Few nutritional supplements have been studied with such thoroughness – or with more controversy – than aspartame. What is harmful about aspartame and what is it – a detailed analysis from the point of view of evidence-based medicine in our article.
Supporters of diet drinks claim that no side effects have been proven and that aspartame supplemented foods can help reduce weight. On the other hand, a large community of medical practitioners and health-conscious people are convinced that many governments have turned a blind eye to one of the most dangerous nutritional supplements ever discovered.
This may be obvious, but when it comes to natural medicine and consuming only products that nourish and heal the body, aspartame does not seem to fit here. In fact, aspartame is one of the worst artificial sweeteners you can eat. Aspartame has dozens of potential health risks.
The sweetener industry was hit when a large study published in July 2017 examined aspartame what it is and how it is harmful ( 1 ). As a result, aspartame has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease and an increased body mass index. Unlike small studies that are sometimes overlooked, this review included a total of nearly 407,000 people with an average 10-year follow-up.
The researchers found that eating “diet” foods and drinks containing these artificial sweeteners (not called “non-nutritive sweeteners” because they do not contain calories) was not only of zero benefit, but was also associated with “increasing weight and waist circumference”. And there was also a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.
Of course, several small cohort studies have found that weight loss is an advantage, but, as is the norm for aspartame studies, they have been funded by industries with positive results.
Do aspartame-sweetened foods help me lose weight? No.
Is aspartame safe? No.
Is aspartame harmful to the body? Yes of course.
Let’s take a closer look at this dangerous food supplement, how it came about, and why you should avoid it.
Aspartame – what is it?
To understand why aspartame causes side effects, it is important to first explain what it is and how it is harmful, how it is metabolized when you drink or eat it.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, also called acesulfame potassium (K). Available under the trade names AminoSweet®, Neotame®, Equal®, NutraSweet®, Blue Zero Calorie Sweetener Packets ™, Advantame®, NutraSweet New Pink, Canderel®, Pal Sweet Diet®. It is used in a variety of products, such as sugar-free soda, chewing gum, healthy sweets and vitamins.
Almost immediately after consuming aspartame, it breaks down into three chemical compounds: phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.
The first two components are amino acids. Methanol is known as “wood alcohol” and is toxic in large doses. But the amount of methanol in one can of soda is about the same as in its natural form, for example, in a glass of grape juice. Sounds safe, right? After all, don’t we need amino acids to survive? But methanol cannot be so bad if it is also in grape juice, right? Unfortunately, these arguments, widely used by companies that profit from the sale of aspartame, do not hold water. Methanol is not beneficial for health and is especially dangerous when consumed in aspartame.
Phenylalanine is an amino acid that can be toxic in high doses, but is generally considered safe in whole foods. However, when chemically bound to other compounds, as in aspartame, phenylalanine is almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, rather than slowly by digestion.
Since this amino acid can cross the blood-brain barrier and function as an excitotoxin if it is too rapidly absorbed, it can potentially conflict with various neuronal processes. Just one glass of zero-calorie soda increases the level of phenylalanine in the brain, causing a decrease in serotonin levels.
Aspartic acid is an essential amino acid. This means that your body is capable of producing it on its own. Typically, aspartic acid (aspartate) is important for the function of the nervous and neuroendocrine systems.
How safe is aspartame? Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?
There is some concern about how the body metabolizes two amino acids from aspartame. Due to the peculiarities of producing sugar-free soda and other products with aspartame, the amino acids contained in them do not undergo the normal process of cleavage and release of the enzyme. Instead, they are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream.
However, a more pressing problem is related to the methanol content in aspartame. Methanol is present in other foods, but in these cases it is associated with pectin, a fiber commonly found in fruits. Typically, these bound pectin / methanol compounds are safely excreted through the normal digestion process.
However, in aspartame, methanol is weakly bound to the phenylalanine molecule. One or two processes easily destroy this bond and create the so-called “free methanol”. In cases where the aspartame product is stored in a hot environment at temperatures above 29 degrees Celsius (for example, in a warehouse or in a hot truck), the bonds decompose sooner than ever.
The free methanol is then converted to formaldehyde, better known as embalming liquid. Both methanol and formaldehyde are themselves carcinogens. Formaldehyde has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, one of the reasons why it is so harmful to the body. In the end, formaldehyde can also turn into diketopiperazine, another known carcinogen.
Every animal, except humans, converts formaldehyde into formic acid, a harmless substance. People do not have the necessary enzyme for this change, which is one of the possible reasons why animal studies do not always show the extent of methanol exposure to the body. This process in humans is called methyl alcohol syndrome.
