A Personal View – May 2014
Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. After being first synthesized in 1965, it was initially sold under the brand name NutraSweet. After the patent expired in 1992 the consumption has increased exponentially.
Since the sixties there has been a consistent campaign of vilification based on the premise that it results in cancer formation, neurological problems and migraines. All of the claims are based on anecdotal evidence which has never been substantiated in the hundreds of tests performed since the sixties.
Of these presumed ailments, no evidence has ever been found to support the first two whereas it is likely that aspartame can be amongst the literally thousands of items that trigger migraines most of which are usually benign for the overwhelming majority of people.
Another negative side-effect has been established being a health hazard to those born with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare inherited disease that prevents phenylalanine from being properly metabolized. Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional source of phenylalanine, foods containing aspartame sold in the United States must state “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine” on their product labels.
Before continuing with the discussion on aspartame, I would like to digress and discuss other vilified products and what the consequence has been.
About three years ago I started suffering from high blood pressure and cholesterol for which I was prescribed various medications. As they did not seem to working adequately, I was prescribed a complementary SSRI. Being conservative, the doctor prescribed the medication that was the most widely used in the world with no known side-effects. I started taking them on a Wednesday and by Saturday morning I was in casualty from the side-effects. Being aware that these tablets were the cause of my ailment, I took the insert of the medicines with me. The attending doctor was mystified. Theoretically I should not have been experiencing these negative reactions from a list of benign ingredients but I was.
If fact the doctor was so adamant that the medication should not be causing this symptoms, that he advised me to continue using them albeit initially at a lower dosage. That is precisely what I did but by the following Wednesday I was clearly in so much distress that I was unable to function at all.
An emergency trip to the original prescribing doctor was required. His suggestion was to prescribe an alternative with risk rating to 1000 times greater than the initially prescribed medication. I have now been taking it for three years and I have experienced no side-effects at all. In fact it is working like a charm.
Should I revert to the much safer original alternative? Don’t be daft! Of course I will never revert.
When my father was born in 1911, there was no vaccine against polio. Unfortunately he contracted it and suffered from a club foot for the rest of his life. However if my father had been born in the 1950s like me, he would have been given a vaccine developed by the virologist Hilary Koprowski of the USA. Her first human guinea pig was an eight-year-old boy on 27 February 1950.
In spite of the undoubted success in eradicating this scourge, two campaigns are preventing its total eradication. In the West, the assault is being led by those who contend that a failure rate of one child in a million to two million is unacceptable. When they claim that it is a failure, they are referring to the fact that a vanishing small percentage of children being vaccinated will actual contract the disease from the vaccination.
In Muslim countries however, this campaign is being driven on the basis that the vaccination is a western plot to sterilise their children!! Ignorance of the fact that in the west almost 100% of children are vaccinated without harmful effects seems to be rife. Maybe that reasoning is analogous to imams in Saudi Arabia who justify why females should not be allowed to drive for the same reason.
In 1993 I had the privilege of attending a Galvanising Conference in Madrid, Spain. The main raw material of this process is zinc. Amongst the many presentations that I had to attend was one by an environmentalist warning us of the dangers of use of zinc. For two hours I had to endure it but personally I had already been taking zinc supplements for 15 years as I had a shortage of this metal in my body. This lecturer starting point was that zinc was a heavy metal and that heavy metals are toxic and should be banned. He conjectured that by the year 2000, Europe would commence phasing out the use of galvanised products. In the fact the converse has probably occurred with the doubling of production.
The sister-in-law of a friend of mine is petrified of micro waves. She fervently believes that all users of Microwave ovens will ultimately develop cancer from the harmful rays that they emit. Despite this convenience product being on the market for 30 years, the world has yet to experience a tidal wave of cancer cases.
Another hardy annual in the conspiracy theory stakes is that the use of cellphones fries one’s brains. Again this allegation is based on scientific fact in that one is placing a radio receiver right next to one’s brain. A strong signal would, like the consumption of 10kgs of aspartame per day, obviously result in deleterious effects. The saving grace is that the signal strength is purposely so low as to preclude harm being caused.
I could provide a whole of other products such as genetically modified food vilified as Frankenfood and a host of other items. By means of a cursory glance at the internet one will encounter at least another thousand products that I have not alluded to above.
So where does this leave aspartame. Like that medication that affected me personally, there are undoubtedly people who will have a negative reaction to it just like some people suffer from migraine after drinking a single beer.
Periodically I will listen to a debate on 702 Talk Radio about the deleterious effects of cellphones and especially the towers. Of course if one stood in front of the beam, I am sure that one would experience side-effects but what listeners will raise is as follows: “Two months ago Vodacom erected a tower about two kilometres away from my house and I am not suffering from migraines. Just by the way for the past 10 years there has been a tower on the roof of the building where I work but it does not seem to have any effect.”
A Vodacom technician will then explain to this listener that the signal attenuation over two kilometres is such that the signal strength is one ten thousandth of its original strength which implies that it is highly unlikely to be source of the Caller’s headaches. But this rational explanation will not placate the listener. They want the Tower removed.
Unfortunately there are some recorded cases where some people cannot tolerate radio waves at all and are forced to relocate to remote areas. Should the fact that there are a dozen reported cases world-wide preclude the rest of humanity from applying the marvels of cellphone technology?
A state an unambivalent no to that logic.
Fifty years of aspartame testing and usage has yet to produce the smoking gun. The riposte of the opponents of aspartame is that collusion between governments, food producers and legislators has conspired to prevent the truth from emerging is clearly absurd. This argument implies for instance that the Chinese and the American governments are part of this conspiracy. I doubt it.
As far as aspartame is concerned, the jury has more than half a century ago concluded that it is safe to use. Many attempts have been made over the fifty years to discredit it but none so far has borne fruit.
However if one believes that aspartame is the root of some strange ailment in one’s life, one should immediately desist from consuming it much like my decision to change medication in spite of all the medical professional’s assurances that all the ingredients were benign. My body was unambivalent in this regard as it strenuously objected to its ingestion.
Like the use of cellphones and polio vaccines, aspartame is no more detrimental to one’s than these products. The level of the rants on the internet does not convince me otherwise.
So enjoy your Diet Coke without concern.