The Truth About Aspartame and Your Health

Our resident medical expert, Scott, and a buddy of his recently started The Medicine Journal, where you can learn all sorts of interesting facts about all things medical related. Below is a sample article from their new site.

diet-sodaA quick online search of Aspartame will provide you with numerous opinions about this artificial sweetener.  Some claim it causes things like cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis, lupus, memory problems and brain tumors.  Just about every governmental organization in the world, regulating food products, have deemed it safe for human consumption. (But, you know, just about every governing body in the world still gets the “sodium raises blood pressure” myth wrong, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, so let’s not take their word on the whole Aspartame thing!)

In an attempt to provide some sanity to the controversy, let’s take an in-depth look at this sweet, supposed compound-of-death and see if we can’t make sense of the madness.

Aspartame was first developed by G.D. Searle and Co in 1965.  In 1974, it gained approval from the FDA as a food additive.  The benefit of using Aspartame over sugar is the result of how sweet it is.  Sugar and Aspartame both produce about 4 calories per gram.  Aspartame, however, is about 180 times sweeter than sugar.  Thus, you need much less to get the same perception of sweetness.  This is the reason it works so well as a low-calorie sweetener.

Aspartame is made of the two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and the alcohol, methanol.  All of the health concerns regarding this sweet supplement are a result of what those three things can do to the body.

The question then becomes, do the three parts of Aspartame cause health problems?  The quick answer is yes, at high enough levels they do, but please don’t stop reading here- the quick answer isn’t the whole answer.

So if high doses of Aspartame are harmful, why are they allowed in our food?

It turns out, low doses aren’t harmful and we even need those amino acids to perform certain functions within the body.  In fact, phenylalanine and aspartic acid are either produced by our bodies from many other foods, or are already found naturally in our diets.

Methanol, more commonly known as wood-alcohol, is definitely not needed by our bodies.  If you’re wondering why it’s allowed in Aspartame, it’s because it’s already found in many drinks like wine, whiskey and beer.  As you might guess from the fact that humans have been ingesting these for ages, at low levels, it seems methanol has no long term consequences.

That said, anything we take into our bodies in high enough doses can be harmful.  Arguably, the most basic of human needs is water.  Even water in high doses can kill you, in what is being called water-intoxication.  An effect that leads to inadequate amounts of salt in your blood, called hyponatremia. While you may think this would never happen, over the course of my career as a paramedic, I’ve actually been on calls and seen people die as a result of drinking too much water.  Exactly how this can take place and more specifically what is going on in the body is a topic for another article, though, as this one’s already really long!

In the end, almost everything we take in needs to fall within a certain range to be beneficial, or at the least not overly harmful.  Some things even in miniscule doses can be deadly.  For many others, it takes large doses to have lasting negative effects.  The phrase, everything in moderation, comes to mind here.

Since we already have Aspartame’s three ingredients in many of the foods we eat, the question of Aspartame’s safety is more appropriately: are the levels found in Aspartame, and the dose you may be ingesting, high enough to cause unwanted health effects?

To answer that, I’ll need to go into a little more depth on the aforementioned three things that make up Aspartame.

Aspartic acid is one of the many amino acids that help make the numerous proteins our bodies use.  It helps the liver by aiding in the removal of ammonia, and is involved in the production of anti-bodies created by the immune system.  It can be found in many different types of foods like asparagus, avocado’s, sugar beets, sausages, and molasses.

Too much aspartic acid can be seen in several different disease processes like: Lou Gehrig’s disease, Epilepsy, and certain strokes.  Unfortunately for those fighting against Aspartame, the levels seen in these conditions are several fold higher than can be achieved by eating Aspartame at recommended amounts.   There has also never been a direct cause and effect shown between these diseases and increased aspartic acid intake.

Methanol, in general, does result in some unwanted reactions within the body.  Specifically, it’s taken up by the cells of the body and the production of formaldehyde and formic acid are the result.  Formaldehyde at high levels will cause proteins to form abnormally. The result is proteins that no longer function.

