DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For many years I have used Equal to sweeten my coffee and tea instead of sugar. I love it. People have me scared out of my wits with the stories they tell me about how dangerous it is. How can our government allow the public to use something so hazardous? The same people tell me the government gets kickbacks from the manufacturers. What’s your opinion? – L.H.

Nothing promotes greater reader response than the topic of artificial sweeteners. A very active, concerned and vocal group of people is convinced that these products are a health risk. Most often the target of concern is aspartame, sold as Equal and NutraSweet. I don’t share these people’s concern, and I have no fear of using artificial sweeteners, including aspartame.

Aspartame consists of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Aspartame has been marketed since 1981 and is in use in more than 100 countries. Those facts convince me it isn’t a danger. People who should not use it are those who cannot metabolize phenylalanine. They are born without the enzyme that processes it. Phenylalanine levels rise in their blood, and they develop brain damage from exposure to it. The condition is known as PKU, phenylketonuria, and is tested for soon after birth. It’s a rare disorder. The warning is on the label of all phenylalanine products. Those opposed to aspartame claim it causes a variety of illnesses – multiple sclerosis, lupus, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, headaches, hair loss and depression. And that’s only a partial list.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no conspiracy between the manufacturers of this product and our government. You asked for my opinion, and I have given it. I have no reservations about aspartame or other approved artificial sweeteners. Others are free to hold differing opinions.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I heard a doctor (I think he was a doctor) on the radio praising coenzyme Q10 and telling everyone to start taking it. According to him, it does wondrous things, including lowering cholesterol. My cholesterol is slightly high but not high enough to take medicines. Would I benefit from taking it? – R.C.

Coenzyme Q10 is a substance contained in all body cells. It’s in the cells’ mitochondria, tiny power plants that generate energy. CoQ10 figures into that energy production.

Many claims, in addition to cholesterol-lowering, have been made for it. It is said to lower blood pressure, control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and ease migraine headaches. And that’s only a sample of the things it’s been touted for.

Evidence supports some of those claims, but the evidence isn’t so strong that it has won universal acceptance. If you want to try it, I can’t see any reason not to. I don’t find any major side effects listed from its use.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have many bruises on the back of my hands and my arms. I am not banging my hands or arms any more than I ever did. What’s going on? I have been told I ought to take vitamin C. Do you think it would work? – J.M.

Serious causes of bruising include things like a reduction of blood platelets. They’re the blood cells that seal a break in blood vessels. Tiny blood vessels are constantly breaking. Platelets rush to the scene to form a clot to plug the break. Deficits of blood proteins called clotting factors are another cause of easy bruising.

You didn’t say what your age is. At older ages, bruising is common because blood vessels have lost the support they had. Minor bumps bring on major bruises. The only way to prevent these bruises is to pad the arms and backs of the hands, something that’s easier said than done.

Vitamin C won’t help.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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