Products that contain aspartame
It is necessary not only to know aspartame what it is and what is harmful, but, most importantly, in what products it is added. Aspartame is found in more than 6,000 types of products, so it’s almost impossible to list them all here. However, we hope that understanding the effects of nutrition on your health will force you to carefully read the labels. If you are considering buying any of the following types of products, check the label – you will probably find aspartame in the list.
The following foods, drinks, and medicines usually contain aspartame:
- Soda labeled “sugar free” or “zero calories”
- Mint Flavored Chewing Gum
- Sugar-Free Cereals
- Sugar-free seasonings (or “no sugar added”)
- Flavored Coffee Syrups
- Flavored water
- Sugar-free ice cream
- Diet Iced Tea
- Low-sugar or sugar-free fruit juices
- Nutritious Bars
- Sports drinks (especially sugar free)
- Soft candy
- Yogurt (low fat)
- Vegetable juices
- Natural Dietary Fiber
- Fiber Powder Additives
- Appetite Control Supplements
What is harmful about aspartame?
In 2002, aspartame activist Mark Gold reviewed the aspartame toxicity results and reported them to the FDA for review ( 2 ). Individual complaints included about 49 symptoms, including headaches (reported by 45% of people), severe depression (25%), severe cramps (15%), and confusion / memory loss (29%). Gold also cites dozens of studies reflecting the negative effects of aspartame, including numerous warnings for drivers and pilots due to seizures and dizziness that it can cause.
It seems that the hazards studied arise in participants differently depending on who is completing the study. For example, one review stated that “there are no unresolved issues regarding the safety of aspartame.” Of course, this particular report was released by NutraSweet. It turns out, however, that 100% of research funded by the industry finds the same result: “Aspartame is absolutely safe.” However, 92% of studies funded independently show side effects.
The Ramazzini Institute, a long-standing cancer research center, studied aspartame in detail. He again stated in 2014 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine ( 3 ) :
Based on data on the potential carcinogenic effects of aspartame, a reassessment of the current position of international regulatory authorities should be considered an urgent public health problem.
What are the most serious dangers of aspartame
1. Potentially increases the risk of cancer
Over decades, studies have shown the potential carcinogenic qualities of aspartame. The Ramazzini Institute continues to support the results of its many studies, which show that aspartame is associated with a 300% increase in the incidence of lymphoma and leukemia. Research does not show a correlation between aspartame and various types of cancer to the extent that the organization calls it a “multipotential carcinogen”, even at doses well below the legal “acceptable” amounts ( 4 ).
One of the reasons this 20-year study is so significant is because the rats participating in the study were allowed to die naturally rather than be sacrificed earlier in the experiment. This was to investigate the last two-thirds of the animal’s life span, often unaccounted for, because cancer most often occurs in humans during this part of life. In general, studies have found a connection between aspartame and the following:
- Liver cancer
- Lungs’ cancer
- Brain cancer
- Mammary cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Cancer of the central nervous system (gliomas, medulloblastomas and meningiomas)
The discovery of central nervous system cancer appears to be related to the behavior of the two amino acids found in aspartame. They are consumed in such a large amount and do not break down in the same way as when taken orally in other foods, and they are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This allows their toxicity to fully manifest itself. Cancer incidence increases when living things are exposed to aspartame in the uterus, which emphasizes the importance of pregnant women never taking aspartame. And formaldehyde – a metabolite of free methanol – is associated with the development of cancer of the breast, stomach, intestines, lymphoma and leukemia.
2. May cause or worsen diabetes
Although doctors often recommend replacing sugar-containing drinks with dietetic versions for diabetics, aspartame appears to have the opposite effect than intended. Sugar-free soda consumption is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that indicate heart disease. In one study, 6,800 people of different ethnicities between the ages of 45 and 84 increased their risk of developing diabetes by 67% with daily soda consumption, compared to those who did not. There have also been observations that taking aspartame can also exacerbate diabetes symptoms, such as diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy ( 5 ).
Scientists have proven that aspartame conflicts with insulin / glucose tolerance, a marker of prediabetes, especially for those who are already obese. One reason for this may be that aspartame alters the intestinal microbiota (healthy bacteria). These changes can cause glucose intolerance in healthy people. An animal study conducted in December 2016 indicates a relationship between the interaction of aspartic acid found in aspartame and glucose control. This, again, is exacerbated by the way this amino acid passes through the blood-brain barrier. Researchers also found behavioral deficiencies in experimental subjects.
