Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Aspartame and me


Writers drink a lot. A lot of writers drink—it’s a bit of a cliché, the semi-(if not completely)-sozzled novelist—but I suspect that far more writers will be addicted to caffeine than alcohol. I don’t drink. Of course I drink. I just don’t drink-drink. I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage since… hang on I’m thinking… since my wife’s son came to visit. We popped into a bar on Great Western Road when I was out showing him around our great city or at least the parts of the great city that interested me—i.e. the shops—and we popped into whatever the name of the bar was (because I’ve no idea what the bar was and it’s probably been renamed three or four times since) and had a pint. At least I think I had a pint. I might have had a soft drink. But that was years ago. I was still working then so easily five years ago. Doesn’t time fly? Since I fell ill and started taking Pregabalin (as a reasonably effective treatment for Generalised Anxiety Disorder) I’ve never touched a drop. It’s been easily a couple of years since I came off the pills and, apart from my blood pressure medication (which I’m told I’ll be on forever—thanks Mum) I’m drug free but I’ve not started drinking.

Only I wasn’t drug free. Every day I was gulping down anything up to a dozen mugs of coffee. So that’s maybe 90-150 mg of caffeine per cup. It all adds up. There are side-effects to taking Pregabalin and one is weight gain at least that’s the effect it had on me; 10lbs when I first went off it and then another 10lbs when I tried to come off it the first time and had to go back on it. I wasn’t obese but I was overweight and so to lose the weight I went on a diet, the first diet of my life; up until the age of fifty I had been able to eat what I liked and hardly gained anything and what I did gain I walked off but that had all changed. Part of my diet involved not taking any sugar in my coffee and, at the same time, my wife thought it would be a good idea, bearing in mind how much of the stuff I swallowed in a day, to switch to decaffeinated; it was also time for the milk to go. And so in one foul swoop—why isn’t it ‘fowl swoop’? birds swoop—I switched from lovely, sweet, milky, soothing, coffee-tasting coffee to this bitter, mucky-looking liquid which was one step too far and so I started adding sweetener to it.

CokeI’d tried using artificial sweeteners before but never stuck with them. Nothing beats real sugar; Demerara preferably, at least in coffee. This time, though, I made more of an effort and so I dug my heels in and broke the habit of a lifetime. Yay me. Having lost the twenty pounds, I decided to stick with the alternative coffee drink; I’d got used to it. In the evenings I’d also got into the habit of drinking two classes of Coca Cola before bed: sugar-free, decaffeinated Coke—the real thing. And, as I’ve said, that’s been my habit for a long while now. Of course there are a variety of sweeteners on the market. I personally think there’s much of a muchness about them—they’re all pretty awful-tasting—but then I’ve never had what you might call ‘sensitive’ taste buds; the subtle flavours in a glass of red wine are lost on me and I couldn’t tell the difference between a Merlot or a Shiraz if my life depended on it. The containers arrived with the messages (that’s Scottish for ‘groceries’) and the spoonfuls went in my coffee cups, easily eight a day. The thing is there is a difference between sweeteners and it’s a BIG difference. The kind that comes in the tub with the red lid has been making me poorly and I never realised it.

When I fell ill about five years ago one of the major symptoms was brain fog, cognitive dysfunction to give it its Sunday name. It’s a common symptom of depression and anxiety and I’d experienced it before. You go to the docs, get a script for the pills, take the pills for a few months, stop stressing, wean yourself off the pills and life goes on. The thing about the brain fog was that I always regarded it as a symptom of a bigger problem: remove the stressors, remove the depression, remove the brain fog. It was logical, it made sense and it worked. And then, during the first week of December, guess what returned with a vengeance?

A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb (even an organ, like the appendix) is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts. There are decent enough explanations for it. I’ve never suffered from it but I can imagine the confusion I might feel if I got an itch in the left foot that I no longer had. It would make no sense to me at all. There would need to be a leg there to get itchy and that’s how I felt about the brain fog. Where was the depression? Where were the stressors? And so I did what any amputee would, I imagined there was something there causing the fog when I could plainly see there was nothing. I had no stressors in my life. I wasn’t ill, I wasn’t in debt and I wasn’t addicted to anything. If anything, life was just plain rosy. I had just published my third novel (and dead proud I was about it, too) and then my wife went to America to visit her parents which she does every few months, so an annoyance but little more than that; I had work planned and had made a start when, a couple of days in, the brain fog returned with a vengeance. So I started looking for causal factors. Nothing happens for no reason. And, of course, I looked where I expected to find the problem. I looked for things that might be depressing me, things I might be upset about and stressing over and they were there. The thing is no one has a stress-free life. We talk about having one, dream about having one, might even think we have one but even deciding what we’re going to put on for tea is a cause of stress. But who said we were supposed to eliminate all stress from our lives? Isn’t the deal to learn to deal with stress before it becomes anxiety?

