Is There Any Escaping Aspartame?
Flavor and Fizz
I get tired of drinking plain water. I know this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I just crave something with a little more oomph. I’ve given up soda because it’s just so bad, and while I don’t miss the sickeningly sweet taste (you know it must be bad for me to describe it that way), I do miss the carbonation. I love the fizz soda contains, which adds just the right “something extra” to an otherwise dull beverage.
So, hoping to capture the bubbly effect without going back to sugar-laden pop, I purchased several bottles of “naturally flavored” carbonated water. The flavor is wild cherry, a mild combination of sweet and smooth. And I enjoy the flavor and fizz so much that I’ve been drinking a full one-liter bottle each day over the last several days.
But something in my head told me that it can’t be this simple. There’s no way a delicious beverage that isn’t too sweet, is refreshingly carbonated, and contains zero sugars, calories, and sodium can exist without a catch. I was right. I read the ingredients on this beverage and found that it contains aspartame. That word leaped out at me, quickly sounding warning bells in my head. I did some research and quickly remembered why aspartame sounded so ominous; it’s described by some as “the most dangerous substance” currently used by food and beverage companies.
Aspartame accounts for more than 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Mercola. Ninety different symptoms and reactions are associated with aspartame, including:
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight gain
- Depression, fatigue, and irritability
- Breathing difficulties
- Anxiety attacks
- Memory loss
- Joint pain
In addition to its long list of troubling side effects, aspartame is also linked to seizures, cancer, and death. It’s hard to know, however, if these associations are based on evidence or hearsay. The American Cancer Society (ACS) states very clearly that lab tests performed on both animals and humans do not confirm aspartame as a carcinogen. The organization’s website contains the following:
“Many studies have looked for health effects in lab animals fed aspartame, often in doses higher than 4,000 mg/kg per day over their lifetimes. These studies have not found any health problems that are consistently linked with aspartame.”
Where human study subjects are concerned, the results are similar to those of animals: Consuming products that contain aspartame does not increase one’s risk of cancer.
Some conflicting reports, however, suggest that aspartame and cancer may have a muddier relationship than we think. A 22-year study published in 2012 and led by multiple medical schools “shows that drinking one or more aspartame-sweetened soft drinks per day increases the risk of several blood cancers in men.” This same increase was not observed in women. Today, the data from this study continues to be debated because the methodology and subsequent connection are described by scientists as “weak.”
Even the ACS admits that researchers have long debated the correlation between aspartame and cancer. It was once believed that large numbers of brain tumor cases in the U.S. during the 1980s were the result of aspartame use. But once they dug deeper, scientists realized these cases actually dated back to the early 1970s, well before aspartame joined the food and beverage market.
Merely the hint that aspartame is a carcinogen makes one raise his or her eyebrows. And the fact that scientists cannot definitively say whether or not aspartame is dangerous makes this substance that much more worrisome. As for me, I’m thinking I need to stick with plain old-fashioned water and be happy that it doesn't contain any questionable ingredients. Or does it?