Formic acid, at high levels, will cause abnormal metabolic processes within cells, causing them to cease functioning.  The result is death to that cell due to a lack of energy.  This is because it disrupts the organelle responsible for a cells metabolism, known as your mitochondria.  Some cells within the body are extremely sensitive to formic acid, specifically the ones in the optic nerve.  This is why blindness is associated with methanol poisoning.

So does Aspartame produce enough methanol to harm people?  Probably not.  There are numerous other foods we eat every day that have the same, or higher, amounts of methanol than Aspartame.  Beer and wine aside, foods like tomatoes (and tomato juice), and citrus fruits and their associated juices are good examples here.

This brings us to the last ingredient of Aspartame, phenylalanine.  There is a rare disorder called Phenylketonuria affecting about 1 in 10,000 people.  This ailment leaves your body an inability to break down phenylalanine.  Left untreated, toxic levels of phenylalanine build up.  The results can be things like developmental disorders, cardiac rhythm problems, seizures and severe learning disabilities.

Fortunately, most babies born in the developed world are tested for this disorder and treatment usually involves diet control.  Diet control because there are many foods that contain higher levels of phenylalanine than Aspartame.  Specifically, the many different types of proteins we take in.  Knowing this disorder exists, the FDA requires that Aspartame products be labeled specifically for phenylketonuria patients.

Like any food additive evaluated by the FDA, there is an extensive process that takes place before manufacturers are allowed to put it in our foods.  When the FDA first approved Aspartame as an additive, there were numerous controversies surrounding its approval.  Those controversies revolved around the studies the FDA looked at, advocating Aspartame’s safety.  That said, since its initial distribution to the masses, there have been countless new studies performed looking at Aspartame’s safety.  Numerous other reviews of the research have been conducted by several agencies, including the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The most recent was conducted by the EFSA and issued on December 10, 2013.  That review looked at almost all studies performed on Aspartame, in animal and human alike.  Knowing there is such a large controversy surrounding the supplement, the EFSA’s independent panel of experts issued an open public call for any data, comments, or concerns on Aspartame.  According to Alicia Mortensen, chair of the EFSA’s panel, “This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of Aspartame ever undertaken.”

The panel concluded that Aspartame does not cause cancer at the levels consumed by humans, and it doesn’t cause problems during pregnancy.  Overall, “There were no safety concerns at the current ADI (acceptable daily intake) of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.”

For your reference, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are on average about 180 mg of aspartame in a typical 12 ounce can of diet soda.  So an adult weighing 165 pounds would need to drink about 16 cans of diet soda per day to exceed the recommended limit, which itself is set drastically below dangerous thresholds. Specifically, according to the ACS, the acceptable daily intake is set at “about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns, based on studies done in lab animals.”  Not that you’d be able to in reality, but if you actually managed to drink 1,600 cans of diet soda in a day (one every 54 seconds), you’ll have much bigger problems than aspartame intake.

Even though the EFSA’s extremely comprehensive review should have put this issue to rest, there are researchers who still think they didn’t go far enough.

Erik Millstone, a science and food policy expert at the University of Sussex, UK, wrote an open letter to colleagues in response to the EFSA’s review.  In it, he states the panel knowingly ignored studies showing negative effects of Aspartame and deemed them unreliable.   All while the studies showing no ill effects were deemed reliable.

The initial question then still remains.  Does Aspartame have negative health effects? Some studies say it can and some say it can’t.  However, every study I could find showing negative effects did so at levels not normally consumed by any human. (They were also all animal studies.)  Again, even water will kill you if you drink too much of it.

In response to the numerous animal studies that did show an increase in health problems at high levels, Dr. David Hattan, acting director of the Division of Health Effects Evaluation in the FDA, states:

The legitimate attempts that have been made to confirm and replicate allegations of adverse reactions from Aspartame ingestion have not been successful and the USFDA continues to consider this to be among the most thoroughly tested of food additives and this information continues to confirm the safety of Aspartame.

In the end, at levels recommended by health safety experts, Aspartame has never been shown to result in negative health effects.  Should you want to get those unwanted health problems, according to animal studies, just consume an unrealistic amount of diet soft drinks on a daily basis for several years.

