Natural Ingredients Imply "Not Harmful"
"The building blocks of protein" and "your body cannot distinguish between the amino acids in aspartame and milk" (Deskins G1) are common phrases used to describe the ingredients in aspartame. These analogies are used to convince the public that aspartame is as safe as milk, or other protein foods. According to Dr. H. J. Roberts, who was listed in "The Best Doctors in the U.S.," it is true that aspartame is composed of the same amino acids that can be found in protein foods. However, there are only two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, that are in aspartame while protein foods contain many different amino acids. When aspartame is ingested, it floods the bloodstream with these two amino acids while protein foods, on the other hand, have other amino acids which "neutralize" and eliminate this sudden flooding (30). Like taking words out of context, taking amino acids out of their natural form might cause problems. A closer look at aspartame's ingredients and the adverse reactions reported by thousands of people reveal the dangers of this artificial sweetener.
Dr. Roberts states in his book, Aspartame Is it Safe?, that aspartame's three components are phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent), and methanol (10 percent). When aspartame is exposed to heat or prolonged storage, it breaks down into metabolites. One of these breakdown products is Diketopiperazine, a toxic metabolite that is not usually found in our diet. The effects of these different metabolites are unknown (27, 38-40).
According to an article in Consumer Reports, food and beverages containing phenylalanine, the major ingredient in aspartame, must be labeled due to the genetic disorder, phenylketonuria (PKU). The U.S. carries a warning on all aspartame products to alert people with PKU (58). People with this genetic disorder lack the enzyme needed to metabolize phenylalanine and therefore it "accumulates" in the body and can "cause severe mental retardation" (Roberts 33). According to Steven Farber, Ph.D. candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there are an "estimated 10 million people who are carriers and may not know it." He states that these PKU carriers are also at risk because "they cannot degrade phenylalanine as effectively as normal individuals and may be sensitive to increased levels in their diets" (48).
Phenylketonurics and PKU carriers are not the only people that should avoid phenylalanine. Dr. Louis J. Elsas, II, Director of Medical Genetics at Emory University School of Medicine, "recommends that pregnant women avoid aspartame sweeteners" because it is unknown what quantity is considered safe (qtd. In Assc. Of Birth Defect Children 2). Dr. Roberts also suggests to avoid aspartame products during pregnancy due to increased levels of phenylalanine on the "fetal side of the placenta." Increases levels of phenylalanine may "interfere with the growth of the fetus brain" (181).
In an article published in the Association of Birth Defect Children, Karen Mills argues that aspartame may be responsible for her son's health problems. Unaware of the dangers of aspartame, she consumed four to six diet sodas a day and also took phenylalanine capsules to relieve fatigue during her pregnancy. She was in good health and did not smoke or drink during this time. Her pregnancy was considered normal and prenatal testing ruled out any genetic birth defects. Her delivery was also normal. When her son Brandon was born, he was severely retarded with serious neurological problems. All of his x-rays, genetic studies, and blood tests came back normal. Karen states, "I am suspicious that NutraSweet™ could be a contributing factor in Brandon's situation since there are no physical or genetic causes revealed for his neurological problems" (2).
Aspartic acid (aspartame) and glutamate (ingredient in monosodium glutamate) have been labeled as excitotoxins, which Dr. Russell Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, defines as "a group of excitatory amino acids that can cause sensitive neurons to die" (226). An article in the Orlando Sentinel Tribune states, "according to Blaylock, a single meal may contain several of these additives . . . given a high enough dose can include brain lesions." Blaylock is concerned that "hundreds of millions of infants and young children are at great risk and their parents are not even aware of it" (qtd. In Bonvie and Bonvie G1).
The last component of aspartame is methanol, better known as wood alcohol, a "deadly poison," claims Dr. Roberts. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends less than eight milligrams per day of methanol. A typical liter of an aspartame diet soda contains approximately 55 milligrams. Complications of methanol poisoning include blindness, brain swelling, pancreatitis, numbness, shooting pains, cardiac changes, and death (28, 42-45). According to Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, when ingested, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, "known to cause cancer, accumulating slowly without detection in the body" (The Deadly Deception 2).
Eric Soto was a victim of methanol poisoning. In 1989, when Eric was diagnosed with diabetes, he started consuming aspartame products to avoid sugar. Soon after, Eric complained of numbness in his fingers. After seeing a doctor for this problem, it was suggested that he have surgery to correct a wrist nerve. Before he went in for surgery, a black spot appeared over his left eye. After being examined by an opthamologist, Eric was admitted to the hospital for possible methanol poisoning. He decided to stop using aspartame products after hearing about the dangers from a friend. The damage to Eric's eyes was permanent, but the numbness in his fingers stopped even though doctors said it could only be corrected by surgery (The Deadly Deception B4).
Eric Soto is not the only person to suffer from aspartame related health problems. Mary Stoddard, president of Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, claims that nearly 10,000 complaints have been reported to this non-profit organization.