Milligan and Murphy CoverSo I started to imagine what I might be stressing about: the fact that no one was offering to review Milligan and Murphy (okay, that has been getting to me but I know what it’s like when you start doing reviews and there’s no way you can say, “Yes,” to everyone); the fact that no one was buying Milligan and Murphy (but let’s be realistic, if no one’s reviewing it how are people going to know it’s available for purchase?); the fact that I felt pressured to start my next novel so I could tell people I was writing my next novel and was therefore a real writer and not some guy who just happened to write five novels but wasn’t really a real writer deep down; and, of course, as time started to go on and the fog started to get a grip I found other things to fret about like not being able to read or write and bit by bit I got worse and worse so that I couldn't tell you if I was coming or going or if I’d been and gone.

And then one day, and not for the first time I might add, I looked up ‘brain fog’ on the Internet and there was, as always, this whopping great big list of things that could cause brain fog—a list that would send House apoplexic—but this jumped out at me:

[E]arly 96, things started to go into what I call an "acute" phase for me personally. I began to have migraines two to three times a week. I had an "urgency to pee" that was really frustrating, infections were ruled out by my doctor. But the worst thing was, I began to experience an extreme case of "brain fog" which has been well documented as a symptom of aspartame poisoning (but I did not know this at the time). I felt exhausted 24/7, could barely get through the day, and felt like I was drugged, groggy, not able to concentrate. I would of course drink more diet coke to try to "wake up." I believed I was dying, actually, but no one was able to find anything wrong. The doctors started to treat me like a hypochondriac, and I was very worried.

At the time, I had a friend who had headaches from aspartame, and I always pooh-poohed her claim. I was so addicted to diet coke that I was in total denial that it could be the cause of my problems. She suggested I get off of all aspartame, which I was reluctant to do, because, after all, everyone said it was ok, and how could it possibly cause ALL these problems. No way! But after so many doctor visits with no help, I decided I had nothing to lose. I spent a lot of time wondering "what will I drink?" (a classic sign of addiction). But I did manage to quit, and amazingly enough, there was improvement. About 5 days after quitting, my family and I went on a camping trip over the weekend, and I ran out of drinks. Being not totally convinced yet, I drank two diet cokes on Saturday night, and woke up Sunday morning with the brain fog or grogginess. I knew then, that aspartame was responsible. – Debbie, Google Answers

I thought: What the hell? By this time I was about ready to go back to the doctor and try something, anything. My fear—a not unreasonable one—was that he would jump to the obvious conclusion based on my history and psychologise the problem; I don’t think he was ever one in favour of the chemical-imbalance-in-the-brain school of thought. So I stopped putting the sweetener in my coffee and I stopped drinking the Diet Coke. I’m writing this a week later but the change was visible the very next day. My wife came back from the States a few days ago, said the difference was noticeable and then started testing my mental acuity which she was pleased to see was perceptibly sharper, although my hearing had not improved (but then neither had her mumbling).

So why am I telling you all about this? Well, first and foremost, because if there are any of you out there using artificial sweeteners, do seriously step back and think just how clear-headed you really are. No two of us are the same. I can get drunk off wine gums but both my brother and sister have a high tolerance for alcohol. In general I don’t handle drugs well and it’s just as well I don’t have to take many of them. When I fell into my first depression at about the age of twenty-four I had no idea what was going on with me and it’s only now, almost thirty years and four breakdowns later, that I have a handle on what’s normal for me. The brain fog that came with the depressions was of a certain kind but the one that descended when I started taking the aspartame was nothing less than a pea-souper. Over the last six months I have lost so much time, time I will never get back. I’ve written most of my novels whilst depressed. It’s a rotten thing to experience but it can be worked through. This recent brain fog was like nothing I have ever experienced; completely debilitating. Did I mention the headaches by the way? Again I think I’ve had a constant headache for the last six months. So many things can cause headaches and since I have a lot of neck and back pain anyway (which I keep intending to get seen to but never get round to) I assumed the headaches were all my own fault, took two paracetamol, and soldiered on. An “urgency to pee” is not something I especially noticed but I do tend to urinate a lot, whenever I have the slightest urge and, as I drink so much, I’ve never considered that a symptom of anything worse than a full bladder.

