Although I think we’ve made it pretty clear how we feel about soda, I want to delve a bit deeper into the dangers of diet pop. If you’re thinking the word “diet” makes a Coke or Pepsi (or any other pop for that matter) a “healthier” option, think again. Sure, you can escape from the health problems posed by high fructose corn syrup, but you are now subjecting your body to yet another disturbing ingredient- aspartame.
Aspartame is commonly marketed and used as a low calorie sweetener (200 times sweeter than sugar) in soda and prepared foods. It is also found in powder from such as Nutrasweet and Equal, which are often added to drinks. You will also see it in the flavored Crystal Light packets that are added to bottled water.
Even though aspartame has been cited for causing nearly 100 different side effects (which were acknowledged by the FDA), it is still readily consumed in our daily lives. Even with conflicting studies, the FDA approved aspartame (only discovered in 1965) for mass consumption in 1981. In addition to its normal health risks to humans, aspartame has also been declared especially dangerous for those with diabetes.
There are 3 ingredients that make up aspartame: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol (already these don’t sound very natural…). While aspartic acid (or aspartate) works as a neurotransmitter in the human brain, too much of it allows a flood of calcium into brain cells. As a result, an excessive number of free radicals are triggered and they kill the cells, causing nerve cell damage. Since aspartate causes such damage, it is referred to as an excitotoxin. Long term excitotoxin exposure has been linked to problems such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, brain lesions, and more.
If that’s not scary enough, in 1971, Dr. John Olney (neuroscientist and excitotoxin expert) notified G.D. Searle (pharmaceutical company) that his studies of aspartic acid showed the creation of holes in the brains of mice. However, this information was not shared with the FDA until after the 1981 approval of aspartame.
The phenylalanine in aspartame is also normally found in the brain, but as an amino acid. Testing has revealed that continuous consumers of aspartame have higher levels of it in the blood. This is a problem as too much phenylalanine in the brain can cause a decrease in serotonin levels. Depression, schizophrenia, and an increased susceptibility to seizures can arise from this.
Last, but certainly not least, is methanol, which has been stated as a “cumulative poison” by the EPA since once it is absorbed into the body, only a very small amount leaves. The body changes methanol to formic acid and formaldehyde (both considered toxic) once it reaches 86 degrees Farenheit.
The National Cancer Institute says it best with “in 1995, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that formaldehyde is a probable human carcinogen. However, in a reevaluation of existing data in June 2004, the IARC reclassified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen (2).”
There is endless information on the web regarding aspartame if you are looking for more, but this is enough for me to stay far, far away from it. There are other options, and if you still crave that taste of pop try a GuS or make your own tasty carbonated drink.