The Ugly Sweeteners

 Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire


When it comes to sugar we have the good, the bad and the ugly. The good would be coconut crystals, Manuka honey, Maca powder and maybe Greenleaf Stevia. The bad would be HFCS and GMO table sugar. Sweeteners are the ugly.


With the obesity epidemic, many individuals try to eat fewer sweets, especially those who are trying to lose weight. One of the most common mistakes they make is to use sweeteners instead. However, the use of sugar substitutes compounds the problem, largely by damaging the parts of the brain that drive food cravings and/or hunger, which only increases the desire for carbohydrates and generally stimulates even more overeating. This is called a vicious cycle and if you are in it, you know how hard it is to break the cycle.


Aspartame and Acesulfame


Aspartame and Acesulefame are two of the most common sugar substitutes. Both have been shown to have neurotoxic effects, which means they attack your brain and nervous system. Aspartate, which is the most controversial artificial sweetener on the market, is derived from Aspartame. It is the main ingredient in NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful and other sugar substitutes found in low calorie prepared foods and diet sodas. Acesuflame is also known as Sunett and Sweet One. It is usually added to Aspartame or other sweeteners because it has a bitter taste and needs to be “hidden” from the consumer.


Let’s start with aspartame. While there is controversy over the benefits and risks of aspartame, one fact is undisputed, and that is that it is dangerous to the population at large and contributes to obesity. More recently, it has been shown to be a neurotoxin. Yet it remains in our low calorie foods and is often put into edibles, including baby foods, that aren’t labeled as low calorie.


Dr. Robert Walton surveyed the studies of aspartame in peer-reviewed medical literature. He states that of the 166 studies relevant to Aspartame’s safety, 100% of the research performed by the company that makes aspartame confirmed it's “safety,” whereas 92% of the independently funded research found problems with consuming aspartame. Big surprise.


Components of Aspartame


H.J. Roberts, MD, coined the term "aspartame disease" in a book filled with over 1,000 pages of information about the negative health consequences of ingesting aspartame, which included headache, dizziness, vomiting, memory loss, and fibromyalgia among other disorders. Aspartame is composed of Aspartic Acid, Phenylalanine, and Methanol, all of which have serious side effects.

I remember when they first started testing the effects 40 years ago and found that it caused brain tumors at a faster rate than anything else the FDA had ever tested. None the less, a year later it was in everything including baby foods.


  • Aspartic Acid. Aspartic acid, or aspartate, makes up about 40 percent of aspartame. In the brain, aspartate acts as a neurotransmitter, helping information get from one neuron to another. An excess amount of aspartate in the brain releases free radicals and, in turn, kills the neurons by allowing an excess of calcium to be absorbed. Multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, dementia and Parkinson's disease are only a few of the chronic illnesses linked to excessive amounts of aspartate over an extended period of time. The FDA has also reported nausea, vision and sleeping problems, migraines and more as side effects of excessive aspartate consumption.


I helped a patient reverse her symptoms of MS by simply changing the way she was eating and getting sunshine. The most important thing she changed in terms of the ways she was eating (and she changed everything – going from totally polluted food to all clean food) was that she stopped using sweeteners.

  • Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine, an amino acid, makes up about 50 percent of aspartame. Phenylalanine raises blood phenylalanine levels, which can decrease serotonin the neurotransmitter that manages mood. Too little and we have depression, too much and we have seizures and even schizophrenia.


  • Methanol. Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, makes up the remaining 10 percent of aspartame. This is where things get especially dangerous. Methanol breaks down into formic acid, which is harmless for all animals except humans. But the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme converts methanol into formaldehyde, which wreaks havoc with sensitive proteins and the DNA of humans. The formaldehyde, or methanol poisoning, is a neurotoxin causing such conditions as:

  • Headaches

  • Ear buzzing

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances

  • Weakness

  • Vertigo

  • Chills

  • Memory lapses

  • Numbness and shooting pains in the extremities

  • Behavioral disturbances

  • Neuritis


Have you ever smelled a warm diet Coke? It wreaks of formaldehyde!


Formaldehyde is also a known carcinogen. Finally it may cause birth defects. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a daily limit of 7.8 mg a day of methanol. One 8 oz. can of an aspartame-sweetened beverage has twice that amount.1

By-Products of Aspartame


Diketopiperazine (DKP) is produced by the body when aspartame is metabolized. Uterine polyps and increased cholesterol levels have been linked to DKP.

Many of us in the eating disorders field are seeing Anorexic patients with high cholesterol levels, especially among those who also binge and purge. Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that most patients suffering from Anorexia often live on diet soft drinks. This increases DKP levels. DKP may help to explain the paradox of high cholesterol and low body fat among the anorexic and bulimarexic population.


Public Awareness of the Dangers. According to Dr. Betty Martini, “Eighty percent of all complaints about food additives," are related to NutraSweet®. However, to date, the FDA has yet to move on any of them.3 In spite of this inaction by the FDA, there are indications some segments of the public are informed about the dangers of this “sweetener.” According to Dr. Martini, in a report from Flying Safety, an official United States Air Force publication, U.S. Air Force pilots were warned not to consume Aspartame in any amounts at all because, ”Aspartame has been investigated as a possible cause of brain tumors, mental retardation, birth defects, epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease, Fibromyalgia, and Diabetes."


So it is a good thing that the people flying us around in jumbo jets are not drinking the stuff, the question is why are we?

Stay tuned! Next time we will cover Acesulfame and other problem sweetners.

Best ,
Dr. J. Renae Norton

1 Documentary: Sweet Misery

June 29, 2013 | 230,764 views

2 Rigaud D. Diabete Metab. 2009;35:57-63.

Ohwada R. Int J Eat Disord. 2006;39:598-601.


Read more: What Are the Dangers of Aspartame? | eHow


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Materials contained on this site are made available solely for educational purposes and as part of an effort to raise general awareness of the psychological treatments available to individuals with health issues. These materials are not intended to be, and are not a substitute for, direct professional medical or psychological care based on your individual condition and circumstances.  Dr. J. Renae Norton does not diagnose or treat medical conditions. While this site may contain descriptions of pharmacological, psychiatric and psychological treatments, such descriptions and any related materials should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem without consulting a qualified mental health care provider.  You are advised to consult your medical health provider about your personal questions or concerns.

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