There is a lot about aspartame online. I have no idea how much of it is true, but there is usually no smoke without fire. Wikipedia has an entire article devoted to the aspartame controversy which begins:

FDAThe artificial sweetener aspartame has been the subject of several controversies since its initial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974. The FDA approval of aspartame was highly contested, with critics alleging that the quality of the initial research supporting its safety was inadequate and flawed and that conflicts of interest marred the approval of aspartame. […] [C]ritics such as activist Betty Martini have promoted undocumented claims that numerous health risks (such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, methanol toxicity, blindness, spasms, shooting pains, seizures, headaches, depression, anxiety, memory loss, birth defects and death) are associated with the consumption of aspartame in normal doses.

Publicity of this controversy has been spread through an elaborate health scare and "Internet smear campaign" involving hoax e-mails repeating Betty Martini's widely circulated conspiracy theory. Her undocumented claims are still repeated by thousands of self-published Web sites.

Before last week I knew nothing about any of that. All I knew was my wife said that the sweetener with the red lid wasn’t as good as the one with the yellow lid so we bought the one with the yellow lid until they ran out and then, being a frugal (i.e. penny-pinching) Scot I said just buy the red one: “I mean how bad can it be?”

Bad. It can be bad.

I’ve read some of the articles about the sweetener and I find it hard to believe that any chemical could produce all the negative side-effects that people claim—aspartame could not be the cause of nearly every illness out there—and the efforts to which some people have gone to harm the reputation of the product have done as much to discredit themselves which is a shame. I can only speak for myself. So no links to the vast number of sensational claims. It was a spur of the moment decision for me and it worked. It might help you too. Normal is something we all aspire to. None of us really know what normal is, though. We have an inkling what normal-for-us might be but even then that doesn’t mean that we should settle for that just because it’s familiar.

I have no axe to grind. I’m not going to sue James Schlatter who discovered aspartame back in 1965 or G.D. Searle Company, the company he was working with, or the person who first approved it for use in dry goods in 1974 or the one who approved it for use in carbonated beverages in 1983. I’m not even going to write my MP or picket Tesco demanding they stop stocking products that include it in their ingredients. I don’t have time for any of that. I’m simply going to stop ingesting the stuff. And so is my wife. Carrie poured three large bottles of Coke down the sink yesterday and when I get a minute the sweetener is going in the bin too. And I’m going to get on with my work. Finally. And with a clear head.


Editorial note:

The sweeteners of the yellow and red lids to which Jim refers are products containing sucralose and aspartame. While most of the bad press has been garnered by products containing aspartame (e.g. NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel), there are also many claims of problems associated with the ‘yellow lid’ products containing the chlorinated sugar sucralose (e.g. Splenda). If you have an interest you will find hundreds of articles about both. It is difficult to trust the information published to counter these claims since the products are in widespread use and very lucrative. I would like to refer you to an article published by the European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection entitled Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food: Update on the Safety of Aspartame. While its conclusions do not support the broad body of anecdotal evidence against aspartame, there is enough information in the opinion to make one think hard and long about what you are putting into your bodies. Also not using any kind of sweeteners (and salt sources) opens up a whole new world of taste experience.

Carrie Berry


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jim - interesting post and I'm sure loads of kids are going to have some form of imbalance from all the fizzy drinks they consume.

Thankfully I'm old enough to have been brought up on water, when even orange squash was a luxury once in a while ...

I've learnt a lot from this post - especially as I do come across people who've lost limbs .. so (obviously not relate) but in some way so ...

There's a youngster here - 29 - who's lost one leg and probably will lose the other quite soon .. I just like learning a little so I look at things in a different light.

Thanks for posting .. long may you be free of imbalances .. and healthier in the process.

Cheers Hilary

Tim Love said...

"And so I did what any amputee would" - I'm reminded of a quote about depression, something about the self becoming like a phantom limb.

Jim Murdoch said...

The important thing to keep in mind, Hilary, is that we’re all different. I’m one of life’s sensitive souls. It really doesn’t take much to throw my body out of whack. I like order. I like routine. I like moderation. I’m really very boring. There has to be a reaction to all that reasonableness and I guess that’s where the workaholism comes in. I don’t know what our age difference is but I was not brought up on water and, to this day, I turn my nose up at plain water. My parents were of solid Lancashire stock and so had a lot to unlearn when it came to eating healthily although my dad did go through a phase in the late sixties of making an effort—I still grue when I remember the cider vinegar and the molasses—but we must have been amongst the first in the country to eat this stuff from Switzerland called muesli on a regular basis although I refused to put milk in mine.

And, Tim, I think that is an excellent description of depression although the older I get and the more I read the less I like the term ‘self’ because I’m acutely aware of the fact that I don’t ever get to see the whole me; the self I think I am is really only half the picture. I find it disconcerting the fact that I have to trust this other half of me frankly but I suppose trust has always been a bit of an issue with me, control freak that I am.

