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Aspartame -- Avoid It

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The following symptoms are listed on the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network Fact Sheet:

headaches, nausea, vertigo, insomnia, numbness, blurred vision, blindness and other eye problems, memory loss, slurred speech, depression, personality changes, hyperactivity, stomach disorders, seizures, skin lesions, rashes, anxiety attacks, muscle cramping and joint pain, loss of energy, symptoms mimicking heart attacks, hearing loss and ear ringing, and loss or change of taste. (The Deadly Deception 1)

Included in these complaints are "hundreds of pilots who have reported life threatening adverse reactions due to aspartame," according to Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, in an article from General Aviation News. Michael Collins, former pilot, suffered from seizures whenever he drank diet soda. When he stopped using aspartame products, he remained seizure-free. Unfortunately, he lost his medical certification and can no longer fly (qtd. in Hicks 2).

While seizures are common among aspartame users, headaches are the most common complaint (Roberts 95). According to Caroline B. Kline, nutrition consultant, eighteen million Americans suffer from migraines. In her magazine article, "Migraine Makers," she suggests that diet could be one of the causes of these severe headaches. Aspartame was listed as possible culprit (207).

Americans are not the only people worried about the safety of aspartame. In 1988, the Mexican government issued a detailed warning to be put on diet sodas that contain aspartame (Bouleau 66). The label on these diet sodas reads:

This product should not be consumed by individuals who are allergic to phenylalanine. Consumption by pregnant women and children under 7 is not recommended. Users should follow a balanced diet. Consumption by diabetics must be authorized by a physician, (Bouleau 66).

If a product has to have this many warnings, how can it possibly be on the market?

The FDA has the answer. Thomas Wilcox, FDA spokesman, claims that "some people don't tolerate aspartame, but the reports to the FDA aren't sufficient to warrant a change in the product's classification. . . . Unless there is shown to be some very common serious effect . . . you don't want to deprive the entire population of the product" (qtd. in Bonvie and Bonvie G1). How serious do the side effects have to be and how many people have to be affected before this product is pulled off the market? When you start to add up the Phenylketonurics, the 10 million PKU carriers, migraine sufferers, diabetics, children, and pregnant women, who are all possible victims of aspartame poisoning, it seems significant enough to ban the use of aspartame. Don't these people who are at risk or have already suffered count? Depriving people of their health seems more serious than "depriving the entire population" of a sugar substitute.

What about the people who assume aspartame is safe? Is it fair to put these people at risk?

Even cigarettes and drugs have warnings on them to alert the public of possible side effects and dangers. Aspartame only has one warning for PKU. How can people make a wise choice if they aren't even warned of the dangers?

The warning label would have to be a very lengthy to properly warn all people. The only solution is to stop aspartame consumption by pulling it off the market. This would prevent people from unnecessary harm, especially those who are unaware of the dangers.

Even if you are aware of the dangers and are trying to avoid aspartame, you might have to spend more time reading labels. The familiar NutraSweet™ logo might not appear on all aspartame products. The patent on aspartame held by Searle expired in December of 1992, allowing other companies besides the NutraSweet™ Company to produce aspartame (Therrien 42). (NutraSweet™ Co. and G. D. Searle are divisions of the Monsanto Company). The only clue now on some products is "aspartame" listed in the ingredients and a phenylalanine warning.

If you're still not convinced by the tainted history of aspartame or its harmful ingredients and are using it to help control your weight, think again. Studies show that this may not be the case.

Helps Control Weight Gain

"I drank diet soda for the obvious reason -- to avoid sugar and to avoid weight gain" claims a businesswoman in a case reported to Dr. Roberts (qtd. In Roberts 147). It's not unusual for people who are dieting to reach for an aspartame product verses a product containing sugar. Aspartame is "200 times sweeter" than ordinary sugar so fewer calories are consumed (Deskins G1). With a weight conscious society, fewer calories can be attractive. However, a closer look shows that aspartame may not help control weight gain.

Outlined in the following list are some reasons why aspartame might not be effective in controlling weight:

1. According to an article in Technology Review, "aspartame may actually stimulate appetite and bring on a craving for carbohydrates" (Farber 52). 2. An article in Utne Reader claims, "researchers believe that any kind of sweet taste signals body cells to store carbohydrates and fats, which in turn causes the body to crave more food" (Lamb 16). 3. From the San Francisco Chronicle, Jean Weininger states that "studies have shown that people who use artificial sweeteners don't necessarily reduce their consumption of sugar -- or their total calorie intake. . . . Having a diet soda makes it okay to eat a double cheeseburger and a chocolate mousse pie" (1/ZZ1). 4. "The American Cancer Society (1986) documented the fact that persons using artificial sweeteners gain more weight than those who avoid them" (Roberts 150)

Whether you are trying to lose pounds or maintain your weight, using an artificial sweetener such as aspartame does not seem to have any significant effect on weight control. Those extra calories you saved by drinking a diet pop won't make much of a difference if you still need to satisfy your hunger and indulge in several cookies later. If it is actually increasing your appetite, why use it? Common sense tells you that proper diet and exercise are more beneficial. Even if you believe that aspartame may aid in dieting, is this worth risking your health?

FDA approval and natural ingredients may signal safety at first, but the mounting evidence against aspartame reveals many hidden dangers and possible risks. If you are experiencing any of the adverse reactions, stop using aspartame and see if the symptoms disappear. Now that you are aware of the problems with aspartame, inform others of the symptoms of aspartame poisoning. Notify the FDA of any adverse reactions that you may experience and encourage others to do the same. Don't just stop using aspartame, but make a difference by returning any aspartame products you may now have. If sales go down, hopefully aspartame will be pulled off the market and put an end to the aspartame dilemma.

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