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Aspartame: The Sweet, Killer Ingredient

Updated on November 15, 2012

What is Aspartame?

In a nutshell, aspartame is the name given to an ingredient used as an alternative to sugar. It is found in many popular brands, and has been the subject of much controversy regarding health claims.


Is it actually bad for you?

A quick search on Google will present masses of conflicting information. You will tend to get very two clear opinions and not much objective information:

  1. Aspartame is bad for you. You'll read opinions saying that aspartame is bad for your health, increases the risk of death and increases the risk of diseases such as blood cancer and diabetes.
  2. Aspartame is safe. This directly conflicting opinion will tell you that the studies highlighting the above points are weak and show a lack of solid evidence. This kind of opinion has a tendency to come directly from the manufacturers of Aspertame.

So, what I've done is the following: Using the information ONLY available on the website aspartame.net, I've compiled a list of points. In fact, I've more specifically only used information that comes from the following article by Dr Hall which attempts to prove 'internet rumours' wrong (Dr Hall's article).

Why I'm writing this article based on points drawn from the article by Dr Hall

Before you say that surely using points from an article on Aspartame's official website means I will get bias results, it's important you understand why I'm doing so and what my approach is:

  1. First, it's clear to see that everything on Aspartame's official website is wholly defensive of any bad press about the chemical. In fact, the moment you log on to their website, the first thing they do is not tell you about how wonderful their product is, but rather start shoving evidence in your face trying to disprove the dangers of their product.
  2. Because they are desperately trying to disprove the dangers, I know that everything an article published on their website contains will have the minimum amount of proof possible that their product is dangerous.
  3. Therefore, any information on their website that show the product is dangerous... will show that Aspertame is not a chemical you want to ingest.

Key Points from Dr Hall's Article

OK, so now I am going to pick out the points I find most damaging to the reputation of Aspartame from the article by Dr Hall - points that they are accepting (albeit subtly) on their very own website. Please note that this is not a strictly objective look at her article, as I am picking out the worst points possible, and I may feel compelled from time to time to include my own personal opinion on the points (specifically the first) - so don't expect all points listed here to be specifically medical in nature, but I will try to keep things as accurate as possible.

  1. Aspartame is made using E.Coli Bacteria. Alright, this may sound more disgusting than it actually is, but it still doesn't bode too well with the weak stomached. Basically, Aspartame comes as a result of using E.Coli bacteria to grow certain enzymes, and although Dr Hall makes the process sound glamorous (or rather, strictly scientific), she clearly admits that yes, E.Coli is present in the production of Aspartame. We all know what nasty connotations surround E.Coli... yuck.
  2. Aspartame puts toxic chemicals into our bodies. She worded this part very carefully, but still admitted it. In her own words, she conceded that Aspartame "does indeed break down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol". Of course, she hastily adds that aspartic acid and phenylalanine are needed as part of basic survival (but fails to state the exact amounts needed), and then tells us that methanol is 'harmless in small amounts' (which by default means 'dangerous in large amounts'). She quickly points the finger at other foods that contain more methanol than Aspartame, but doesn't quite say how much of it Aspartame contains... aside from all those technicalities though, let's have a look at exactly why methanol is bad for the human body.
  3. Aspartame IS dangerous to people suffering PKU. At the very end of the article, the good Dr Hall boldly states that Aspartame is completely safe for everybody... except those suffering Phenylketonuria, and although this isn't a common disorder, it still affects thousands. Aspartame is in far more products than people think, and it very rarely - if ever - has attention drawn to it.
  4. There are countless reports of people suffering adverse reactions directly after ingesting aspartame. Dr Hall mentions that it is true there are countless reports of individuals who have recorded adverse reactions immediately after ingesting the chemical, such as migraines and even seizures. Dr Hall is quick to point out that anecdotal evidence is not reliable, and even directs us to studies that have used aspartame and a placebo which seem to show no direct correlation... but the fact remains that there are lots of people who do report bad reactions immediately after ingesting the chemical.


Aspartame: The Verdict

Although there is a lot of talk circulating the worldwide web about this sweetener's negative impact on health, the fact remains that it is considered safe by the independent bodies that review food additives. Maybe it affects people, maybe it doesn't. But the key things you should consider are thus:

  • Aspartame is considered safe when consumption does not exceed the government guidelines regarding daily intake
  • Many people have reported aspartame gives them headaches or seizures
  • Aspartame is not safe if you suffer PKU
  • Although studies on animals have shown a loose correlation between aspartame and cancer, these results do not necessarily translate to us as humans
  • Aspartame has a lot of hype surrounding it, making it difficult to judge what is rumour, what is opinion and what is fact

In the end, you should make your own mind up. But quite simply, if you are worried, avoid it. If it gives you headaches, don't consume it. But more importantly, if you want to avoid it then be aware of the countless products it is found in.

A few products to avoid if you're looking to steer clear of aspartame

Food
Drink
Confectionary
Various flavours of Walkers Sensations
Robinsons Cordial (Really Light & No Added Sugar range)
Wrigley's Sugar Free Chewing Gum
Uncle Ben's Cooking Sauce (Sweet and Sour Light)
Coca Cola Diet & Zero
Silver Spoon Light (Granulated Sugar)
Muller Light (Various Flavours)
Pepsi Diet & Max
Silver Spoon Sweetener
Weight Watchers Fromage Frais
Options Hot Chocolate (All Varieties)
Countless Other Sweet Brands
As you can see, aspartame is a common ingredient in many countless products. Do you take the risk, or give up something you enjoy? NOTE: THIS IS BY NO MEANS THE ENTIRE LIST OF ASPARTAME-CONTAINING PRODUCTS - JUST A SAMPLE

Want to read more?

Try this fun article about the odd behaviour of online stores

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    • writeyourwrongs profile image
      Author

      John Crowley 4 years ago from Sheffield

      Thanks B Leekley.

      Perhaps if anything I've failed to examine the admirable qualities conceded by anti-aspartameans. They are a stubborn bunch however so I doubt finding such would be easily achieved.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      I like your approach. Since I was a young man I have used such an approach when studying controversial positions and groups -- heed the faults that supporters grudgingly admit and the admirable qualities that enemies grudgingly admit.

      I wonder if there have been any studies investigating the possibility that human bodies are not all alike and that some people might have bodies that get migraines from eating such and such and others not.

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

      Actually, you must've made touched a nerve, because my refill was only HALF Diet and half regular Coke.

      Hm. lol

    • writeyourwrongs profile image
      Author

      John Crowley 4 years ago from Sheffield

      Ahhh Chris, you never fail to entertain :)

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

      But John, if I get a headache after reading hubs while sipping Diet Coke, how do I know it's not HubPages' fault? I think I read a couple of studies online that showed a link between poorly written hubs and migraines.

      By the way, after reading your hub, I feel fine. In case you're wondering. Your hubs never give me headaches and are actually quite enjoyable.

      Siip...sslluurrrrpp...aaahhhhhh...time for a refill...