Just remember, you would get the same problems should you continually take in excessive amounts of things like beer, wines, red meats, tomatoes, and sugar beets over those same few years.  If you did, however, manage to drink this much soda, whether you drank it with Aspartame or sugar, you’re in for an awful lot of other health problems which will most likely kill you well before anything like cancer from Aspartame.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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  • Being a paramedic doesn’t mean you are an medical expert. This shows in the quite vague, non-specified terminology used. Sure, this is leisure reading at best, but still there should be more specified facts than “several fold higher than can be achieved by eating Aspartame at recommended amounts”.. This doesn’t tell us anything. The recommendation limits are under debate as well, already being not too high to be considered normal consumption.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @CriticQ: As I’ve said elsewhere, the strength of his argument is not based on his medical knowledge, that just helps him be able to thoroughly vet and process the various studies on the subject, where others would even just get lost in the terminology alone, let alone methodology. The strength of his arguments are always in the studies themselves.

  • Fine article, very informing. But one question: Does the body “think” it receives more sugar than it does? And therefore produces more insulin, which then again causes all the trouble we are seeing with normal sugar?

  • Here’s a thing I heard about Aspartame from a person who claimed to personally know one of the chemists involved in its development. I don’t know whether this is provably true or not, I’ve never seen it addressed in rigorous terms.

    Supposedly Aspartame was designed as an additive for cold beverages, and its alleged negative health affects occur when it is used in coffee and other hot beverages, a development not foreseen by its originators.

    I can’t source it other than anecdotally, and it might well be one of those deeply-believed myths, but I’ve never seen this proposition addressed by any authority. I don’t know if I believe it, but I’m just putting it out there.

    This was a very good article, one of the best I’ve seen in the TIFO series.

    • Aspartame was invented by accident when someone was trying to make an anti-ulcer medication. It’s invention had nothing to do with use in beverages.

  • The author of this post seems to have left out most of the horrible side effects possible from the overuse of aspartame. I recently stopped using this substance and the effects were immediate. My mood immediately lifted, my anxiety markedly decreased and my anger level went way down.If you google aspartame, one of the first things you will read is that 70% of the food related complaints the FDA receives a year are related to aspartame. Do your own research, try stopping for a few days and seeing if there are results for you and don’t think one article is going to give you a fair or complete understanding of any issue.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Dan O: I’m curious if you saw similar changes/effects when ceasing eating the other things that contain the three things aspartame is metabalized as in your body?

      • @Daven. I have only recently stopped using aspartame. I was drinking @ a gallon of the stuff a day for years. The results speak for themselves for me. I was having aspartame induced depression, anxiety and mood swings, as widely reported on by many people.And I only researched the side effects after I stopped using the stuff, at the suggestion of a health conscious friend. As to your question, there are 3 possible reasons why I am not still sick if I am eating things with the component parts of aspartame in them. 1. I have fallen below a toxic level in my blood. 2. The component ingredients of aspartame do not have the same effect when naturally occurring, as opposed to synthetic.3. these substances only become toxic in combination with each other. As I stated in my OP 70% of the food related complaints to the FDA are aspartame related. Is this article being sponsored by diet coke or something, because there is absolutely no balance to this piece.

        • Daven Hiskey

          @Dan O: “is this article being sponsored by diet coke or something?” Not at all, I personally can’t stand the taste of the stuff. 😉 Artificial sweeteners for me always leave a weird aftertaste.
          “I was drinking @ a gallon of the stuff a day for years.” That’s 10-ish cans per day. Whew. That’s still well within the limit for aspartame intake, but that amount of ingestion of soda (aspartame or not) in general on a daily basis seems like it would cause some problems.

        • Caffeine can cause anxiety and depression, especially in high doses. A gallon per day of soda is about 5 cups of coffee worth of caffeine. Even if you weren’t also drinking any coffee, that’s an awful lot of caffeine and could have been the source of your problems. You said that you stopped drinking it after advice from a friend about aspartame, so confirmation bias might have you thinking it was the aspartame when it was actually cutting out all that caffeine that solved your problem.