Art Durkee said...

Sorry you got caught up in this one. I wish I could say I didn't know about the bad effects of aspartame, but I did. Back in 1990 I knew a husband and wife who were both doctors, who co-owned and ran a health clinic, with two kids, and a marriage on the rocks. Then she gave up drinking Diet Pepsi with aspartame in it, and her personality totally changed for the better, and it saved her marriage and life. 'Nuff said.

I don't use artificial sweeteners, and haven't since the days of Tab cola and saccharine. (Which BTW it turns out isn't so bad for you after all.) I don't use artificial sweeteners precisely because they are strange chemicals that are foreign to the body. I also think they taste like crap. I don't knowingly ingest formaldehyde, either, and for the same reasons. I don't use MSG either, same reason.

Sugar, on the other hand, is a molecule found in nature, which the body is quite familiar with, and actually needs, albeit our modern diets provide too much of it and it's good to cut back in general. High fructose corn syrup is responsible for a lot of obesity cases, because it's the cheap sweetener used in most foods nowadays. But it's also a direct contributor to obesity and pre-diabetes. It's the main sweetener in soft drinks still.

There has been a trend recently to go back to using cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in soft drinks. Not only does this taste better, it's better for you. I admit that although I'm on a severely restricted diet, and avoid most carbs and sugars completely, I do put a bit of sugar in my morning tea, and I do allow myself one or two soft drinks a month. In which case I always go for the cane sugar soft drinks, such as "Throwback Pepsi," which they started introducing a couple of years back. Sierra Mist, non-caffeinated, is natural-ingredient soda, like 7-Up without the corn syrup. I like this trend. Not only are the cane-sugar soft drinks probably safer to drink for those of us who are chemically sensitive, they actually taste better. Throwback Pepsi tastes like Pepsi tasted 30 years ago, like pop OUGHT to taste.

Post-surgery, post-colon, I'm also required to drink Gatorade as needed, to make sure I get enough electrolytes. I have found that even Gatorade has joined the low-carb, natural-sugar trend, for which I give them a nod.

(I have no affiliation with Pepsi or any other soft drink company, and this is not a paid advertisement. LOL)

Meanwhile, I'm glad you found this out about aspartame, albeit the hard way, and I hope it goes a long way towards clearing up the brain fog. As you know, I have been dealing with brain fog a lot myself, between surgery and meds and everything else. I hate being brain fogged. It feels like it wastes so much of my limited time. So I deeply sympathize. Clear skies ahead for you!

Kirk said...

This may sound odd, but I prefer water when comes out of somebody else's refridgerator. For some reason, it's never as cold as I want it when it's out of my own fridge. Unless I put ice cubes in, which I kind of resent doing. Iced tea or soft drinks are probably not as cold as they could be either, but the flavor makes up for it.

A couple of years ago, limited-time only Pepsi with real sugar (as opposed to corn) was being sold in 1970s style cans. It tasted better than what they got now, but I wouldn't swear I'd be able to tell the difference blindfolded.

Gwil W said...

How strange. Last night I was watching a talk show discussion on Bloomberg TV and the host was Charlie Rose and at the end he said that he had a blog and there you could find the show. But what caught my attention - I was channel hopping whilst sitting on my exercise bike lightly turning the pedals - was that one of the guests of this round table discussion was a guy who had written book and then on its publication became, for the first time in his life, severely depressed. It turned out to be a medical condition which could be seen via instruments for there was an area in the part of brain, which presumably something to do with the writing of the book etc., which had become 'confused' and what not behaving normally. There were 3 or 4 experts from the scientific and medical world and there was a lot of cutting edge discussion which I found extremely interesting to watch.

On a personal level I think that we are what we eat to a large extent. There are other environmental factors we can't do much about. I don't take any sugar or sweeteners and if I feel as if I need something sweet, perhaps 2 or 3 times a week, I take a spoonful of Blutenhonig (honey from wild flowers) figuring that the bees must be reasonably healthy to produce it so it is already as it were pure.

I confess I drink beer, sometimes up to 4 bottles but usually 2 or 3, but this is mainly after a long cross country or trail run which could be anything between 10 and 40 kms in length and anything between 1 and 4 hours in time. I believe that a decent beer contains beneficial vitamins and minerals many of which I will be depleted after the run. I tend to steer away from colas and so-called energy drinks.

I believe the great Lakeland fell runner Joss Naylor drinks Guinness or cider. I imagine that's for similar reasons. I can't imagine him knocking back a Red Bull.

