My Experience with Artificial Sweeteners

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I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should write this article. I’ve never written anything quite so personal before. But recently, someone whom I know has been experiencing problems that might be attributed to artificial sweeteners, so I’ve decided that if this article helps one single person, then it was worth it. So please read it and see if anything I say about artificial sweeteners might ring true in your life. This is not a sympathy article, so please don’t feel any obligation to comment on it. I am quite alright these days.

This is an actual personal experience that I had between 1988 and 1993 (and beyond)

I began drinking diet soda while I worked at Pacific Scientific in early 1988. I had a daily routine of stopping by the store in the office complex for a diet soda in the afternoons. By October of that year I was no longer working for that company, but shortly thereafter I started having migraine headaches. I continued to drink diet soda at home. Within a few months time I became pretty much disabled by the frequency and intensity of headaches. I spent more than one day on the bathroom floor with my face on the base of the commode because it was cool and seems to relieve the pain. Often I would crawl on the floor like an animal, writhing in agony and helpless to do anything about it. I kicked several holes in our bedroom wall while lying on the bed thrashing about in pain, so when things got really bad I rolled out of the rack and onto the floor. I would spend hours on the floor of our home. The typical event duration was 6 to 9 hours of intense, agonizing pain, followed by a period of mental fog where I couldn’t function as an adult. It took about 10 months (if memory serves) for the sensitivity to develop. Please keep this in mind.

These headaches took away everything worth living for. From that point on I did not care if I lived or died. Things would happen like I would go to cross the street not noticing a large truck bearing down on me. Upon realization I wouldn’t bother to move out of the way. When one gets to that point there is no more progress on anything. They are completely arrested.

It wasn’t until 1991 that my MD figured out that the cause was most likely sensitivity to artificial sweeteners. The above activities went on the entire time for the better part of three years.

During that time he had prescribed anti-migraine medication that wasn’t working – because the cause wasn’t normal, but rather a chemical allergy only no one knew it at the time. I remember once I had a real head banger and my wife (at the time) got so scared she paged the doctor who told her that I must be having an aneurysm or other brain trauma because I was on the anti-migraine medication. Even in the induced mental fog, I somehow knew the problem wasn’t physiological. I was able to persuade her that I wasn’t going to die (but I certainly wanted to). I just rode it out on the floor of the bathroom.

I went to see my doctor later that week and he scheduled me for a CAT scan after that horrible episode. He was determined to find the cause. The scan found absolutely nothing wrong with me. Now my MD was really stumped…. After several more weeks, at another office visit he remembered reading something about artificial sweeteners and migraine headaches. He asked “Do you drink diet soda?” and it was like a movie-in-real-life, where the camera comes up close to the subject. My eyes began to tear. “YES!” and then I suddenly recalled that all my problems began after I started drinking diet soda. Now it all became very clear, and I was angry at myself for not seeing the connection before.

I stopped drinking diet soda immediately. I wish I could say that my troubles stopped immediately but they didn’t. My headaches got even worse now that I wasn’t getting that neuro-transmitter my body had become used to. It was like a withdrawal syndrome that a drug addict experiences. My MD said that I just didn’t have the enzymatic pathways to process the chemical sweetener.

The stupidity of modern mankind is staggering. The Romans had special metal vessels that were used to sweeten wine. They didn’t know any better than to use them. Eventually the entire wine-drinking population went mad because of lead poisoning. Nowadays we have food products that are sweetened with a substance discovered when a scientist (for whatever reason) tasted his fingers that had been holding a beaker of some sweet tasting chemical stuff that had dripped down the outside. We do know better. Will we ever learn?

