What is Aspartame?
We see this word on our favorite diet drinks and other products on a daily basis, but what exactly is aspartame? Sure, the quick answer would be a no-calorie sweetener that provides excellent taste without the guilt of excess sugar, but is there more to aspartame than just its’ flavor qualities? Let’s take a look at the history and breakdown of this special chemical.
Aspartame came onto the scene in the early 1980’s as a low-calorie substitute for sugar, but provided the same great sweet qualities of sugar. Aspartame has the ability to amplify certain flavors like cherry and orange, making them much more flavorful and extending the life of their flavor in beverages and other products such as gum. While sugar is notorious for promoting tooth decay, aspartame will not. Aspartame is also helpful to diabetics who need to budget their carbohydrate intake. In addition, those who are on a calorie-restricted meal plan can still enjoy the benefits of sweets without the drawbacks of sugar.
This all sounds pretty good, right? Now we’ll take a look at the dark side of aspartame.
The chemical breakdown of aspartame is two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and one other chemical; methanol. The two amino acids seem harmless enough, right? Not so fast. Aspartic acid is what is known as an exitotoxin. An excitotoxin is dangerous to the brain because it basically over-stimulates nerve cells. These nerves cells will eventually break down in their function because they excite themselves to death, leaving altered brain functions and nerve damage.
Phenylalanine, another amino acid, may also seem safe at first glance, but the truth is that excessive phenylalanine levels in the brain can cause serotonin levels in the brain to decrease permanently, eventually leading to a series of disorders like depression.
The final chemical ingredient of aspartame is a shocker; methanol. Methanol is also known as wood alcohol and is a deadly poison. In the body, methanol is broken down to formaldehyde, which is also a deadly neurotoxin. The EPA considers methanol a “cumulative poison” because levels slowly build up over time due to its slow rate of excretion. Symptoms of methanol toxicity can range from headaches and nausea to blurring of vision and even blindness.
While aspartame may look to be safe since it has been around so long, the reality of it is that it is a chemical sweetener, not natural. Aspartame addiction is also a problem in the U.S. and one that should be considered a real problem by many. The next time you look for a low-calorie beverage, look for Stevia-sweetened drinks or choose good old fashioned water.
Tim Mielke is a former competitive bodybuilder and published author, with 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. He has written dozens of articles ranging from the organic lifestyle, to hyped-up supplements to steroids, for various health and fitness sources. His book, The Book of Supplement Secrets: A Beginner’s Guide to Nutritional Supplements, has received excellent reviews. Tim brings his knowledge and expertise to RightFitnessandNutrition.com, and is currently developing his own supplement line and writing two more books, which he hopes to have published in 2014.