Jim, good luck with your book. I'm reading Flann O'Brien's The Dalkey Archive at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I can be a bit naïve at times. I tend to imagine that no one would sell a product that they knew was going to harm people. Okay, very naïve. I’m thankfully not obese. I try and keep under 13st. When Carrie goes to the States I have a tendency to comfort eat and so added a few pounds recently but I’ll shed them quickly enough. I do not like feeling fat. The heaviest I’ve ever been was 14st 5lbs (201lbs) and I hated it. Scotland—the land of the deep fried Mars Bar (need I say any more)—really has to hang its head in shame when it comes to its weight. For years we’ve not taken care of ourselves in fact the practice nurse was going on about it only yesterday when I was in for my annual asthma check-up.

As for the brain fog, there’s brain fog and there’s brain fog. What I’ve been going though for the past six months was something else. There were days on end I got nothing done at all. If I got a clear hour or two I was in a panic trying to maximise the time before the window of opportunity closed. Horrible it was, truly horrible. I knew it was different to what I’d experienced before but, as I said in the article, you look in all the familiar places first before you imagine it could be something new.

Methinks you need a new fridge, Kirk. I don’t like ice in drinks myself. In fact when I order drinks in cafés or bars I always stipulate, “…without ice.” Cinemas are the worst, those huge cups full of ice. At those prices I want ginger [Scottish slang for all forms of carbonated drinks] not ice. I was never a great Pepsi drinker—I always preferred Coke—but even that has changed since I first tasted it back in the sixties. Mind you they were going on about how bad it was for you back then dropping pennies in glasses of coke and watching them dissolve.

And, Gwilliam, that’s the thing, we use expressions like ‘depression’ and ‘brain fog’ as if they were absolutes and they’re anything but; my depression is unique to me. I’ve always been able to work when depressed. It’s my private life that suffers but work grounds me. If I’m not working at something then I don’t know why I’m alive frankly. The worst part of every depression for me is those few weeks when I finally give it, admit I’m depressed (which I will have been by that time for probably a good year) and go and see a doctor. Then I have to stop working and the sitting-in-front-of-the-TV phase begins and that lasts for about three months by which time I’m going insane with boredom and I start sniffing around for something productive to do; that’s me on the road to recovery. I find it hard to envisage writing a book as a causal factor in someone’s depression because, for me, the distraction of writing, the not focusing on my illness, has always been helpful. Obviously that’s me and not him.

My mum was fond of saying, “You are what you eat,” which means when she died she was probably 55% water and 45% microwave chips. I’m afraid I’ve always had a sweet tooth. I put two sugars in my coffee for years and rarely had a cuppa that wasn’t accompanied by a couple of biscuits and yet I never gained any weight until I stopped working; I used to say I thought it off because I wasn’t especially active even then but I guess I got more exercise than I thought I did running up and down the office.

Beer I’m not that fond of. It’s a sweetness thing I’m sure and red wine, which my wife drinks regularly, is just bleurgh. No bubbles! My mate once took me to a wee pub in Troon and we sat in the back by a raging fire consuming Guinness, the first Guinnesses of my life and they were awful. He said, “Jimmy, it’s an acquired taste,” but I never acquired the taste. About ten years later I tried a wee half pint one lunchtime and it was still awful. Carrie likes it.

I haven’t read The Dalkey Archive. When I was researching Milligan and Murphy I read The Poor Mouth. Must read more.

rhymeswithplague said...

Re your opening paragraph, it reminded me of the time Johnny Carson said to Pat Boone (who was known for drinking milk) on The Tonight Show, “You don’t drink, do you, Pat?” and Pat Boone replied, “Of course I drink. I just don’t drink what you drink.”

Re your second paragraph, neither “fowl swoop” nor “foul swoop” is correct. The correct phrase (this is rather like carrying coals to Newcastle) is “fell swoop” and you can read about it at:

Will take your warnings about the artificial sweeteners under advisement.

Jim Murdoch said...

That was interesting about fell swoop, Billy Ray. Not like me not to look it up actually. As for the artificial sweeteners, as I’ve said to others, I’m an especially sensitive soul but I bet I’m not alone. It’s easy enough to tell if it’s having an effect on you. On the whole we’re quite good when it comes to watching what we eat. I just assumed that all sweeteners were much the same. Seems not.

Nathaniel Lee said...

I've always had rather the opposite problem. Medicines and drugs tend to bounce off of me, such that I end up needing to constantly be upgrading to the next most powerful substance for whatever effect it's supposed to have. I don't even notice the effects of caffeine until I get close to a full gram in under four hours. (Although I do have a morning headache on my days off, when I tend to forget to drink any. I'm not especially less alert; just crabbier.)

