It is no longer a secret that aspartame is a toxic and dangerous ingredient found in many foods. Even though it is still approved by the FDA, there have been numerous reports of aspartame poisoning surfacing. One of the reasons I wrote Unjunk Your Junk Food was to help educate people on how to protect themselves from these truly terrifying health risks. We interviewed Roseanna Curtale, a woman who suffered from aspartame poisoning, about her experience.
Andrea Donsky: Can you tell us a little bit about what symptoms you were experiencing before you realized you had aspartame poisoning?
Roseanna Curtale: The first symptom that I had was that I was constantly tired. I would fall asleep during the day and I just couldn't keep my eyes open. Also, I noticed my heart was starting to beat faster and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. At one point, I called the poison control center to see if my symptoms matched those of someone who had been poisoned.
I kept telling everyone, "I feel like I've been poisoned."
When it started getting really bad, I suffered from insomnia, severe shoulder pain, joint pain, and I started to lose my vision and my arms and legs were always falling asleep. I had horrible migraines and I was severely depressed. I also experienced memory loss, body tremors and a feeling like a brain jolt or shock combined with panic attacks (that was the really scary part). I never made the connection between all of these symptoms and aspartame and I couldn't figure out what could be causing all of these unrelated symptoms at once!
Andrea Donsky: How long did this go on for?
Roseanna Curtale: This went on for about 3 to 4 months and it got so bad that I could not get out of bed. My family started to get really worried.
Andrea Donsky: What did the doctors say?
Roseanna Curtale: They thought I was crazy and just gave me anti-anxiety medication and told me to not drink too much coffee. One doctor told me that a resting heart rate of 92 bpm was normal. I knew that was not normal for me and I knew it wasn't the coffee or the stress either. I did not take the medication because I also knew that the level of depression I was experiencing was not something normal for me. I was never a depressed person before. I knew something else was going on, I just couldn't figure out what it was. (Just a note… I have not had that type of depression in 6 years since quitting aspartame.)
Andrea Donsky: How did you figure out that it was aspartame poisoning?
Roseanna Curtale: I figured it out myself. I kept searching my symptoms online on a one-by-one basis, but once I entered all of my symptoms into a search together, the aspartame poisoning websites started popping up.
Andrea Donsky: How much aspartame were you ingesting?
Roseanna Curtale: I was probably drinking three to four diet sodas a day, and I was also consuming other sugar-free products like gum, and other diet products because I was always trying to watch my weight. What really sent me over the edge was the Atkins diet. I was satisfying my sweet tooth by eating a lot of sugar free products and using sugar free Jell-O. Eventually I learned that aspartame is even more toxic when it is heated. My symptoms began soon after the Atkins diet. The Atkins diet now discourages the use of aspartame.
Andrea Donsky: How soon after ingesting aspartame did you experience symptoms?
Roseanna Curtale: For me, it was a cumulative effect – I didn't experience symptoms immediately. I was drinking diet sodas every day for about 20 years with no apparent symptoms. When I look back now though, I do realize that I was experiencing memory loss and emotional issues. I just thought it was me, but now I'm not nearly as emotional (crying about everything under the sun) as I was many years before. I also could actually feel my memory coming back when I got all this poison out of my system and began to heal. Some people who have reactions to aspartame right away will be able to make the connection that they cannot tolerate it, but some people, like myself, tolerate it well but experience delayed reactions. The FDA does list 92 reported adverse reactions from aspartame, however, aspartame poisoning is very controversial because it is difficult to prove it's cumulative effects.
Andrea Donsky: How were you treated for aspartame poisoning?
Roseanna Curtale: None of my doctors would take me seriously, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I did a lot of research and eventually healed myself. Once I completely cut aspartame out of my diet, my symptoms started to disappear. I was so happy. It took a while but my energy came back as well as my happiness and I ended up feeling better than I had in many many years.
Andrea Donsky: How soon after cutting it out did your symptoms disappear/diminish?
Roseanna Curtale: It only took about two weeks until the panic attacks subsided, my vision came back during that time, and my heart rate went back to normal after about 4 weeks. Something I didn't realize was that I was ingesting MSG in my salad dressing. MSG and aspartame are very similar so I was having reactions to MSG as well. Once I got all that out of my system, my heart rate went back to normal permanently.
