From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Aspartame is Not Made from Poop

CREDIT: NutraSweet

Once during my time as a science education consultant, the fourth grade class was experimenting with yeast. One of the experiments involved putting a burning wooden splint in a test tube containing yeast to demonstrate that the yeast produces carbon dioxide. I told the students that the carbon dioxide was yeast farts.

Now I made sure the children knew I was kidding, and we went on to discuss how the yeast converted sugar into CO2.

When I saw the headline Aspartame is made from bacteria feces, patent confirms, I first thought that some PR person or editor was trying to grab the readers attention and having a little fun at the same time. But after reading this article and others, I realize that the authors and their editors must really think that aspertame comes from bacterial poop.

I can think of only one reasonable response. BULLSHIT.

The above article links to another article that helpfully links to the original patent. In the patent it describes very clearly - it helps to know some biology - how aspertame is produced.

Microbiologists insert a short strand of DNA into a bacterium. This bit of DNA instructs the cell to produce the protein (Asp-Phe)n. This protein consists of the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The scientists later cut this protein into smaller parts consisting of 2 aspartic acid molecules and 2 phenylalanine molecules and then market this as the artificial sweetener, NustraSweet.

So the scientists are taking advantage of the same cellular processes that your body uses to produce insulin, antibodies, cellular receptors, collagen, and enzymes. So if aspertame is made from bacterial poop then so are you.

When you eat proteins, your body breaks it down into the amino acids that compose the protein. So when you ingest Nutrasweet it breaks down into the the two amino acids. The only people who should not use NutraSweet are those who suffer from the genetic disorder phenylketonuria.  These people lack an enzyme that converts the amino acid phenylalanine into the amino acid tyrosine.

CREDIT: Fiskeren
But does this basic biology stop some from shouting "Danger ! Danger!"? Google "aspartame dangers" and you will come across the name Joseph Mercola. Check out QuackWatch's article on Mercola

A scientific statement on the safety of aspartame written by David G. Hattan, Ph.D., of the Division of Health Effects Evaluation at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is available from the FDA.

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