Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Phenylalanine is the main culprit of allergies and all sorts of other problems for hundreds of thousands of people. It's in all sorts of pain medications - which, really, is just great when I need to relieve the arthritis pain, and have no more Aleve... And it's in just about any diet thing out there... and, sadly, every kind of gum aside from Dentyne fire and Big red. But I'm starting to think that there's a good side to why I'm allergic to it...

Inherited metabolic condition in which the liver of a child cannot control the level of phenylalanine (an amino acid derived from protein food) in the bloodstream. The condition must be detected promptly and a special diet started in the first few weeks of life if brain damage is to be avoided. Untreated, it causes stunted growth, epilepsy, and severe mental

So this stuff has formic acid and formaldehyde in it. Formaldehyde you should recognize as the wonderful preservative that gives grandma that freshly dead look at the altar in her coffin. Formic acid has a smell that, if you have pests, you're all too aware of. You ever squish an ant, and then wonder why your fingers smell so bad? That's formic acid. And every time you have a
diet soda or flavored water, a light yogurt, or even a piece of your favorite non-cinnamon, non-kid-oriented gum, that's what you're eating. Yum!
Although phenylalanine is somewhat of an essential thing to have in your body, the amount that's in our food today is extremely troubling.
With Turkey day coming up, try to chew on this. Although this chemical is very, very bad in high doses, when mixed with tryptophan (that additive in your holiday turkey that makes you all sleepy -- and you thought it was just your boring family!), it helps to create an intestinal hormone called cholecystokinin, which helps you to digest things via tasty intestinal mucosa. So tasty!
Phenylalanine helps to make tyrosine and, together, they makeup thyroxine or thyroid hormone and adrenaline and noradrenaline which is converted into a neurotransmitter, a brain chemical which transmits nerve impulses. This neurotransmitter is used by the brain to manufacture noradrenaline which promotes mental alertness, memory, elevates mood and suppresses the appetite very effectively. Hence its presence in diet foods.

The danger of phenylalanine to phenylketuronics [people allergic to the phenyl group] is that they are unable to metabolize phenylalanine properly. Because of their inability to metabolize phenylalanine, it builds up in the blood in the form of phenylperuvic acid. High levels of phenylperuvic acid in the blood can cause a number of problems including mental retardation, muscle aches and pains and even seizures. Because of this phenylketuronics must be very careful of their diets and avoid the ingestion of phenylalanine.

Aspartame is a compound of two amino acids -- aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Because it is essentially half phenylalanine, people who have the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU) and cannot metabolize phenylalanine normally need to avoid diet drinks and other products containing aspartame (trade name: NutraSweet). It has been shown that ingesting aspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excess levels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not have PKU.
Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia (cardiac arrhythmia), insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.
That's not all...
The following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame: Brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, parkinson's disease, alzheimer's, mental retardation, lymphoma (that's right, cancer!), birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.
Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels of seratonin in the brain to decrease, leading to emotional disorders such as depression.
Another fun study a la Supersize Me...
One account of a case of extremely high phenylalanine levels caused by aspartame was recently published the "Wednesday Journal" in an article titled "An Aspartame Nightmare." John Cook began drinking six to eight diet drinks every day. His symptoms started out as memory loss and frequent headaches. He began to crave more aspartame-sweetened drinks. His condition deteriorated so much that he experienced wide mood swings and violent rages. Even though he did not suffer from PKU, a blood test revealed a phenylalanine level of 80 mg/dl. He also showed abnormal brain function and brain damage. After he kicked his aspartame habit, his symptoms improved dramatically.
The genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) is the inability to metabolize phenylalanine. Individuals with this disorder are known as "phenylketonurics" and must abstain from consumption of phenylalanine. This dietary restriction also applies to pregnant women with hyperphenylalanine (high levels of phenylalanine in blood) because they do not properly metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. Persons suffering from PKU must monitor their intake of protein to control the buildup of phenylalanine as their bodies convert protein into its component amino acids.
A related issue is the compound present in many sugarless gums and mints, snack foods, sugarless soft drinks (such as diet sodas including CocaCola Zero, Pepsi Max, some forms of Lipton Tea, Clear Splash flavored water), and a number of other low calorie food products. The artificial sweetener aspartame, sold under the names "Equal" and "NutraSweet", is an ester that is hydrolyzed in the body to give phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol (wood alcohol). The
breakdown problems phenylketonurics have with protein and the attendant build up of phenylalanine in the body also occurs with the ingestion of aspartame, although to a lesser degree. Accordingly, all products in the U.S. and Canada that contain aspartame must be labeled: "Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine." [It's not always in an easily seeable place,
however] In the UK, foods containing aspartame must carry ingredients panels that refer to the presence of 'aspartame or E951', and they must be labeled with a warning "Contains a source of phenylalanine". These warnings are specifically placed to aid individuals who suffer from PKU so that they can avoid such foods. Interestingly, the macaque genome was recently sequenced and it was found that macaques naturally have a mutation that is found in humans who have PKU.

I've taken the liberty of highlighting the best parts...

Maybe read that last part in red one more time...
Phenlylalanine actually alters your DNA... That's right, your DNA! Why would they put this in anything? Don't you think that maybe, just maybe, that's not such a good idea, altering one's

If you still don't think that it's a hazard, unless of course you happen to be a phenylketuronic, maybe you should visit this site. ADD and ADHD, along with some emotional and behavioral disorders, are a result of too much phenylalanine in the mother's diet during pregnancy.

The Mayo Clinic website states that:

"Phenylalanine is found in protein-rich foods, such as milk, cheese, nuts, seeds, poultry, fish, as well as some leafy vegetables and whole grains. It's also found in diet foods, such as diet soda,
that contain aspartame."
which is all fine and well until you realize that there probably isn't that much in said protein-rich foods or you start studying up on all the things you consume everyday that contain the dreaded phenylalanine.
I would suggest that you guys do your own research and decide whether or not you want to continue to imbibe anything with phenylalanine. However, I would suggest that you not. It's been linked to cancer and all sorts of not fun diseases and maladies. Until further testing is done, please don't drink diet, or chew minty gum, or have any of the millions of things that now contain phenylalanine.
At least try to cut back, eh?


Farm girl from Maine said...

Thanks so much for this info. No one I know actually has an idea as to what phenylalanine is. It's been kept on the down-low for a reason no doubt.

KirBir said...

You are welcome, Farm Girl.
I myself am allergic to phenylalanine, which used to suck for me. But I figure it's a good thing to have to avoid now.

I've noticed that most hits on my site are because of this post (well, and the lyrics to Bubbly, but yeah) and I hope that you guys get the info you are looking for.

I plan on doing another post within the next few days about more phenyl-related schtuff.

Anonymous said...

Big Red has it now.