          • Yes, I thought of that.Soda, and especially cola is about the worst thing you can drink. I switched from soda to crystal light to caffeine free crystal light over the past few years. Before stopping the aspartame i was unable to drink coffee or caffeinated drinks due to anxiety. And a gallon of fluid a day is not out of the norm for most people. Think of it as a super big gulp and another smaller drink throughout the day. Also, I work out and need to keep hydrated and water just gets too boring for me. Funny thing is I switched to diet drinks to be more healthy. Its the aspartame that caused my problems, there is no other constant.

          • It’s amazing, actually, the people who don’t realize what’s got caffeine in it. They think that because it’s a diet cola, for example, that there’s no caffeine in it, addition to there being no sugar in it. Nothing could be further from the truth in most cases.

            The real offender is Barq’s root beer. Nearly no root beer in the world has caffeine in it…

            …except Barq’s; or, more accurately, the Barq’s in the fountain systems in restaurants. The Barq’s in bottles and cans may or may not have it; usually doesn’t. But nearly 100% of Barq’s in restaurants has caffeine in it. It’s root beer, for godsake: Why? (a rhetorical question, in need of no answer)

            Anyway, my point is, beware the things you never would have guessed have caffeine in them: Green tea, for example. People think it’s caffeine free, but some varieties of it have more caffeine than bitter old regular Liptons!

            Just sayin’.

            Gregg L. DesElms
            Napa, California USA
            gregg at greggdeselms dot com

            Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
            Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  • So that covers blue. Any plans to do similar articles on pink (saccharine), yellow (sucralose), or green (stevia)?

  • I’m sure that everything in this article is true and accurate…

    …but I, nevertheless, have not had good luck with aspartame; though any negative reactions have been so minor that it’s no big deal.

    Basically, aside from being a taste that I just can’t get used to (that said, in some soft drinks, like Diet Dr. Pepper, it’s tolerable), Aspartame can cause, in me, at least, very mild gastrointestinal discomfort and sometimes even diarrhea… at least if I drink more than a single serving-at-a-time of, say, diet soda, for example.

    And I confess that it doesn’t always happen. I have, though, found others in comments beneath articles, or forum postings, etc., who have similar symptoms.

    I’ve also found no shortage of what almost certainly has to be psychosomatic reactions to it; stuff that it just doesn’t make sense could happen in people…

    …and reading this article, especially, helps one to understand the hows and whys of that.

    Good article! Thanks!

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  • I’m sure the stuff is safe enough especially taken in context of everything else we ingest like “vitamin water” and “5-hour energy” drinks and Red Bull with Everclear (none of which are provided with an MSDS sheet). The real health hazard… for me, anyway…. is the physical reaction I have to the hideous taste.

    I recently had to start taking PeptoBismol. First tablespoon made me gag and I had to spit it out. Pepto Bismol is now sweetened with artificial sweetner (no labeling) and is absolutely GROSS. (Took it back to pharmacy for a refund and sent a stern memo to P&G)

    Whatever happened to the idea that artificial sweeteners can actually cause weight gain? That idea have any traction?

  • I have a high intake level in my opinion of Aspartame on a daily basis. Specifically one or two 2 Liter bottles of diet soda, and six to twelve packets of Equal with coffee. Also one or two Tbsp of sugar free flavoring syrup for my coffee.

    I hate drinking plain water, so these are my primary liquids. It has been years, so I am wondering if this really is a dangerous level and what can I expect for side effects?

    • You need to stop! I drunk diet coke in GALLONS as a teenager and ended up in hospital with toxic shock due to what it did to my young body. I also lost a lot of weight when I stopped artificial sweeteners, and you will learn to not miss the taste of it once you stop. Plain ‘water’, or coffee and tea, becomes a lot more flavoursome if you give your tastebuds a break from sugar/fake sugar.

      • Depends on the water. If you live in an area where it has to be chemical-treated to death and then some, I can understand drinking something else – especially something hydrated that you reconstitute, rather than spending hundreds on bottled water.

  • Alfred Miller,M.D.

