In the United States, dietary risks contribute to more health related deaths for Americans than the combination of tobacco and alcohol usage together according to the latest research. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that a poor nutrition is the leading cause behind our nation’s health concerns (Christopher J. L. Murray, 2013). Statistics indicate it beat out other health risk factors such as drug use, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Dr. Ali Mokdad, a contributor to the examination states, “If the U.S. can make progress with dietary risk factors, physical activity, and obesity, it will see massive reductions in death and disability.” (Christopher J. L. Murray, 2013). One of the worst offenders of a healthy diet is, paradoxically, diet soda. Diet drinks claim to be zero calorie beverages consumed as an alternative to sugary sodas and assisting in weight loss. This claim has never been substantiated and can, in fact, can cause weight gain and additional health issues. The main sweetener in diet soda is aspartame. Also known commercially as NutraSweet, Aspartame is commonly used in many foods and beverages including sugar-free desserts and chewing gum. The compounds that make up this chemical include methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, all of which are cumulatively toxic. This means that the chemicals continue to accumulate in a person’s body over time reaching harmful levels. Because of this toxicity the Food and Drug administration must ban aspartame from being added to the American food supply. The two reasons for this proposal are due to adverse side effects and false weight-loss claims made to the public. Eliminating aspartame from our diet will promote better health for the American population.
Aspartame was actually banned once by the FDA in 1980. However, in late 1982 the company that produced the compound had re-submitted its petition to be approved as a sweetening agent in carbonated beverages. In July of 1983, the National Soft Drink Association urged the FDA to delay the approval of the chemical citing a study concerning aspartame’s instability in liquid form. When stored at temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it breaks down into formaldehyde, a dangerous toxin used in embalming. This research determined that ingesting aspartame may constitute a health threat because of its contribution to the formation of formaldehyde adducts (C. Trocho, 1998). Despite this and similar studies, diet carbonated beverages became available to the public in the fall of 1983. Since then nearly 6,000 processed foods in the United States add aspartame to virtually all foods that call themselves lite or non-fat.
Many of the dangerous side-effects of Aspartame have been well documented. NutraSweet has been marketed to the general public for years as a perfectly safe ingredient. However, it is comprised of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. These chemicals are known to cause various side effects such as migraines, dizziness, abdomen pain, and even seizures. In his book about artificial sweeteners, Dr. Mercola recounts that the FDA had nearly 600 consumer complaints about drinks containing aspartame less than a year after it was marketed. The symptoms included headaches, confusion and other signs of disorientation including aggressive behavior and severe mood swings (Mercola, 2006). A Center for Disease Control review of the case was requested by the FDA in February of 1984. The CDC reported that further investigation of the neurological and behavioral problems is needed. However, it also indicated that as soon as aspartame consumption was stopped their symptoms soon disappeared (Control, 1984). One of the chemicals that may cause theses effects is methanol, a wood alcohol making up ten percent of aspartame. The Environmental Protection Agency has set a safe limit for methanol as 7.8 milligrams per day; however, a 16 ounce diet soda sweetened with aspartame contains over twenty-seven milligrams. A greater concern is the fact that methanol commonly breaks down into formaldehyde. Therefore a diet beverage can produce six milligrams of formaldehyde, triple the limit established by the FDA. Formaldehyde is a common chemical found in many interior surroundings from paper products to shampoo. However, when it combines with protein it becomes highly reactive causing skin irritation and other allergic reactions. Since the approval of aspartame, over ten thousand people have submitted complaints to the FDA (Mercola, 2006).
The second major controversy surrounding aspartame is its alleged benefits as a zero calorie sweetener. The Coca-Cola Company has stated that using artificial sweeteners in their products may assist people in managing their weight. In September of 2013 they launched an ad campaign to “reassure people that those lower-calorie drinks aren’t harmful.” (Unbottled Staff, 2013). However, aspartame is now known to increase beta-endorphin production triggering food cravings. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, research suggests that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame contribute to weight gain. A YJBM article summarizing the use of artificial sweeteners and obesity trends in the United States shows a clear depiction of obesity on the rise. The research describes the addictive quality that food reward has on the brain circuitry. With artificial sweeteners the reward pathways are not completed as they are in actual caloric foods. This reduction of response increases appetite. The lack of calories also causes a decrease in energy levels which also contributes to overeating. Additionally, when one repeatedly consumes aspartame, the body is trained to expect that amount of sweetness. The intensity of the sugar substitute may lead to a systematic preference for foods lower in nutrients, thereby decreasing the chance for healthy weight-loss (Yang, 2010).
Most people will select food products because they are labeled as low-fat, zero calorie, or sugar free. The FDA should review the present effects on the United Sates population of artificial sweeteners and remove all products that contain aspartame. Considering a ban on aspartame will raise the public’s awareness of this dangerous chemical and considerably reduce the dietary risks of obesity. In 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination banning trans fats because of significant adverse health effects. Despite mounting evidence, however, the FDA “finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food.” (Safety, 2007). To safeguard our nation’s health and to protect consumers from false advertising claims, this proposed restriction should go into immediate effect. Citizens are encouraged to petition the agency to take action against companies that use aspartame. By taking an active role in the process, individuals can relieve an epidemic of unsafe side-effects and decrease the trend of obesity in America.
C. Trocho, R. P.-L. (1998). Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. Univerisity of Barcelona, Department of Molecular Biology. Barcelona: Bosch & Gimpera Foundation.
Christopher J. L. Murray, M. D. (2013, July 10). The State of US Health, 1990-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association.
Control, C. f. (1984). Evaluation of Consumer Complaints Related to Aspartame Use. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO).
Mercola, D. J. (2006). Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health. Nashville: Thomas nelson, Inc.
FDA Reconfirms Aspartame Safety – Aspartame Information and … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.aspartame.net/news/FDA_Reconfirms_Aspartame_Safety.asp_br
Unbottled Staff. (2013, September 27). CocaCola Journey. Retrieved from Setting the Record Straight On Aspartame Safety.
Yang, Q. (2010). Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 101-108.