Aspartame, Revisiting The Growing Concern For Human Health By Ebunoluwa Aberuagba

Globally, there is a growing concern about the use of artificial sweeteners in foods and drinks produced in commercial quantities for human consumption across the globe. Of particular preference is the use of a substance called Aspartame, an artificial sweetener mostly used in carbonated drinks that cuts across ‘soft’ and alcoholic drinks. 

Unfortunately, the Nigerian consumers are not immune to the array of these drinks. Suffice to note that some of the manufacturers lay claim to the use of these artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame as a means for reducing the intake of sugar. While the intent may be applauded, could consumers of these products be getting sweetened with a possible bitter pill in Aspartame?

Dr. Paul Orhii, DG, NAFDAC

Recently, giant manufacturers like Pepsi Cola and Coca cola have been under the searchlight on the use of some of these artificial sweeteners after a global outcry.

Interestingly in Nigeria, the food and beverage producers have also had their fair share on claims and concerns on the use of these artificial sweeteners in their products, particularly Aspartame. In fact, a recently launched bitters drink claimed to have used this substance in its production.

Researchers and Regulatory Perspectives

About 200 times sweeter than sugar, researchers have claimed Aspartame is responsible for headache, memory loss, mood changes, insomnia and depression. Over 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA concern Aspartame.

Researchers from the University of North Dakota tested the safe limits of aspartame over a short period of time and found that at just one half of the FDA’s safe acceptable daily intake, aspartame caused serious neurobehavioral changes including cognitive impairment, irritable moods, and depression.

However, a recent study conducted and reported in The Nature in 2014 raised other concerns.

The study conducted on the use of artificial sweeteners was able to clearly show causality, revealing that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between consuming artificial sweeteners and developing elevated blood sugar levels.

People who consumed high amounts of artificial sweeteners were found to have higher levels of HbA1C—a long-term measure of blood sugar—compared to non-users or occasional users of artificial sweeteners.

Seven volunteers who did not use artificial sweeteners were then recruited, and asked to consume the equivalent of 10-12 single-dose packets of artificial sweeteners daily for one week.

Four of the seven people developed “significant disturbances in their blood glucose,” according to the researchers. Some became pre-diabetic within just a few days. The reason for this dramatic shift was traced back to alterations in gut bacteria. Some bacteria were killed off, while others started proliferating.

A school of thought that believes that sweetened beverages, whether sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, are among the worst culprits causing obesity and related health problems, including diabetes, heart and liver disease, just to name a few. However, ditching or reduction in the consumption of these types of beverages could go a long way toward reducing one’s risk for chronic health problems and weight gain.

With these latest discoveries, the world is definitely faced with a new challenge of resolving the problem of getting sweetened with a possible bitter pill.

1 Comment

  1. A few things aren’t clear from this article. Were the subjects in any of the studies diabetic? Ths is important because HBA1c is an indicator of control in blood sugar level but not longer term – only over the life span of red blood cells which happens to be 8-12 weeks.

    Also if they were diabetics, there are a number of potential alternative explanations for cognitive impairment, irritability and depression – these also happen to be symptoms that accompany hypoglycaemic episodes (low blood sugar) experienced particularly by those on insulin.

    I’m not disagreeing with concerns on cancer and other issues; but personally as a regular consumer of sweeteners, the impact on gut bacteria seems to have been that I am much less susceptible to an upset stomach than anyone around me. It’s been years since I had one.

    There are different types of sweeteners now that are not made from aspartame, so if you are counting calories try these, in moderation.

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