Blue packets of Equal are common on most restaurant tables and in many people’s homes. Many prefer this low-cal artificial sweetener to others on the market and feel that using it helps them cut calories. Equal is a commercial brand containing the compound aspartame, sometimes marketed as NutraSweet. Some researchers connect aspartame with adverse side effects, while others say it is perfectly safe.
Texas nutritionist Dr. Janet Starr Hull founded an organization called the GoldStarr Research Foundation that researches aspartame and its effects. Dr. Hull cites a number of neurological problems linked with aspartame. She claims that the reason for these adverse reactions is that the human body actually digests aspartame and deposits it throughout the body. This differs from saccharine, which the body cannot digest. Some of the neurological side effects associated with the sweetener are seizures, headaches, tremors and dizziness.
Dr. Hull’s research indicates that aspartame effects may mimic symptoms of several chronic illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and lupus. Dr. Hull’s position is that aspartame poisons the body and produces these symptoms. She believes aspartame changes the composition of amino acids in the body.
St. Cloud University published a fact sheet in 2008 stating that there may be a link between aspartame and cancer. It points out that there have been only a few independent studies done on it, so there is no definite answer as to its status as a carcinogen. The university recommends using natural sugar if possible and limiting your intake of all artificial sweeteners.
Many researchers disagree that aspartame is harmful. Environment, Health and Safety Online (EHSO) is an independent organization of professionals that provides information for consumers. It states that the FDA allowed aspartame onto the market only after it went through over 100 scientific trials. According to EHSO, although it is true that aspartame is digested, it is made up of compounds already found in the body and in natural foods, and there is no definitive link between aspartame and adverse side effects.