3. May increase the risk of heart disease and stroke
Aspartame consumption is associated with the development of metabolic syndrome. This group of conditions includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, and high cholesterol / triglycerides. All of this dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Studies have shown that frequent use of artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin, has been linked to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease ( 6 ).
Another experiment studied stroke and related risk factors. A significant increase in the risk of heart events was found – even when monitoring the study for people with various concomitant diseases – in people who drink diet soft drinks daily. The same phenomena were not characteristic of those who drank regular soda ( 7 ). Like the carcinogenic risk of aspartame, the risk of heart disease also increases when exposed in the womb. Animals exposed to intrauterine aspartame eat more sugary foods in adulthood, are at risk of obesity, and are more likely to have high blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides.
4. May cause nervous system and brain disorders
Since many of the main complaints about aspartame are neurological in nature, special attention has been paid to how it affects the brain and the neurological system. In 1998, neurosurgeon Russell L. Blaylock published a book called Exotoxins: A Taste That Kills, which details his study of aspartame and its association with brain tumors, cell damage, and conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He attributes these effects to the fact that compounds in aspartame stimulate neurons.
Studies in the Nursing Department of the University of North Dakota have revealed an increase in irritation, more depressive behavior, and a decrease in spatial orientation in people using a “high-aspartame diet” ( 8 ). These “high” aspartame levels were actually about half the maximum allowable daily intake. This correlates with a 2014 animal study, which showed that chronic aspartame consumption is associated with distorted neuronal function and increased brain cell death in certain areas of the brain.
For those who also consume monosodium glutamate (MSG), these cognitive problems can be even more pronounced. Exposure to MSG and aspartame dramatically reduces dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain of mice and causes oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells. This is not the only case when it has been found that aspartame causes oxidative stress and impairs the body’s ability to combat it with antioxidants. This effect is most significant in cases of prolonged use of aspartame and is associated with memory loss.
One of the first studies on aspartame in the brain was conducted by John Olney, founder of neurobiology, known as exotoxicity, in 1970 ( 9 ). For a long time he opposed the legalization of aspartame because of his extensive research on this subject. His 1970 publication showed that aspartame-exposed infant mice develop brain damage even at relatively low doses. If this is true for people at some level, this may help explain why aspartame is associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia, according to a Framingham heart study.
5. May worsen or cause mood disorders.
Aspartame, closely associated with its effect on neurological decline, can also be closely associated with the development of certain mental disorders, especially depression. Ingestion of aspartame can potentially lead to a decrease in cognitive and emotional functions. The use of diet drinks has been repeatedly associated with depression, including in one study in which nearly 264,000 people participated in 10 years. Researchers found that those who drink more than four cans or cups of diet soda per day are 38% more likely to develop depression, and those who drink coffee are 10% less likely to experience depression.
In 1993, a well-known experiment was conducted, the purpose of which was to identify a correlation between mood disorders and aspartame in patients with a diagnosis of depression or without it ( 10 ). Before it could be completed, the Institutional Oversight Board had to suspend the study because participants who had a history of depression had such serious negative reactions that it made the department discourage anyone with a history of mood problems from taking aspartame from Because of their alleged sensitivity to it.
6. Perhaps contributes to fibromyalgia
The causes and treatment of a pain disorder called fibromyalgia are still unknown. But one small study examined patients with fibromyalgia who had been trying for years to find effective treatment.
The study showed that elimination of aspartame and sodium glutamate (the two most common food exotoxins) led to the complete or almost complete elimination of all symptoms within a few months. Symptoms returned after taking any of these substances ( 11 ).
7. Associated with weight gain
Studies examining the aspartame sweetener, what it is, and what is harmful, have come to the conclusion that a non-nutritive sweetener actually contributes to weight gain, rather than maintaining it healthy, as the manufacturers claim. Eating aspartame products was associated with the development of metabolic syndrome, one of the features of which is excess fat on the stomach. It is clear that aspartame will not help you lose weight. Now the question is: why?
There are several suggested reasons why aspartame does not lead to weight loss. For example, consuming non-nutritive sweeteners (calorie-free sugars) does nothing for sweeter foods. While sugar intake has the same effect, real sugar has the advantage of providing feedback to calories, a “food reward” that your body understands means that it must stop eating. Aspartame, however, does the opposite – he encourages cravings and addiction to sweets, all without the caloric feedback needed to control consumption. This, in turn, leads to the use of more non-nutritious foods and drinks.
