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Can Aspartame Cause ADHD?

You're probably familiar with the mechanism by which refined sugar in candy and sweets aggravates the symptoms of ADHD. Briefly speaking, the body metabolizes refined sugar quickly and causes a spike in energy levels. This triggers hyperactive and impulsive behavior. However, the effects of sugar wear off in half an hour and cause a "crash," which triggers the inattentive symptoms.  You might be wondering if aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are a safer alternative to refined sugar, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Aspartame is a chemical sweetener that can provoke the symptoms of ADHD in the same way artificial additives can.

Aspartame is made up of two naturally occurring amino acids – L-phenylalanine, and L-aspartic acid.  When it is digested by the body, aspartame gets broken down into these basic amino acids, including methanol and phenylalanine.  Studies show that children with a genetic disease called phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition that prevents the proper utilization of phenylalanine, may be in danger of severe ADHD symptoms if they consume high amounts of aspartame.  If left undetected and untreated, PKU can cause slow brain development, mental retardation, and impaired brain function.  Learning disabilities, seizures, and hyperactive behavior are just some of the problems found in PKU children.   

Other research shows that some manufacturers of aspartame fail to adhere to internationally recognized safety standards.  Poorly-made aspartame breaks down into formic acid and the chemical preservative formaldehyde if exposed to warm temperatures.  Formaldehyde is a strong neurotoxin that can cause severe damage to the nervous system and eyes. This is why aspartame consumption can lead to blurry vision, headaches, and behavioral problems like ADHD.

Instead of using aspartame as an alternative to refined sugar, try using natural sweeteners like raw agave nectar and raw honey.  Both are enzyme-rich substances that taste wonderful and do not produce hyperactive symptoms if taken in moderation.  Another alternative is natural stevia extract, because it contains no calories and no sugar, making it safe for those who have diabetes.  When baking, you can try using molasses, barley malt, or rice syrup.  If you're having trouble getting the texture of your dough right using liquid sweeteners, look for recipe books on baking without refined sugar.

Alternatives to soda include natural fruit juice, but you need to exercise caution when selecting your drink at the supermarket.  Most processed fruit drinks claim to be all "natural" and made from "real" fruit juice when they actually contain mostly sugar and artificial flavor.  One way to discern processed fruit juice from real fruit juice is to watch out for ingredients like aspartame and sucralose, an artificial sweetener that comes from refined sugar.   Keep an eye out for artificial colorings (labeled with a color and number, e.g., Orange 3) as well. Finally, all foods and drinks carrying the "organic" label have to adhere to certain standards overseen by a certification body.  Check packaging for the name of the certifying body that guarantees the authenticity of the organic label.