In the course of researching patient cases and working on my next book, I read a lot of research studies. Sometimes, I come across information that wasn’t really what I was looking for, but is fascinating!
I have several patients who have chronic Lyme disease (yes, there is such a thing, but that’s a different subject…) and neurologic problems from depression/anxiety to failing memory, movement disorders, and even seizures are often commonplace in this type of patient. I was looking up more information about how oxidative stress, one of the underlying processes that drives neurologic problem progression, affects the brain. Along the way, I came across this study about N-acetyl cysteine and Aspartame.
N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, is a precursor to glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) and as such it is a great tool to help reduce oxidative stress. Aspartame, more commonly known as NutraSweet, is a very common artificial sweetener.
This research study (see link below) was published in the journal Neurochemical Research in 2014, looked at NAC being used to protect the brain from the effects of Aspartame. Now mind you, if you ask 50 random people if they think NutraSweet is safe, most will claim it is and offer you a tinfoil hat if you mention anything about Monsanto and conspiracy to push the product to market. However, that is actually now an accepted fact, as Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle in 1985-the very company that held the patent to aspartame. In 1980 the FDA had banned aspartame, because the Board of Inquiry found that it might cause brain tumors. The Searle chairman at the time vowed he would get it approved. The chairman would later become famous as the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. A new FDA commissioner was appointed, who added people to the FDA board, and personally voted to break a tie and make aspartame legal. He later became employed by a public relations firm contracted by Monsanto and GD Searle. This product is now used in over 6,000 products, including over 500 different drugs.
The study in the Journal of Neurochemical Research matter-of-factly states that “Long-term intake of aspartame at the acceptable daily dose causes oxidative stress in rodent brain mainly due to the dysregulation of glutathione homeostasis”. It goes on to explain that aspartame reduced several antioxidant levels that are critical to brain health. They did find that NAC was able to exert a protective effect on the brain when it had been exposed to aspartame’s toxic effects.
One more tidbit is revealed in the study: “However, N-acetylcysteine was unable to reduce serum glucose levels, which were increased as a result of aspartame administration.” Another study evaluated the microbiome’s metabolism of aspartame and found that the end product is a short chain fatty acid, propionate, which raises blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. In case that didn’t make sense to you, it makes blood sugar go up and insulin not work as well-building blocks of Type 2 diabetes. Isn’t the whole reason that people choose an artificial sweetener the idea that it won’t raise blood glucose like real carbohydrates would? Looks like it doesn’t really work that way! Now ask yourself why this isn’t more common knowledge…
In case you were wondering, that isn’t the only study that shows toxic effects of NutraSweet. Others have shown elevated cytokine levels (inflammation), as well as harmful/imbalancing effects on the gut microbiome.
Sometimes it is best to go back to what the body evolved and optimized to consume as food. The key word there is food, not chemistry! While many people are attempting to be on low-carb and Paleo diets to promote weight loss and health, the use of artificial sweeteners is definitely not a good addition to these diets. Some diets, such as South Beach, are actually recommending the full-fledged replacement of all simple carbs with artificial sweeteners. Many diabetics, the very people who need more insulin sensitivity and better glucose control, rely on very large doses of artificial sweeteners that are far above what is used in studies. For those pursuing a more traditional approach, the facts are even more clear. Consider that Paleo is supposed to mean Paleolithic; cave-dweller or hunter-gatherer. For 99+ percent of human existence, we’ve eaten meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts-essentially whatever could be picked, dug up, gathered, or killed in the region and season being occupied. I’m pretty certain that didn’t include Monsanto’s chemical cocktails.
Impact of aspartame and saccharin on the rat liver: Biochemical, molecular, and histological approach.
Alkafafy Mel-S, Ibrahim ZS, Ahmed MM, El-Shazly SA.
Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2015 Jun;28(2):247-55. doi: 10.1177/0394632015586134. Epub 2015 May 26.
Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.
Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, Elinav E.
Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. doi: 10.1038/nature13793. Epub 2014 Sep 17.