Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is Aspartame Really "Sweet Poison"?

The hazard symbol for toxic/highly toxic subst...
Have you seen the email "Sweet Poison"? It has been making the rounds since 1998 according to the Snopes.com website. It has been sent to me twice recently with a new addition to the original text of the email.

At the top of the revised email there now appears a supposed case history of a woman who drank aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) sweetened soft drinks and developed multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2001. Her symptoms included muscles spasms, the inability to walk and severe chronic pain. The author of the email recounts that she advised her sister to stop drinking diet soda and a good portion of her symptoms disappeared in 72 hours.

The email then goes on to identify systemic lupus, MS and fibromyalgia as some of the illnesses caused by aspartame.

Snopes.com states that the information in the email is false and cites the FDA, the medical journal The Lancet, Dr. Dean Edell, the American Council on Science and Health, the MIT News and TIME magazine as sources refuting the claims made in this email. And the widely held belief that the United Kingdom (UK) has banned aspartame? I could find no confirmation of this apparent fabrication. What I did find is this information:
Several European Union countries approved aspartame in the 1980s, with EU-wide approval in 1994. The European Commission Scientific Committee on Food reviewed subsequent safety studies and reaffirmed the approval in 2002. The European Food Safety Authority reported in 2006 that the previously established Adequate Daily Intake was appropriate, after reviewing yet another set of studies.

It has also been investigated and approved by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Internet sites and web pages devoted to warning people about the dangers of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. The websites appear genuine in their concern for people's health and safety and some are so well written and present convincing arguements; it's hard to know if their messages hold any truth. There are several campaigns around the world, including in the UK, trying to get aspartame banned, but so far none of these efforts have been successful.

Apparently Coca-Cola and Pepsi are getting the message that people want a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. Both brands released their versions of stevia based sweeteners this year, Truvia and Purevia respectively. Both are also awaiting FDA approval to start using stevia sweeteners in their diet cola products. In the meantime, Zevia is selling a stevia sweetened soda line, marketed as a supplement, in store like Whole Foods and Gelson's here in Los Angeles. (I've tried it and it's not bad, but my husband gave it a thumbs down.)

So as a person living with fibromyalgia and Type 2 diabetes, I had to stop and ask myself, "Could drinking diet beverages and using artificial sweeteners be contributing to my chronic pain and fatigue symptoms?" It is true that some people are highly sensitive to artificial sweeteners and can develop symptoms like headaches, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue. It may even be possible that some extremely sensitive people could develop an allergic reaction or maybe even severe symptoms. But for the overwhelming majority of us, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners has been proven to be safe to consume.

So how does the average person with fibromyalgia decide if claims like these apply to them? By becoming a fibromyalgia scientist of course! I'll teach you how to become one tomorrow...

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this post does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your doctor or registered dietitian if you have concerns about the effects the foods and drinks you ingest have on your health and your chronic illnesses.

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