Is diet soda killing us?
What makes diet soda and about 6,000 other products taste sweet? Aspartame. Aspartame is found in almost all major brands of gum, breath mints, NutraSweet, Equal and most diet sodas, including: Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, Diet 7-Up and Dr. Pepper Zero.
According to mercola.com, aspartame is composed of 10 percent methanol, 50 percent phenylalanine and 40 percent aspartic acid. Not to get too technical, but I think it is important that we understand what threats each of these three chemicals pose to our bodies.
Dr. Joesph M. Mercola, an osteopathic physician (DO) and natural health practitioner, wrote at mercola.com:
"Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in your brain. Persons with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize phenylalanine and must avoid it at all costs to prevent the accumulation of phenylalanine in their brain, which can be lethal. It has been shown that ingesting aspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excess levels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not have PKU. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in your brain can decrease your serotonin levels, which in turn can provoke emotional disorders such as depression."
Regarding aspartic acid, Mercola wrote: "According to the work of Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi, there are about 500 scientific references showing that excess free excitatory amino acids such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid (about 99 percent of monosodium glutamate [MSG] is glutamic acid) in our food supply are causing serious chronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms.
"... Excess aspartate or glutamate in your brain can kill off neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into your cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are referred to as 'excitotoxins.' They literally 'excite' or stimulate your neural cells to death."
Finally, regarding methanol, Mercola wrote: "Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a deadly poison. It is gradually released in your small intestine once the methyl group of aspartame encounters the digestive enzyme chymotrypsin. Inside your body, methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde, the latter of which is another lethal neurotoxin and a known carcinogen, which passes freely through your blood brain barrier to cause brain damage."
Aspartame has been linked to increased stroke risk, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety attacks, migraines and cancer — the list is long.
There is also evidence that the artificial sweeteners actually aid weight gain by confusing our body's regulatory system that controls hunger. Mercola wrote: "diet sodas ... may actually double your risk of obesity."
Artificial sweeteners are a hundred-fold sweeter than regular table sugar, which could make the normally sweet flavors of fruit taste bland as well as grains and vegetables.
Even though aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the US Food and Drug Administration, according to Mercola, the FDA continues to consider it safe for use in food, gum and drinks we consume in large amounts every day.
I love the phrase: "It is considered safe." Considered safe by whom? Industry? A government regulatory agency? I think the only thing that is safe is what my cells think is safe. Last time I checked, it was real food — not highly processed food that needs a marketing campaign to tell me that it is safe to eat.
We need to be our own food police and health advocates. Read labels. Understand what it really is that we are putting into our family's bodies. Be a leader of food choices in your family. If the FDA thinks it's OK for us to continue putting aspartame in foods, why is there so much debate surrounding it?
Kevin Cotter is managing general partner at New Earth Market in Yuba City.