Aspartame is Killing Us, Right?

From Tatiana:

Neil, where are you on artificial sweeteners? I know it's a hotbed, but what do you think about the body's insulin reaction to artificial sugar, even Stevia vs. real sugar? I can scarcely survive without my Crystal Light and chewing gum, is why I'm asking. :)

Ahhh.  Good question Tatiana.

The biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology nerd in me loves the "don't consume artificial sweetners" debate.  Loves it!

I especially love the Aspartame debate. It's such a rich debate. Full of twists and turns worthy of any epic Hollywood crime drama. Some have dubbed Aspartame as "By Far the Most Dangerous Substance Added to Most Foods Today." Others claim its very existence is due to a government conspiracy equal in scope to the JFK assassination and the moon landing controversy

Folks on the "never use Aspartame" side blame it for nearly all the ills which befall modern society, including the insulin issue you mentioned. According to some, Aspartame is poisonous and accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. These reactions include serious symptoms ranging from dizziness, to seizures, to even death.

However, on the other side of the argument, Aspartame is just a benign little sweetener. A sweet little sweetener who's only wish is to make its consumer's life happier, easier and healthier. This side of the argument cites over 200 scientific studies supporting its safety. It also points out, somewhat convincingly, that the main ingredients of Aspartame (amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine) are chemicals you'd find in even greater amounts in more common foods we eat like meat, milk, fruits and vegetables.     

Sketch by G. A. Harker

Sketch by G. A. Harker

The Aspartame issue is one where, in the past, I donned my suit of armor, saddled up Rocinante and drug my squire Sancho all over the countryside tilting at windmills.  At the time, I was truly convinced I was helping to slay giants. But unfortunately I came to realize, as in Don Quixote, what I was doing was more idealistic than realistic.

Aspartame is used in over 6000 products world-wide.  It is consumed by hundreds of millions of people every single day. It has been widely used for over 30 years. Despite this, you'd have a hard time proving direct causality in our generally declining health.

I would desperately love for Aspartame (and other artificial sweetening villains) to be the cause of all of society's health woes. Then it would be a simple task to get folks back on track. To cure certain cancers, eliminate obesity and decimating auto-immune disease (& etc.) it would be as simple as eliminating, maybe even outlawing these products. 

But therein lies the problem. See, if you got rid of all artificial sweeteners I doubt it would change ONE single thing about the civilized world's generally declining health & fitness. Oh maybe a person, or two (those unique individuals who are particularly sensitive to these chemicals) would experience certain healthy benefits. But the rest of us won't see much difference. Not the difference they say.

Do I think eliminating artificial sweeteners will improve your health?

Sort answer: Yes. however, not until you combine it with getting proper amounts of exercise (GPP), eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep and decreasing stress.

We don't know everything there is to know about Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. Who knows, maybe someday they'll discover something concrete that will convince us all that these chemicals really are giants, but for now they are only windmills.