaves of a native South American shrub by the same name. The leaves themselves are at least 30 times sweeter than table sugar. Extracts can be ten times sweeter than the raw leaf, yet still have virtually no effect on blood glucose levels.
So, toss the aspartame-containing products you’ve been using and look for those using natural alternatives. Your body will thank you in the long run.
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Olney JW, et al. Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame? Journal of neuropathology and experimental neurology. 1996 Nov;55(11):1115-23.
Roberts HJ. Aspartame as a cause of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Archives of internal medicine. 1996 May 13;156(9):1027-8.
Soffritti M, et al. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environmental health perspectives. 2006 Mar;114(3):379-85.
Trocho C, et al. Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. Life sciences. 1998;63(5):337-49.
Written By: Updated: July 19,2010