Though it has a similar calorific value to sugar (around 4 kCal/g), aspartame has 200 times the sweetening power! You can therefore use far lower quantities of this sweetener and obtain the same results as sugar (1).
Given that the WHO recommends we obtain no more than 10% of our daily calorie intake from ‘free’ sugars to avoid its associated health problems (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental caries, excess weight, etc) (2), consumers and manufacturers have turned to aspartame in their droves in an effort to find the same sugary taste (or as a flavour-enhancer, in products like crackers) of their favourite products.
Aspartame is thus found in thousands of products across the world, from diet soft drinks and yogurts, to crackers, salad dressings and even canned meats and vegetables.
It seems that consuming aspartame can raise levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in the brain, compounds which potentially inhibit the production and release of neurotransmitters which are known regulators of neurophysiological activity (3).
Aspartame also acts as a chemical stress factor in elevating plasma cortisol levels and generating excess free radicals. And raised cortisol levels and over-production of free radicals can make the brain more vulnerable to oxidative stress, which in turn can have adverse effects of neurobehavioral health.
What’s more, recent, high-profile research suggests that exposure to aspartame produces changes in the expression of genes regulating the excitation-inhibition balance in the amygdala, an area of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear responses. Worse still is that these effects may be trans-generational (4), ultimately affecting three generations!
That’s why the authors of this research strongly recommend avoiding aspartame to minimise any associated risk of anxiety or depression.
This comes on the back of another study, led by France’s Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team, made up of scientists from Inserm, INRAE, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord and CNAM, which feeds into ongoing re-evaluation of this controversial sweetener by the EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) because of the increased cancer risk associated with it (5).
It’s therefore highly advisable to avoid aspartame and sweeteners in general, especially if you are prone to anxiety, stress, sleep problems or symptoms of depression.
In an ideal world, we should try to gradually wean ourselves off sugar, instead choosing more natural products and replacing the sugar present in, for example, yogurts and fromage blanc, with juicy fresh fruit (pears, kiwi, peaches, etc) or dried fruit such as raisins.
It may help in this regard to start by replacing white sugar with whole sugar (cane, coconut, beet, etc.), maple syrup or honey ( or agave syrup).
It’s also important to avoid ultra-processed foods as much as possible, as they often contain sweeteners (including the low-cost aspartame), consumption of which has long been associated with an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
And obviously fizzy drinks, of all kinds have no place within a healthy balanced diet.
If you like to chew gum, think about what’s in it and instead choose chewing gum that’s free from sweeteners, artifical flavourings and antioxidants (such as Mastic Gum Elma, a naturally refreshing chewing gum containing essential oil of Chios mastic).
If you suffer from problems of anxiety or depression, whether or not related to excessive aspartame consumption, there are natural remedies with multiple benefits you can try.
An Ayurvedic plant used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine, ashwagandha is an adaptogen plant the benefits of which are recognised by health authorities. It helps promote optimal relaxation, emotional balance and general well-being. Ashwagandha thus provides excellent support in periods of emotional stress and anxiety (6). It comes in capsule form (such as the vegetarian capsules of Super Ashwagandha, which has the highest content of active principles on the market).
In addition, magnesium is an essential mineral that supports normal psychological function and helps reduce fatigue. Meanwhile vitamin B1 plays a role in ensuring the nervous system works properly, and passiflora helps to induce a state of calm, increases the body’s resistance to stress and promotes restorative sleep. Combined in a synergistic supplement, these three natural remedies constitute the perfect aid for fighting anxiety and stress (cf. Stress Relief Formula) (7-8).
Last but not least, many people find it helpful to take an analogue of coenzyme Q10, for combatting oxidative stress, which as we’ve seen, can cause anxiety problems.
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