I am often asked by pregnant women if the artificial sugar Aspartame is safe for them and their developing babies. Postnatal mothers also ask me if it is safe for them to drink aspartame sweetened diet drinks for postpartum weight loss. My answer to both questions is an emphatic No!
Aspartame is sold as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. These artificial sweeteners are all aspartame, just with different names. Neuroscientist, Dr. Russell Blaylock discusses in his book Excitotoxins that there are several toxic breakdown chemicals from these aspartame products that make them dangerous for a developing fetus but also for mothers.
The major concerns about pregnant women ingesting aspartame during pregnancy are birth defects and damage to certain areas of the brain. This potential brain damage includes the parts of the brain involved in complex learning and hormone control.
Since the FDA gave this Aspartame it’s “blessing” in 1981, aspartame has accounted for more than 75 percent of all complaints reported to the FDA’s Adverse Reaction Monitoring System!
Aspartame disease refers to a constellation of symptoms attributed to the use of products containing aspartame. Out of the over 90 documented symptoms, the most common occurrences include:
*Ringing in the ears
Next: More about the dangers of Aspartame
The Three Chemical Components of Aspartame
Aspartame has three chemical components:
(1) Phenylalanine (50 percent)
(2) Aspartic acid (40 percent)
(3) Methanol, also called wood alcohol, (10 percent).
Those in support of this very popular artificial sweetener (including the FDA and its patent owner Monsanto who has aspartame yearly sales over $1 billion), state that the two primary amino acids, which comprise 90 percent of aspartame by weight, are a harmless and natural part of our diet.
They insist phenylalanine is a harmless amino acid precursor to the neurotransmitters adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and dopamine and that aspartic acid is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, which is already present in the human central nervous system. This is only a partial truth.
Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that are normally supplied by the foods we eat; however, they can only be considered natural and harmless when consumed in combination with the other amino acids in foods. On their own, they enter the central nervous system in abnormally high concentrations, causing excessive firing of nerve cells and potential nerve cell death. The toxic effects of these amino acids, when consumed in excessive isolated amounts, can be linked to a very long list of serious side effects and symptoms.
Very worrisome is the 10 percent of aspartame that is absorbed into the bloodstream as methanol (wood alcohol). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines safe consumption as no more than 7.8 milligrams per day of this dangerous substance. A one-liter beverage, sweetened with aspartame, contains about 56 milligrams of wood alcohol, or eight times the EPA limit!
Even Scarier Breakdown Chemicals
Aspartame’s breakdown products are even scarier than its components. Phenylalanine decomposes into diketopiperazine (DKP) a known carcinogen, when exposed to warm temperatures or prolonged storage.
To make matters even worse, at cold temperatures, methanol will spontaneously give rise to a colorless toxin known as formaldehyde. Independent studies have shown formaldehyde formation resulting from aspartame ingestion to be extremely common. It accumulates within the cells, and reacts with cellular proteins such as enzymes and DNA. This cumulative reaction could spell grave consequences for those who consume aspartame-laden diet drinks and foods on a daily basis.
DKP has been implicated in the occurrence of brain tumors. It is proven that DKP is formed in liquid aspartame containing products during prolonged storage.
Dangers for Fetuses and Newborns
Before birth and during the first 12 months of infant life, the blood-brain barrier (a barrier that prevents unwanted chemicals from entering the deepest recesses of the brain) is not yet completely formed. Because a fetus and infant’s blood brain barrier is not yet formed, dangerous excitotoxins, such as the aspartic acid and phenylalanine contained in aspartame, are given free access to the child’s nervous system. Additionally, the concentrating effects of the placenta are able to magnify the levels of phenylalanine in the blood by as much as 400-600 percent in a fetus!
Fetal phenylalanine has the potential to reach levels that kill cells in tissue culture. It has been determined that infants are four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than adults. During the first year of life, irreversible brain damage can occur through agents contained in breast milk.
Despite this, the American Dietetic Association still recommends aspartame for pregnant and nursing women!
Brain Damage and Seizures
Brain damage from aspartame ingestion is believed to occur through flooding the brain with large amounts of phenylalanine, disturbing the balance of neurotransmitters, and methanol-induced brain swelling. Aspartic acid is a neuro-excitatory toxin present in damaging amounts even at the accepted daily intake for aspartame.
Formaldehyde, which is derived from methanol, accumulates in certain areas of the brain that correspond to the neurodegenerative symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). These conditions are all associated with free radical injury, a proven effect of the excitotoxins phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Recent studies have established that aspartame has seizure-promoting activity in animals. It is believed that aspartame can increase seizure frequency among epileptics and even initiate seizures in susceptible individuals with no prior history of seizures.
Depression and Anxiety
Excitatory neurotransmitters use up excessive amounts of the relaxing, antidepressant neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA. This can lead to postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety disorder, and insomnia.
Aspartame Research Ignored
For over eight years, the FDA refused to approve aspartame because it was known to produce seizures and brain tumors in laboratory animals.
Searle Pharmaceuticals was the original developer of Aspartame. One pivotal study by Searle’s researchers, known as the “Waisman Study,” initially indicated that ingestion of Aspartame caused convulsions and death in monkeys. However, official conclusions could not be reached because the study was never completed. Searle blamed limitations in adequately skilled laboratory personnel for their decision to terminate the study. By Searle’s own acknowledgement, his team lacked competent research staff. Two FDA investigative task forces presented scathing reports on the quality of the company’s research and in 1976, the FDA’s general counsel requested a federal grand jury investigation of the company. For reasons unknown, the investigation was never undertaken.
Initially, even the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) rallied against the use of Aspartame. An excerpt of a protest submitted for congressional review in 1983 reads:
“Of approximately 100 independent studies conducted on aspartame, over 90 percent have demonstrated significant health risks.”
Why hasn’t aspartame been banned? In 1996, ignoring the fact that aspartame breaks down faster when heated above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the FDA decided to remove any remaining limitations on its use. Presently, there are thousands of companies using aspartame in diet sodas, powdered drinks, gelatin, tea, coffee, cocoa, juices, frozen desserts and even medications. This translates to billions of dollars of profits worldwide. Unfortunately, this is more than enough to provide agency officials with lucrative future employment, politicians with campaign funds, non-profit foundations with endowments, scientists with research grants and the media with millions in advertising dollars.
Even now, FDA officials continue to resist the many proposals from concerned scientists, physicians and other groups for comprehensive studies regarding the safety of aspartame.
My Final Recommendation
This is why I recommend all pregnant and postpartum women avoid all food and drink that contains Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure).
In fact, I recommend that all people avoid this unsafe chemical. The dangers of the artificial sweetener aspartame are far from sweet!
Is Vitamin A Safe for Pregnant Women?