Impact On My Life

I remember once, some good friends of ours invited my wife and I over to their home for dinner. I had become nearly a recluse because the frequency of headaches was on average 5 per week (even 2 per day on some days). The wife had prepared a fantastic meal of all my favorites. I sat down to eat and no more than 20 minutes had passed when I felt that twinge in my head that told me in 15 minutes I wouldn’t be able to see or function. To this day I get very sad thinking about that moment. The wife had spent so much effort to have us over for a nice evening and I couldn’t even hold it together long enough for that. I left their home with tears of appreciation and embarrassment on my face. The truth is, I never went back to their home again, but only because I was too disabled.

Depression is a side effect of migraine headaches. This experience took all the life right out of me. I went from a young, vibrant, positive and capable man to a completely useless in a matter of a few years. Even after the frequency of the headaches had diminished to a “reasonable” level, I still was left with serious damage to my countenance. I had been, for all intents and purposes, been physically tortured for several years. I used to joke that no one could get me to talk about anything because there wasn’t anything that could be done to me that would hurt worse than what I had become used to.

I began a new recording project in 1990. While in the studio during the very first recording session, I had a headache and had to wait for several hours until it diminished enough for me to return to work. While my fellow musicians sat in the control room of a 20 million dollar recording studio and waited for me, I laid on the cottage bed in agony. Further down the line came the realization that my public performing career was pretty much over as I couldn’t risk booking a show only to have a headache completely disable me.

Even when I didn’t have an actual headache, I was often in some kind of mental fog. I remember people asking me directions to places that I knew, but I couldn’t tell them how to get there. I also couldn’t be relied upon to count my own change. I couldn’t say names of places and things sometimes.

I didn’t really recover well enough to work until sometime in 1992, but even then I missed opportunities (I worked as a broadcast engineering contractor) because I couldn’t function. Sometimes I would drive to a job site and have to turn around or even worse, park somewhere and ride it out in the car because I was too far away and couldn’t make it back home in time. Only the frequency diminished however – the intensity remained. When it got to the point where I would have only 1 headache per week, I considered myself fortunate. During this time I had managed to record some new songs for a new album but the pace was agonizingly slow.

As late as 1998 I was still getting occasional headaches. Nowadays I can give myself a good one by drinking alcohol and not sleeping, but these days I don’t get them very often.

When you have something like this happen to you, you are desperate to stop it. I bought acupuncture needles and I studied how to use them myself. I got very good at stopping a migraine and actually reversing the effects. It’s too bad that I didn’t develop this skill until after I went through the worst of it. If I get a headache I can use 3 needles and stop it in 20 minutes.

In December of 1993 I was seriously injured and I couldn’t walk without a cane for more than a year (I couldn’t walk at all for several weeks after). It’s fortunate that my headaches had diminished by then because I do not think I could have handled both medical problems concurrently. In all, just about 10 years of my life have been robbed because of those two problems that occurred back-to-back. When I look back on my life during those times, it’s a wonder that I accomplished anything at all. I can certainly say that I lost my prime years. I spent them on nothing. Looking out the window mostly. I do remember thinking that I was going to really regret wasting that time but at the moment I was powerless to do anything about it.

These days, every day is a beautiful day. I truly appreciate every breath that I take. I try to concentrate on what’s really important, and even though I’m 51 (in 2007) now I still feel like I might be able to accomplish something after all. I can never take things like politics or sports seriously and I don’t have time for debates or pointless competitions. I have a beautiful young wife and I’m looking forward to doing things that are enjoyable and bring her happiness. In some ways, my life in Taiwan has made up for the past.

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27 comments

  1. MJ, thanks for sharing your story. I am also a fellow migraine sufferer, and can attest to how debilitating a migraine can be. When I get my aura before a migraine hits, I know I will be out for the rest of the day in a dark, quiet room in pain and also suffering the side effects of the medications that are supposed to relieve the pain. The next day I also have the brain fog you speak of. I have always avoided nutrasweet because of the association, but am now also sensitive to blue cheese and aged meat products. My migraines have not been as bad as yours, but when mine act up, I also get really depressed. You don’t want people at work to think you are trying to shirk work.