I have very little experience with alcohol because I don't like the taste and have never been intrigued by the effects, but the once or twice I've drunk any fast enough to have it build up at all in my system, all it did was give me a headache and make me irritable. Apparently I get to go straight to the hangover without any euphoria in between.

You'd totally have gotten me into a hypochondriac tizzy if it weren't for my aforementioned habit of periodically forgetting to drink my usual sodas for two or three days at a time; I already know that the only thing I'm risking is a temporary foul mood.

seymourblogger said...

Hmmmm. Where to start. In the early 80's a young boy warned me off aspartame because he had read the research on it and it wasn't good in his opinion. During the years, yes, I have consumed it from time to time but can't say I noticed ill effects. But then I didn't stay on it but have no idea why not, or shy I changed my eating habits. Was the universe saying stop to me?

As for Splenda, It is a fablulous fabulous ant killer. I had a huge infestation. It cut it way way down the first summer and nothing the second summer. And I mean to tell you it was a huge infestation all the way 100 ft out to the back yard. Gone even there. So of course the next thing to think is what the hell is it doing to anyone who voluntarily consumes it? The ants loved it and devoured it madly BTW.

If you think of depression and call it depression then you are thinking within the clinical syndrome. There is nothing wrong with melancholy. Either Boswell or Johnson had it bad, but I forget which one. Embrace it. It's your best friend. It promotes compassion and more sensitive feelings. As for General Anxiety Syndrome, there's another clinical term just waiting to sell you meds.

Read Foucault's Madness and Civilization to get free of this thinking. Szasz is great, and I have agreed with him for a long time so Foucault was like manna to me. I too suffer from melancholy. I wouldn't want it not to visit me on a regular basis. Many MD's have want to med me. And of course it is tied like a marriage to anger. Get in touch with your anger and you are on auto with your creative thinking.

Psychoanalysis is the treatment of choice if you want treatment. I bet no one of the med people ever suggested that, did they? It's like admitting failure.

As for high blood pressure yes losing weight was good. Daily exercise is best. Do chelation even tho the MD's don't like that either. With the price of heart surgery we don't want to drive any of them into unemployment, do we? You will notice the difference quickly and get to talk with others while it is dripping into your vein and the stories will force you to think about the med profession. Are they into curing or prescribing?

seymourblogger said...

Two things:

Cane sugar comes mostly from Cuba and we are on a Cuba boycott until Castro dies. Forget how many Americans have died to death drinking high fructose corn syrup. Castro couldn't have killed that many if he worked day and night. How much of our soil has been depleted because of corn. How low our acquifers are because of artificial irrigation of the corn belt. How many tons of topsoil blow away each winter from barren corn fields. Read Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture for just one. Well, I ask you, who has done the most damage to whom? Both of us have suffered and since it's a case of Impossible Exchange we can never know. Enlightened little 20th century humans that we are.

On the "brain fog" I thought of David Foster Wallace who had it, went off his meds for depression because he thought that was it and got even worse so he killed himself. I bet you anything he did a lot of aspartame. I bet you I bet you. Shit. I would like to kill every last one of them involved in this poison. I love DFW.

Phantom limb: there is a recent neurologist who cured it. She had the patient look in a mirror and do certain things which I forget while watching himself in the mirror. She had a hunch it was neurological and doing this cured him.

Of course you are going to get brain changes. The effects of something should not be confused with the cause. To look back in what's known as precession and interpret the effect as a cause is a terrible error of western thinking. If you pretend to lim and do it all the time you will eventually deform your leg and the deformity will affect your spinal cord, your back, your shoulders, your jaw etc (The thigh bone is connected to the knee bone etc)To attribute the limp to the deformed leg is the way western medicine would interpret it.

Jim Murdoch said...

Drinking is a such a huge part of the culture in Scotland, Nathaniel, that’s it’s hard to avoid. Most of my drinking has been done while I was underage—the illegality of it added that extra something—but the older I got the less interested I got. I have been a happy drunk but I don’t need a lot to get me there; the problem is that everyone around me keeps drinking and so there’s the pressure to keep going. Very soon I stopped drinking in public—I’d have the occasional something at home—but I found it safer not to start in company. I actually find being around drunks scary; they’re so unpredictable. I have always hated office parties for that reason. The seven years I was with my last company I went to every Xmas do but left after the meal when the rest headed off to do a pub crawl. I always got the feeling they felt a little sorry for me but I’ll be honest I couldn’t wait to be out of their company even the two or three I was genuinely fond of.