In addition to this disturbance in normal biological feedback, a study published in late 2016 in mice showed that phenylalanine in aspartame is a digestive enzyme inhibitor that protects against the development of a metabolic syndrome called “intestinal alkaline phosphatase” ( 12 ). Thus, unsweetened soda not only leads to higher calorie intake in general, but can actually stop the normal reactions of your body, which are designed to protect against obesity and other risk factors for the disease.
8. May cause premature menstruation
In a new aspect of aspartame research, three American universities studied young girls for 10 years to track growth and hormonal changes, as well as lifestyle and diet. They found that drinking caffeinated soft drinks, especially dietary drinks, was associated with the early development of the menstrual cycle ( 13 ).
Why is it important? Because the long-term risks of early puberty include breast cancer, HPV, heart disease, diabetes, and all-cause mortality.
9. Associated with the development of autism
Another reason to avoid this sweetener is that it is associated with the development of autism in children. In the journal Hypotheses Medical, scientists discussed a study in which women exposed to dietary methanol (found in aspartame) were more likely to give birth to children who developed autism ( 14 ).
10. Increased risk of kidney disease
In people with initially healthy kidney function, drinking aspartame diet sodas may be associated with a 30% drop in kidney function than those who do not consume diet sodas. This study was conducted over 20 years and included more than 3,000 women ( 15 ).
There is evidence that aspartame is harmful to the digestive tract as a whole, provoking the development of a syndrome of “leaky” intestines .
11. May cause aspartame disease
This term, although not an officially recognized disease, was coined by a doctor named H.J. Roberts. He published an extensive study in his book Aspartame Disease in 2001 and advocated its ban on governing bodies until his death in 2013. He believes that this is an epidemic in Western civilization that is ignored and actually sanctioned by the FDA and other government bodies ( 16 ). He claims that symptoms of aspartame disease include the following:
- Low blood sugar
- Cramps (cramps)
- Depression and other mental disorders
- High blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Brain tumors
For whom aspartame is harmful
Knowing the facts about aspartame, what it is and how it is harmful, we can say that there are no categories of people to whom this ingredient would suit. Diabetics, people trying to lose weight, children, pregnant women, and everyone else. Studies show that aspartame is not a healthy food. In fact, it harms your health.
Here’s what you need to remember when it comes to why we should all avoid using aspartame:
- increases the risk of metabolic syndrome
- increases the risk of stroke
- upsets appetite control
- may cause weight gain
- may have toxic effects, causing headaches, depression, dizziness, and confusion
- increases cancer risk
- negatively affects the brain and the neurological system
- may adversely affect unborn children
Natural Alternatives to Aspartame
What is the safest artificial sweetener to use?
In fact, any synthetic, artificial food is not the best choice for your body and health. However, there are several natural alternatives to aspartame that will not have the same devastating health effects. One of the best natural sweeteners is stevia. The rule for sweeteners is always to use in moderation . Although the following three may even be beneficial for your health, it’s better to limit your intake of sweets in general and focus more on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and organic meat:
- Stevia : a vegetable sweetener has been growing for millennia in parts of South America and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. There are several benefits to stevia, including some laboratory evidence that stevia kills the causative agent of borelliosis. When using stevia, avoid dangerous altered stevia mixtures (which often contain very little stevia) and use pure, organic stevia.
- Raw Honey: Helps withstand the effects of certain allergies, and also helps control weight, helps sleep, and fight oxidative stress.
- Monk fruit: This fruit-based sweetener does not contain calories, but is 300-400 times sweeter than sugar. There is evidence that it can help reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, and fight infection.
Aspartame is a non-nutritive sweetener that has been around for decades and is often found in zero-calorie drinks such as diet cola or diet Pepsi, as well as sugar-free foods.
It breaks down into two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid, as well as methanol (which turns into formaldehyde and diketopiperazine). The last three of this list are known carcinogens.
Methanol and formaldehyde are especially dangerous for humans due to how they are metabolized in the body, in combination with the fact that we do not have the necessary enzyme to convert formaldehyde into a less dangerous substance, like most animals.
Many studies have been conducted on the dangers of aspartame. It has been discovered that it is associated with a large number of diseases, ranging from headaches to cancer and diabetes.
There are absolutely no benefits to consuming aspartame. In fact, the weight loss benefits for which he is moving forward are completely false.
Drinking or consuming aspartame products is especially dangerous for mothers and young children because of how it affects behavior and health in later life.
Instead of drinking soda or sweet fruit juices, quench your thirst by drinking kombucha or regular tea.