    I have heard acupuncture has been great at reducing migraines, and want to look into this some more. I have also heard of taking more vitamins (B2 and magnesium) to reduce the frequency of migraines.

    Sandy’s last blog post..Exploring Ximending

  2. Sandy » i have a set of needles and i’ve been self treating myself for headaches for years. it works! there are 3 points that i use: one on each hand, and one on the forehead. originally i had included information about acupuncture, but i declined to post it at the last minute. now i wish that i had. if i get a bad headache i can use 3 needles and get relief in about 20 minutes. it’s an amazing medical technique. sorry to hear that you also suffer from these horrible things….

  3. Wow, I am so amazed that three needles can relieve your pain so quickly! That must have been a godsend to learn. A family friend of mine is actually an acupuncturist so I will have to ask him about it and look into this method again. Unfortunately he is halfway across the country. Otherwise I would have already sought another round of acupuncture. I did 5 weeks of acupuncture therapy for my migraines about 8 years ago and I didn’t get a migraine for 1.5 years. I usually don’t get that many migraines, so I wasn’t sure at that time if it was a fluke or not. But it makes sense that acupuncture would make a difference because it is all about stimulating the right nerves in the body to relieve pain, and migraines are basically from dilated blood vessels in the brain touching off nerves.

    Sandy’s last blog post..Exploring Ximending

  4. Sandy » the first time i tried it on myself, i couldn’t believe that it was working. there had to be a reason why the pain was going away – it was just too simple. but over time i’ve proved to myself and others who were in such pain and asked me to try the needles on them – it works and it’s so simple that i wish i’d found it sooner. the needles allow the chi to flow in or out – whatever it needs to put things back in to balance.

  5. What’s so frustrating about a condition like that besides causing agony and taking the joy out of living is that people don’t believe you and think you are crazy, want attention, or are making it up for some other reason.

    Modern “food” if you can call it that is loaded with artificial stuff. I never had your headaches, I got terrible stomach pain. I had to quit eating cold cuts, I can only eat french fries that are hand made at a local restaurant since the big chains cause my guts agony. I drink sodas without high-fructose corn syrup, and now eat yogurt everyday. I can’t eat at most western chain restaurants. I’m fine at Asian restaurants, as long as I avoid westernized dishes. Salted fish fried rice yes. Korean BBQ yes, yes!! General Tzo no no no.

    I shop mostly at a natural grocery store or asian supermarkets. There must be some sort of preservative or additive in the food carried by western supermarkets.

    On the bright side, I’ve lost 20 pounds and kept it off since I switched to this diet 4 years ago, need less sleep, have a lot more energy, and am really enjoying my life.

    owshawng’s last blog post..Playtime’s Over

  6. owshawng » you touch on some excellent points – thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    yes, people around you (like most situations where one cannot truly understand the sufferings of another) often make stupid “suggestions.” referring to the intensely depressed state i was in after finding myself in ruins, one friend said “Why don’t you just snap out of it?” yeah, really effing dumb. i assured him that i’d like nothing better than to snap out of it, but snapping his ignorant neck would be easier by a thousandfold. not sure if he got it but the stupid suggestions stopped.

    i’m sure there are substances in food that are put there purposefully to screw people up. how else can the medical cartel make money except for sick people? i’m getting into an area that i don’t often discuss (mainly out of fear) but things are not as they might seem – that is for certain. at least in Taiwan you can go to a small private restaurant and get something prepared pretty much as it would be prepared for a family eating at home. i’m convinced that things like “acid reflux disease” are modern, artificially induced conditions, and many other countries don’t have them. if you want to have a revealing experience, find a group of old timers somewhere and engage them in a conversation about food. let them tell you about eating huge amounts of real butter, bacon fat, pork, beef duck, sugar, etc. (and also cooked in cast iron – an important point), and how they never heard of Alzheimer’s disease, or how no one they knew in those days suffered from heart attacks. they will also tell you that they are not stupid enough to buy into the insane notion that eating animal fat causes it to magically transform into human fat.

    i avoid all of those fake products, like fake sweeteners, fake fats, etc.. it’s not worth the risk to me.