Andrea Donsky: Did you try anything else other than quitting aspartame cold turkey?
Roseanna Curtale: I tried a few detoxifying herbs like milk thistle and some other things, but what really made the biggest difference in my recovery was nutrition. I started eating whole, organic foods and my body was able to recover. The body is really an amazing thing when you treat it right. I started reading labels and realized how many chemicals and bad ingredients were in the foods I was eating. Even so-called healthy foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. The one thing that I am grateful for even after all the suffering I went through, is that I'm much more aware of the foods that I eat and learned how to eat healthy and what the term "whole foods" really means. It really is easy to make good choices if you are aware of them.
Andrea Donsky: Did you make a full recovery?
Roseanna Curtale: My body did recover but I feel like there was some irreparable damage. I'm still sensitive to certain chemicals and if I accidentally ingest aspartame, or MSG I'll have a reaction. That's why I read all labels very carefully now.
Andrea Donsky: Did your doctors do any testing for you to determine what you might have had?
Roseanna Curtale: During the time I had the aspartame poisoning, one doctor did do a blood test to determine what was causing my muscle twitching. He did an ANA test and it came back showing a speckled pattern. He thought I may have had lupus or arthritis – but those results came back negative. After I cut out all sources of aspartame, I was re-tested and the results came back normal (no speckled pattern on my blood cells). In my opinion, it seemed like the aspartame was acting like an autoimmune disorder in my body. A lot of people are being misdiagnosed with autoimmune diseases but they could in fact have aspartame poisoning or effects from aspartame. The last blood test I got, the results were really good. The doctor said I'll probably live till I'm 90!
Andrea Donsky: Do you have any advice for someone who suspects they have aspartame poisoning?
Roseanna Curtale: If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms that your doctor can't diagnose, and you are consuming sugar free products, it could be a negative reaction to aspartame. Do some research on aspartame poisoning and its adverse effects and cut it out of your diet to see if you feel better. You can also read about why aspartame is toxic and draw your own conclusion. It can be very lonely and scary going through something like aspartame poisoning and it's hard to find anyone who will believe you. There are aspartame support groups where you can get help. They helped me immensely.
Andrea Donsky: Do you have any advice for the diet soda addict?
Roseanna Curtale: It is an addiction. Even after I knew how bad aspartame was, I would still crave Diet Coke. It took a while for that craving to disappear, but I am happy to say that the addiction did eventually go away and I don't crave it anymore. A friend told me many years ago "that stuff [aspartame] will kill you." He was right and I was so wrong! I figured if the FDA said it was safe, it must be true. The reality is that the FDA says a lot of things are safe that are not. Do a Google search on how aspartame was approved…originally it wasn't. I was a Diet Coke addict, so I do understand the addiction and that people, (especially women), are constantly watching their weight and it helps you with that sugar craving. When I mention the dangers of aspartame, people tend to get very hostile, but if you really want to make an educated decision then just do the research and decide for yourself. Apparently there are studies now that show that aspartame can actually make you gain weight!
"Cut out aspartame for 3 months – make it a challenge – and see if you feel better. You will lose the addiction eventually, but it takes work."
Andrea Donsky: Any last words for our readers?
Roseanna Curtale: Read labels! Aspartame is everywhere – and it is in most chewing gum and not clearly labeled on the front so consumers don't realize it and then give it to their children! Watch out for MSG and hidden sources of MSG. Aspartame and MSG are both excitotoxins and aspartame can kill brain cells. Not good for kids or adults!
Andrea Donsky: Thanks for sharing your story, Roseanna!
You're welcome. It was a real pleasure.
Editor's Note: We wanted to share Roseanna's story with you because at Naturally Savvy we believe it's important to read the ingredients on food labels and avoid all chemical additives. The reason we decided to write our book, Unjunk Your Junk Food was because we want to empower you, our reader, to make better choices when grocery shopping. If you suspect you have aspartame poisoning, please consult a healthcare practitioner.