I have always drunk a lot of coffee—I started work earlier than the rest of my colleagues (I was always in at 7am)—and by the time the rest appeared at nine I’d be on my fourth coffee of the day and I continued at that pace throughout the day so the switch to decaffeinated was a big thing for me and yet I can’t say I went through any kind of withdrawal or if I did I was so doped up with other stuff I didn’t notice. We found this brand of coffee that wasn’t too bad and have stuck with it. That said they’ve just redesigned the jars and I’ve noticed a change in the flavour—a bitterness has crept in (I bet they’re using cheaper coffee)—and so I’m not enjoying it quite as much. I suppose I’ll get used to it.

Jim Murdoch said...

You know Seymour I couldn't tell you the last time I saw an ant. We used to have them out the back door when I was a kid but I never see them nowadays. It’s the same with most insects. We get the occasional fly in the summer but nothing like when I was growing up. God alone knows what state nature is in.

No doctor diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I did. I told him what I thought and he said that that didn’t sound an unreasonable assumption so that’s what we treated; I could tick off every box on the list. They’re not keen to rush to label things here. They merely treat the symptoms. He prescribed what I asked for which is an expensive drug and not one of those the NHS would jump to but it worked. He was also keen from the very start to have me talk to a psychologist and over the thirty years I’ve been troubled with bouts of depression I’ve seen four. I enjoy talking to them but have never found them very helpful. All my depressions have been as a result of burnout. I work myself into a state, take a couple of months off work, go on a course of antidepressants and then, gently, get back on the horse. A year or two later I’m back into top gear and working my way towards my next breakdown.

I don’t think of myself as an angry person. My last therapist wanted me to get in touch with my anger and I told her not to mistake frustration for anger; I know it’s semantics but I felt the distinction was an important one. I’ve never heard of chelation before. I don’t think it’s necessary in my case. On the whole Carrie ensures we have a good diet. I don’t even salt my food anymore. We stay clear of red meat and chips are a luxury item. Of course here in the UK the cost of surgeries aren’t an issue. I can’t imagine the fear of major illness that must hang over people in the States even those with insurance. Okay we may have to wait a few weeks to get treatment on occasion but not if it’s urgent. My GP’s practice is excellent. We get called in for regular blood pressure checks—I’ve just had my annual asthma check—and I get an annual flu jab plus a bi-annual bowel cancer screening; there’s a suite of physiotherapists upstairs that you can just walk in an see without needing to be referred by your doctor and the same goes for any mental health issues, just give them a call and they’ll set up an appointment.

Brain fog is something that comes with every depression and I’ll be honest I’ve got a decent handle on my depression. I don’t fear going into one any more than I panic when I have an asthma attack. What I hated about my last bout of mental illness was the anxiety; that was new and unwelcome and I didn’t know how to handle that. The fog, once I’d given myself about three months to calm down, I just worked through. But these last six months have been something else. I am not joking I could not think straight. Days on end would slip past while I waited for a calm spell. The change in me since I stopped taking the sweetener has been extreme: I can read, I can write and I can think.

I saw something about the use of mirrors to help patients who had itches they couldn’t scratch. Fascinating stuff.

J. C. said...

All I could say is that once I heard about the harmful effects of aspartane I literary freaked out because I was, up to then, consuming a gread deal of Equal and alikes.

Jim Murdoch said...

I can’t say I freaked out exactly, Jasko. What got me was the waste of time. I had lost weeks to this thing. Had it not been for the fact I had such a large stockpile of articles I would have had to stop blogging because I was struggling to read and research let alone actually write the damn things. I’m back in top gear now and keen to get the numbers back up so I don’t feel quite so pressurised to post an article that’s not had sufficient time spent on it.

Kass said...

Interesting post and comments. I wonder how much of our personalities is from the chemicals we ingest, and the essential vitamins and minerals we don't.

One of my closest friends has a substantial brain fog and memory loss so she had a brain scan which showed the early stages of dementia. Her doctor took her off of all artificial sweeteners, but I think she's gotten worse because of the absoluteness of the diagnosis.

I sweeten everything with Stevia. It's natural and actually nutritive.

Jim Murdoch said...

I looked up Stevia, Kass. It’s not available in the UK as an over-the-counter sweetener for the likes of coffee but I’m not so sure about anything now. All my life I’ve had a bit of an irrational fear that I would take some drug and it would wipe out my ability to write which is why I’ve never experimented with recreational drugs. During that long three-year stretch when I couldn't write I felt as if the real me had been lopped off, the writer was gone, and yet the itch, the urge to write, was still there. All the Coke’s gone now and Carrie’s just done a groceries order and I’m back on water with a little fruit juice added. I am finding the coffee with nothing in it a bit bitter. It’s okay if I have a biscuit with it to sweeten my mouth but that kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? I can see me giving in and getting some brown sugar but not yet.