  7. nhbushman,

    I agree that a lot of our modern illnesses are caused by the artificial stuff in our food. Some A UK study think 25 to 40% of behavioral and learning problems are linked to food additives and artificial colors. And don’t even get me started about advertisements of fast food or garbage cereals directed at children. Talk about getting you hooked at a young age. There were so many of those adds I only let my kid watch commercial free TV like PBS or Noggin.

    I love my cast iron skillet and dutch oven. They are so versatile. Those non stick stuff are probably toxic. I’ve read stories about people’s pet birds die when they use the non stick stuff to cook. If it can kill a bird with the fumes, do you think it might be a bit harmful to your health? I only use cast iron, a few stainless steel pots, and a 40 year old copper bottom pot and pan set And I eat beef noodle soup, ground pork, and salmon, along with natural and organic pasta, cereals, and breads
    plus lots of fruit and vegetables.

    owshawng’s last blog post..Playtime’s Over

  8. Wow! It really sucks that you had to go through so much pain before getting to the root of the cause! Okay, maybe this is a stupid question, but what about Splenda? I have a friend who is deathly allergic to the aspertame in most artificial sweeteners, but I guess Splenda is okay. I’m just curious to know if Splenda is some kind of new miracle artificial sweetener, or if it’s just as bad as all the others.

    Cahleen’s last blog post..My mom and stepdad love me!

  9. owshawng » wow…. i didn’t know that (about the UK study) but i believe it! copy you on the ads aimed at kids. it’s disgraceful isn’t it?

    man, now you are talking with your cast iron skillet and Dutch oven. good for your health and causes no harm. i used to own a parrot and i wouldn’t allow teflon or other non-stick cookware in my home because of just what you said. i remember reading about a family sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner only to find that all their beloved pet birds were laying on the bottom of the cage dead. someone had accidentally put a non-stick casserole pan in the oven to keep it warm and it overheated, releasing deadly fumes that killed their birds in just minutes. so as you said, might that be a bit harmful to your health? one would think so! thanks for your comments owshawng. your contributions to the discuss are informative.

  10. Cahleen » honestly, since i had my experience i haven’t been willing to try anything else. i’m not even sure if you can get it in Taiwan. we don’t have salt, pepper or sugar bowls on dinner tables here. now that i look back on that growing up, it seems strange that we had a bowl of sugar on our dining room table. i don’t miss it now but as a kid i used to sweeten lots of things. most people in Taiwan seem to know about aspertame and consider it as something bad. artificial sweeteners are very rare in coffeehouses in my personal experience. we have what is called “coffee sugar” which is a rough grained dark sugar that comes in a long thin pack. i normally don’t drink coffee and when i do, i don’t like it very sweet. these days its real sugar, butter, fat and boobs for me! (sorry, but i just had to throw that in you understand!)

  11. Mark » i’m skeptical of any artificial foods now. i hope that my experience can help others figure out if they might be suffering from the same problem. in the meantime i’ll stick with fructose and sugar. thanks.

  12. Your welcome thenhbushman.

    I want to get a cast iron muffin set and maybe a bread or cake pan also. Virtually everything in the US for baking is nonstick whose country of origin’s safety levels is a bit suspect. Plus I’ve made banana bread in my skillet a few times and it was incredible. Great carmelization.

