Freakin' genius


Jessica called me tonight as Kris and I were heading out to dinner. Doyle had called earlier (well, texted) with an invite for dinner and Dave & Busters, and we were heading out to join the group for dinner. Given that I had declined about six other invites from Doyle, and figured he'd stop inviting us out if we didn't actually accept one or two, I insisted Kris head out with me for at least dinner. He was too interested in WoW for us to actually spend an evening away from the computers, so dinner was it.

Jessica had had an okay day, and seemed to be checking in, see how things were going. For a moment, I thought there wasn't much particular point to the conversation other than checking in. Then, she busted out with, "I have to tell you, you're a freakin' genius."

I paused and smiled, wondering what I had done this time. "Uh, thanks?" was all I could manage, slightly confused when I couldn't figure out what I had brilliant accomplished.

"You don't seem too surprised."

"Yeah, well, I'm wondering the source of my brilliance."

"Ah, well..."

Turns out, it started when I was back in Indiana.

I had declined many of the items Jessica had offered me to eat or drink. I drank mostly water, declining the diet and regular sodas. I declined the Crystal Light, too. Except the water, the drinks offered had aspartame in them, and, as we all know, aspartame triggers my migraines. So, I declined.

The gum she was offering also had aspartame in it, so I declined it, too. Jessica asked why, why would I decline the gum she was offering. I took the package, flipped it over and showed her the Phenylketonurics Contains Phenylalanine message. "See that? Contains aspartame. It's one of my biggest migraine triggers."

Now, Jess has had essentially a six month long migraine. She copes WAAAAAAAY better than I would if I was going through a six month long migraine. I'm fairly certain she doesn't have the extra special aura bonus I do, but her headache is essentially one kabillion times longer than my headaches are, so she wins in the sucky-suck competition.

I hadn't explained why until she offered me the gum when she visited last week. When I explained, a little light went off. She's had this six month migraine, right? So, that adds stress. When she's stressed, she pulls out the gum and chews away. You see what's going on here, right?

When I explained why I didn't chew gum, at least none that have aspartame in them, she threw her hands up exasperatedly. Might that be her problem, too? One way to find out: she stopped chewing gum, and threw out all that had aspartame in it.

Five days later into the experiment, and she's migraine free. Five days gum free and five days headache free. It's like the clouds parted, the sun came out, the choirs started singing, and all was glorious again. Her life is just that much better.

And I am a genius.

A freakin' genius.

But it doesn't cause cancer


A note in the October 2006 issue of Health magazine, on page 70, reads:

Sweet news about a sugar substitute

Aspartame, the sugar-free sweetener in hundreds of soft drinks and diet products, doesn't cause cancer, according to a National Cancer Institute (NCI) study of nearly 500,000 older Americans. Previous research in rats linked aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) to lymphoma, leukemia, and brain tumors. But the NCI found that drinking even as many as three (or more) diet sodas a day seems to be safe.

I read this, and cringed. Sure, aspartame may not cause cancer, but it can still kill you.

Aspartame has been linked to migraine headaches as a cause. I know of no person who suffers migraines on a regular basis who couldn't reduce the frequency by cutting aspartame from his diet.

Aside from the loss of functionality, blinding pain and lost productivity that comes with a migraine headache, more research shows a strong link between migraines and stroke, with migraines sometimes considered the equivalent of a mini-stroke. Each of those migraines can mean more brain damage. Even if this damage is slight, the accumulation of years of migraines and mini-strokes can be devastating over the long term.

So, telling people that aspartame is okay to drink because it doesn't cause cancer is a bit like saying, it's okay to play with the gun loaded with rubber bullets: the rubber bullets won't kill you if you're standing far away (doesn't cause cancer), but they sure as hell can if you're standing close and get the bullet in the eye (migraines as mini-strokes).

Is it really worth the 10 calories in a stick of aspartame-laced gum to risk a migraine and the long term consequences?

Not and never for me.

If I choose to drink a soda (I've had six this year), it'll be full sugar.

I'll take the stairs to burn those extra calories, instead, thank you very much.