Dementia is a worry because even though the brain fog has cleared my memory is still as bad as it always was but that is the thing, I have never had the best of memories so I don’t want to obsess about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about dementia and memory loss of late though, the loss of the self. It’s all coming together.

Ken Armstrong said...

This is great news. I hope this worthwhile adjustment in your lifestyle reacquaints you the clarity and positivity you so deserve.

There was a Radio DJ over here who did TV interviews some years ago, explaining how his considerable 'Diet Coke' habit had impaired his health. I've been looking for it but can't find it. I remember he maintained that it was what (I think) he called the 'manufactured sugars' that did for him. He seems much better now, DJing away.

Oh, and 'messages' are the same thing over here. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Ken, the difference is incredible and that’s not a word I use flippantly. I don’t go on much about myself on my blogs as you know. I find it a bit boring and depressing to talk about so I expect that’s how people will react to reading it but the occasional bit of biographical detail is okay, makes me come across as human. I’ve been mentioning the fogginess for months now but I never said just how bad it was. It was worrying me. It had to be depression I kept telling myself but there simply wasn’t enough to feel that depressed about. Stress is a part of life and we should be able to cope with it. It’s only when we’re diminished in some way or the pressure becomes unbearable that we get sick. And that wasn’t the case. I really have quite the cushy number at the moment. I’m just glad I caught it because I don’t imagine the doctor would have asked me what sweetener I was using. He would have jumped to the “obvious” conclusion and offered me pills. This could have dragged on for years. I’ve had to go back to sugar in the coffee though. I tried but I found I was taking two or three sips, letting the rest go cold and then tossing it down the sink so what’s the point? A spoonful of brown sugar—even eight spoonfuls of brown sugar—isn’t going to kill me.

Marion McCready said...

Glad to hear it's worked out for you! Someone ranted at me a while back making seemingly wild claims about aspartame. Coming from you I'd take it more seriously.

Jim Murdoch said...

The Internet is a great place for information, Marion, as you well know but it’s getting to it and it doesn’t matter what it is you’re researching there will be conflicting and even contradictory ‘evidence’ presented elsewhere. That was a part of the reason Carrie added the editor’s note to the end of this article rather than, as she usually does, tweaks my prose. It was also why I called the article ‘Aspartame and me’; this is my experience and I can only speak for me but the change in me was so extreme that I really felt I had to talk about it. I’m like a new man. I’m sure there are few kids on sweeteners but I bet plenty drink Diet Coke or other reduced whatever products. Carrie bought me three wee bottles of fizzy water to take the place of the Coke and would you believe they had sweeteners added? Not aspartame but still. Why did they need sweetening? A little fruit juice was fine. I’ve never made much of a fuss about additives in the past—I remember all the kerfuffle about E numbers a while back—but I’m not so sceptical now.

DonnieDio said...

"No two of us are the same. I can get drunk off wine gums but both my brother and sister have a high tolerance for alcohol."

There's absolutely no alcohol in wine gums, just FYI

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, Donnie, but I was being facetious. I know full well there’s no alcohol in wine gums. It’s like saying I could put on weight by just looking at food.

seymourblogger said...

Keep the Splenda though. It is a miracle ant killer. I lived in a rural town and had an infestation all the way through my back yard, up my Maple tree, etc. They were all over. On my kitchen counter I put some Splenda. A die hard hippie in the park told me to. They LOVED it and ate 2 packs of it. Supposedly they take it back to their queen without whom they cannot survive. They went from my counter, the entire 4000 sq ft building, the back yard, and who knows the entire town might have been cleansed. (I hope not as ants serve a good purpose.)I do understand tht some colonies are so huge they cross state lines!I am still convinced David Foster Wallace's last and final depression was Aspartame caused. He drank massive amounts of diet pop and I mean massive. Read Lipsky's book on their road trip and you will be convinced. Crates of diet pop in his kitchen so he wouldn't have to go buy it all the time.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ants, Seymour! I’ve seen one this year. One single ant. So they’re not a problem. I do remember as a kid seeing them swarm out the back but that was a long time ago. I live in a flat on the first floor and the only time I go out our backdoor is to take out the rubbish so even if we did have ants I’m never out there long enough to pay them heed. But thanks for the advice. As regards David Foster Wallace—interesting. In my last job there was a guy who drank Irn Bru constantly. Never ate. Just drank Irn Bru. Not sure if it was diet or not but either way it cannot have been good for him. If it was regular Irn Bru that would be about sixty spoonfuls of sugar every day. Sixty!

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