As a doctor, I am always looking out for the health and well-being of my patients, especially those living with diabetes. While there are a variety of artificial sweeteners on the market, aspartame is one that has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. Aspartame is often used as a low-calorie alternative to sugar and is found in many products marketed to people with diabetes. However, there are some serious concerns about its safety, particularly for those living with diabetes.
Before knowing if aspartame is safe for consumption by a diabetic let’s have a look into what is aspartame. Basically, aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s much sweeter than sucrose. A product that is labeled sugar-free usually contains artificial sweeteners as a substitute for sugar.
Examples of aspartame products available in the market are:
- Sugar-free ice creams
- Diet coke
- Sugarless candies etc.
It basically contains amino acids mainly L- aspartic acid and L- phenylalanine. During digestion the digestive enzymes break aspartame into the following compounds:
- Aspartic acid
Any side effects faced by the consumers on the consumption of aspartame are due to the action of these compounds when absorbed into the blood. Phenylalanine is an important amino acid that we must get from the diet. Aspartame contains very little amount of phenylalanine when compared to other sources or foods.
Phenylalanine is used by the body to make certain hormones and brain chemicals. Foods with high amount of phenylalanine can be highly toxic to people with genetic disorders such as phenylketonuria and is not recommended.
Aspartic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid i.e. it can be produced by our own body. Aspartame contains very little amount of aspartic acid when compared to other foods. Aspartic acid is used by the body mainly for the normal functioning of the nervous system.
Methanol is a toxic compound related to ethanol that is found in alcoholic beverages. Aspartame contains nearly four calories per gram similar to that of sugar. Although it is highly used as a substitute for sugar it has faced many allegations in recent years.
9 Dangers of Using Aspartame as an Artificial Sweetener
The main concern over the use of aspartame is cancer. Many experiments have been conducted on animals such as rats and the experiments indicated that high intake or consumption of aspartame increases the risks of lymphomas ( it is a type of cancer that starts in the infection-fighting cells of the immune system called the lymphocytes) and leukemia ( blood cancer).
But people still remain suspicious that aspartame is safe for use.
2. Poisoning through methanol
On intake, aspartame is broken down Into various compounds by the body one among them is methanol. In 2014, researchers indicate that aspartame was found to be the greatest source of methanol. Increased intake of aspartame increases the risk of poisoning by increasing the level of methanol in the body.
Although the absorption of methanol from the body is similar to the absorption in the case of natural foods and fruit juices. Due to a lack of scientific evidence, people still remain unconvinced about the use of aspartame as a safe artificial sweetener.
3. Damage to vision
One of the strongest allegations about aspartame is its damage caused to vision. Increased intake of aspartame can lead to various problems such as eye pain, and night blindness, or in the worst case, it could lead to total blindness.
Again there are no such proven cases with respect to damage to vision.
4. Premature birth
Higher consumption of aspartame can lead to premature birth. It is scientifically proven that women facing the genetic effect named phenylketonuria, may experience an earlier delivery leading to the premature birth of the baby, or can also lead to fetal damage.
Intake of aspartame at higher levels can lead to or trigger headaches in individuals with migraine. Formaldehyde – a byproduct of aspartame. Migraine can be the result of an allergic response to formaldehyde, In individuals suffering from migraine.
This theory was put forward by Jacob and Stechshulte in 2008 after a patch test that was conducted on five patients. Three out of five patients reported migraine recurrence that was estimated after 8 to 12 weeks later.
This could be a reason for the allergic response or due to overconsumption of aspartame over a longer time.
A 2016 study says that increased intake of aspartame may alter the balance and diversity of the bacteria within the gut. This way of disruption or alteration in the balance of the gut microbes can increase the risk of glucose intolerance which can turn out to be a curse for people with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
People with a healthy weight are not much into the risk factors of aspartame.
7. Tardive dyskinesia
Tardive dyskinesia is a neurological disorder that is caused by long-term intake of psychiatric drugs. It is usually a side effect of drugs (antipsychotics) that are used to treat schizophrenia or other mental disorders. Tardive dyskinesia can cause stiffness or jerky movements in the face and body that are not under one’s own control.
Intake of aspartame for people suffering from tardive dyskinesia can trigger joint movements.
Phenylketonuria is an inborn error of metabolism. In this, the metabolism of an amino acid called phenylalanine has decreased this results in the accumulation of phenylalanine in the body.
People with phenylketonuria can not process phenylalanine properly and completely, this can be highly toxic. Therefore for people with phenylketonuria aspartame is highly toxic and not recommended.
9. Weight gain
Researchers say that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners result in weight gain, it makes the dieters or people consuming them hungrier eventually leading them to overeat. As we know overeating alone is not a great deed, overeating further results In weight gain and an unhealthy gain in weight brings along with it a lot of risk factors. i.e. Unhealthy weight gain is accompanied by a lot of risk factors.
Obesity or being overweight is also one of the major risk factors linked with diabetes. Therefore this type of gain can further lead to various complications. However, there is no strong evidence against the dangers of aspartame but these allegations and controversies make aspartame a suspicious sweetener.
These allegations and lack of strong medical evidence have led many people to remain unconvinced that aspartame could be completely safe for use without any harmful side effects. Therefore before opting for artificial sweeteners it’s better to cut down on them and stay natural.
Diabetes can still consume a variety of foods that can not only stir their taste bites but also can keep them healthy and safe with natural foods.