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Artificial Sweetener (aspartame)

This is an interesting article on the artificial sweetener aspartame (Canderal here in SA). Not only is there no good evidence that artificial sweeteners aid weight control, there is also evidence linking aspartame to adverse effects on health.

aspartameFor example, aspartame liberates methanol into the body which can be converted to formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), which has recently been added to the official ‘cancer-causing’ list of chemicals in the US. Animal work shows that aspartame at permitted levels increases the risk of several types of cancer.

A piece in a rheumatology journal describes what appears to be aspartame’s ability to induce fibromyalgia. This condition is characterised by pain and tenderness in the muscles. The paper describes two ‘case studies’ in whom fibromyalgia appears to be caused by ingestion of aspartame. The first of these concerns a 50-year-old woman whose symptoms of fibromyalgia (more than 10 years standing) evaporated on holiday when not consuming aspartame. The symptoms returned when she came home and resumed aspartame use, but resolved again once the aspartame was stopped once more. Patients often report that their fibromyalgia symptoms have resolved when on holiday. The first thing to think about here is sunshine and vitamin D, because vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle pain, and boosting vitamin D does seem to have the capacity to resolve this symptom.

It is possible that in this woman’s case, sunlight and other factors had something to do with the resolution of her symptoms while abroad. However, the fact that her symptoms resolved on exclusion of aspartame strongly suggests this substance was the primary cause of her symptoms. The second case described in the article was a 43-year-old man who had suffered with pain in his neck, forearms, wrists and hands for 3 years. Removing aspartame from his diet resolved his symptoms.

Case studies such as these don’t prove that these individuals’ symptoms were due to aspartame – it is possible that their improvement was due to the placebo response and the recurrence of symptoms due to what is called the ‘nocebo’ response (like the placebo response, but when the response is negative rather than positive). However, observations such as these can be the start of advancement in our understanding of the effect of treatments and should not be dismissed. Certainly, if you are suffering from generalised pain and fibromyalgia, and consuming aspartame, it is highly advisable to stop it as a matter of course. Bearing in mind the fact that there is no good evidence that aspartame has benefits for health, you will have nothing to lose by eliminating it, other than perhaps your ‘unexplained’ symptoms.

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