    I also have a cast iron skillet/grill. It’s a skillet with raised ridges on it. It’s great if you don’t have the space for an outdoor grill. Had to retire it till March though. It smokes a bit so I have to open the windows. Since it is now 17 F/-8 C over here in North New Jersey it’s a little inconvenient to open the windows.

    owshawng’s last blog post..Playtime’s Over

  13. Yes, it’s interesting how dietary fat is no longer seen as the enemy. Carbs are the new fat. I bought some salad dressing the other day from Costco and on the label it proclaimed not “No fat” but “0 g Carbs”. Best way to lose weight apparently is to cut out wheat completely – no noodles, bread, cake. Easier said than done though !

    naruwan’s last blog post..Out and about on my bike

  14. owshawng » there are some outfitter stores like Cabela’s that have cast griddles and baking pans. you can bake very well in a Dutch oven. i’ve baked many a cake over a campfire. my next attempt will be pizza in a Dutch oven! i would love to sample your banana bread! btw, i do know that skillet you are referring to. it’s a good one for cooking bacon, as it allows the grease to drain away easily. i had one and i had to leave it back in the US. too bad! i don’t envy those temperatures though! thanks owshawng 🙂

  15. naruwan » i knew about carbs years ago. i used to make fun of those low fat adherents by asking them by what process does animal fat transform itself into human fat, lol. Dr. Atkins had it right, although many people hate to admit it. i knew of men who exercised regularly and often quite hard, ate meat and lots of supposedly bad things like butter, yet remained trim and fit. i specifically remember that one of our friends was puzzled by her cholesterol numbers. she kept saying “but i do everything right – i eat low fat, while my husband eats lots of meat and fat, and his numbers are great!” the missing element was the exercise. her husband spent his evenings on the weight bench. normally if a person rides a bicycle a couple of times per week they can pretty much eat whatever and maintain a good body weight. do you remember when Suzanne Sommers came out with an infomercial where she admitted that all along they were wrong about fat? my jaw dropped!

    another very important consideration is minerals, especially trace elements like chromium that are extremely important as insulin regulators. wow, i could do an entirely new blog just on this topic alone!

  16. Wow MJ, I remember at the Taiwan Beer Bar you mentioning that Diet Coke had taken away 3 years of your life when you spotted someone at our table with a can. I had no idea at the time that your experience was this bad. Thank you for sharing, there are a couple people I care about that need to read this.

    Todd’s last blog post..I?ve been tagged! [twice!]

  17. Todd » that stuff needs to be banned worldwide. i remember once, talking with a young woman i had randomly met somewhere (if memory serves we were seated at adjoining tables at a restaurant). she related to me how her mother was suffering from migraine headaches and her doctor was stumped. i asked her if her mother drank diet sodas and the reply was “she loves [brand name] and drinks it all the time.” my eyes started to water…. it was only a few months after my MD had figured out what my problem was and i had a hard time handling the thought of another person going though what i was going through. i told her about my experience and i could see the pain in that woman’s eyes. she quickly left so she could go and tell her mother.

    what really scares me is that i’ve seen television ads with world leaders drinking a popular brand. the sweetener is a neuro-transmitter and it changes your thinking process!

  18. Farmed fish vs wild have a lot of toxins (pcbs, mercury, etc). That’s why I will always get Wild Alaskan fish.

    The company that made aspartame had a CEO and his name was Donald Rumsfield…

  19. Mitesh » it depends on where. in Taiwan, fish farms are family run businesses on privately owned land, near the person’s home usually. why does that name keep popping up?

  20. MJ,

    I just found out my mother can’t drink diet soda, it hurts her stomach.

    What about those powder diet drinks? I’ve known 5 people who had to have gall bladders removed. Everyone had been on a popular diet shake for months. I’d rather carry an extra inch around my waist then go under the knife from some toxic diet drink.

    owshawng’s last blog post..Penang, Malaysian and Thai Cuisine

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  22. Michael, I saw a report about four or five years ago (maybe on CNN, maybe on CBC or CTV in Canada, I’m not sure) which depicted aspartame being a really big problem for commercial pilots. Oddly enough, that’s the last I heard of it. I wonder how the problem was dealt with?

    1. hi Thoth. well my guess is that it wasn’t handled. there is too much money on the line. it’s too bad but i missed out on the class action lawsuit by 2 years. i didn’t know about it but my life was certainly ruined by that poison. thanks Thoth.

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