If you drink cola, take sugary version
Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-03
Aspartame (marketed as Nutrasweet and Equal) is probably worse for you that sugar, and a new paper extends concerns about carcinogenic action and a dodgy regulatory approval process, now including psychiatric, learning and emotional disorders.
It’s not just the molecule itself that causes worries, but it’s breakdown products. Most mess with your neurotransmitters (a bit of a smoking gun as far as brain problems are concerned), are simply "highly toxic" or known carcinogens.
While the warning label on foods and drinks mentions dangers for phenylketonurics, and I’ve been warned off it as an epileptic, seizures in "normal" people after taking even small quantities of aspartame are not unknown.
It’s time to make the warnings more explicit, and raise general public awareness of the dangers, which are made worse when this product is not merely added to foods and drinks, but when breakdown occurs when heated or over time (so don’t stew apples with it or drink diet cola that’s been on the shelf too long!).
The paper I mention, "Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain" (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2008) 62, 451–462; doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602866) just hit my mailbox, and includes the following in the abstract:
Previously, it has been reported that consumption of aspartame could cause neurological and behavioural disturbances in sensitive individuals. Headaches, insomnia and seizures are also some of the neurological effects that have been encountered, and these may be accredited to changes in regional brain concentrations of catecholamines…excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders (DSM-IV-TR 2000) and also in compromised learning and emotional functioning.
(The DSM-IV-TR 2000 is a revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and considered the closest thing to a "bible" for such purposes.).
Typically, a broad group of scientists, and thousands of families reporting adverse consequences, worried about aspartame are swept aside by regulatory agencies (see a European Food Safety Authority review).
Mind you, I’m certainly not saying high-sugar drinks are used in society with appropriate moderation, even though my favorite cola was Jolt, which was a bit of a cult for the IT professional and advertised itself honestly as "twice the caffeine, twice the sugar" or "for your next all-nighter".
But even more worrying is the trend to include aspartame as the sweetener in medicines for babies and children, when the brain is developing.
Warning labels should be made more plain, ensuring they are not limited to the relatively rare PKU (only 1 or two kids are born with it a year in Victoria, but it is nasty enough that the government requires all babies to be tested at birth so they are put immediately on a special diet to avoid permanent brain damage, because the cost of testing everyone is lower than the cost of caring for the brain damage of one person).
The warnings should include other sensitive conditions, e.g. those prone to seizures.
Chemicals that act this way in the brain deserve an information campaign for parents, who think they are doing the right thing by given their kids "diet" foods rather than high sugar ones. Use in medicines for children should be discouraged, replacing it with the less dangerous alternatives such as saccharin.
It’s just another example of scientists without vested interests coming up against industry and their payrolled researchers (and politicians).