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 Integrative Medicine: How Safe is Aspartame? 
Aspartame is known commercially as "Nutrasweet" when added to products or "Equal" when it is in the form of a sugar substitute in a packet. It should not be confused with Sweet-n-Low, which is saccharine.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who is concerned about being overweight or about eating too much sugar, chances are you have eaten or drank products containing aspartame. You have been told by the FDA and the manufacturers of these products that they are perfectly safe. But, just how safe are they?

Just recently, I've been made aware of a large body of medical information questioning the safety of these products. If you use any diet sodas containing aspartame or any of the other thousands of products which contain it, I suggest you listen carefully because some of your physical, mental or emotional complaints may be due to their use.

Do you have any idea what percentage of all complaints received by the FDA are about aspartame? You probably will be as shocked as I was to learn that between 80 to 85% of all complaints received by the FDA are due to aspartame. By 1987, the FDA had received more than 6,000 complaints, including 250 involving epileptic seizures.

How much aspartame do Americans eat? The average American consumes over 14 pounds of aspartame each year and this amount has been rising daily. Since many of you out there and I avoid it completely, some of you are ingesting a lot more than 14 pounds per year. In April, 1993, aspartame was approved for use in baked goods and mixes which greatly added to the 4,200 products already containing the synthetic sweetener.

Symptoms which May be Due to Aspartame
What kinds of symptoms may occur as a result of ingesting aspartame? They may involve almost any system of the body. Probably the most common are headaches, including migraines. As I mentioned, one can also experience seizures. Some pilots have lost their licenses after having experienced seizures from aspartame. Several articles have appeared in flying magazines.

Other neurologic or psychiatric symptoms include dizziness, unsteadiness, confusion, severe drowziness and sleepiness, numbness, hyperactivity--especially in children, severe depression, irritability, anxiety, aggression, personality changes, insomnia and phobias.

Visual changes may include blurred vision, blindness, pain and reduced tears. Ringing or buzzing in the ears, hearing impairment or noise intolerance occur in some people. Palpitations, shortness of breath or recent high blood pressure may mimic a heart condition.

Other systems that can be affected are the gastrointestinal system, including diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain; the skin, including itching and hives; and the endocrine system, including loss of control of diabetes, menstrual changes, marked weight loss or gain and aggravated low blood sugar.

To see if you are being affected by aspartame, eliminate all aspartame products for about two weeks. If some of your symptoms improve, you may then reintroduce aspartame and see if your symptoms return. If they do, you should probably eliminate aspartame entirely.

Mechanisms in the Biochemistry and Pharmacology of Aspartame which May Explain the Various Symptoms
Research over the past twenty years has shown that certain "natural" substances found in the body act as excitotoxins in the brain when found at high levels. These substances can overstimulate and kill brain cells, causing mild to severe brain damage. There has been speculation that this mechanism may help to explain such diseases as Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and Lou Gehrig's Disease. Examples of neuroexcitatory toxins in high concentrations are monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG and components or breakdown products of aspartame. The effects of these substances are both additive and cumulative.

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 About The Author
Michael Schachter MD, FACAM Director of the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine, Michael B. Schachter, M.D., is a 1965 graduate of Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. He is board certified in Psychiatry, a Certified Nutrition......more
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