    In 1987 US Senator Metzenbaum of Ohio convened a Senate Committee to investigate Aspartame.
    As a practicing physician I was asked to testify because several of my patients were developing debilitating headaches after consuming Aspartame.
    Dr. Wortman from Harvard testified that in his research laboratory animals the seizure threshold was lowered with resulting seizures.
    An Air Force pilot testified that he could no longer pilot a plane due to seizures caused by Aspartame consumption.
    An Emory University Pediatrician testified that the placenta concentrated the Aspartame in the pregnant mother’s blood 200%-300% and dumped this concentrated Aspartame into the fetus resulting in potential congenital neurological abnormalities.
    An FDA toxicologist testified that the animal studies to verify the safety of Aspartame were severely flawed and not valid.
    Senator Metzenbaum noted that Aspartame was not approved by the medical committee on several occasions. Senator Metzenbaum then noted that Aspartame was finally approved only after a new head of the FDA was appointed. Furthermore, that FDA official responsible for the final approval of Aspartame was now working full time for Aspartame.
    The negative testimonies against Aspartame began at 9A.M. and continued until the committee adjourned at 6 P.M.
    After several months no action resulted.
    I asked Senator Metzenbaum why nothing occurred – his answer was “Politics”.
    The Aspartame political clout was too powerful.
    In my practice I continued to have patients with Aspartame related symptoms – i.e. head aches, seizures, emotional conditions – all responded to cessation of the Aspartame.
    Alfred Miller,M.D.

    • I used to chew a few pieces of gum a day that contained aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners. I started noticing that headaches became more frequent. Once I eliminated the gum from my diet, the headaches disappeared. My wife noticed the same thing, and now neither of us chew gum and rarely get headaches.

      • I usually chew gum containing aspartame on a daily basis in school and have headaches but my headaches have nothing to do with chewing gum daily. I’ve had them way before I started to chew gum on a daily basis.

  • @ Dr. Miller- Thank you for your input. It is always nice to get people who were involved with actual investigations regarding the topics we write about. Thank you for the study link. I do have some problems with your statements however. The first being; you stated
    “An FDA toxicologist testified that the animal studies to verify the safety of Aspartame were severely flawed and not valid.”,

    Why then sir would you point to an animal study to prove your point?

    In the article we pointed out how controversial the FDA approval for aspartame was. Every point you made just confirmed this controversy. Since the controversy you speak of was in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I would love to get your opinion on the EFSA report done just last year in 2013. This was not done by the US FDA, as you have stated you feel the FDA was biased, and it has been stated as the most in-depth look at aspartame ever conducted. With this in mind, do you also feel this report is false? If so, why?

    You have stated that you continue to see patients that complain of
    “ i.e. head aches, seizures, emotional conditions – all responded to cessation of the Aspartame.”

    Since most of those conditions are subjective, and humans all have a confirmation bias, Do you feel these individual, subjective, reports invalidate the countless studies that say aspartame is safe?

    Also, did you account for the numerous other things in the foods and drinks containing aspartame, like caffeine? If current studies are to be believed, all of those symptoms could also be explained by the cessation of using caffeine.

  • If anything, it seems like the authors of this piece are suffering from confirmation bias. No information, whether first hand, from doctors or study based are enough to sway the authors from their original conclusions. Lets blame confirmation bias, and if that doesn’t work lets blame caffeine.
    Since stopping aspartame. I have been able to reintroduce caffeine into my diet with no detrimental effects. Aspartame is poison, at least to a large segment of the population, and in high doses. Try removing it from your diet for a week or two to see if you are being affected before you dismiss it as a harmless substance. you have nothing to lose and your well being to gain.

    • If your “confirmation” of something is the result of scientific studies that aren’t flawed in some way, it really doesn’t matter if you’re personally biased or not.

  • Alfred Miller,M.D.

    The FDA toxicologist, a PHD, listed the specific flaws invalidating the animal safety study.
    1) The identifying tags on the animals were not securely attached. These tags often became unattached and it was impossible to determine which animal was involved.
    2) The animal feed was poorly mixed. Many animals had varying intake of Aspartame – some almost none while others much more, however the actual intake was impossible to evaluate.
    The FDA toxicologist informed the head of the FDA of these deficiencies in the safety study yet they were totally ignored.
    The animal study in the link was a valid study and the conclusions are based on solid scientific evidence.
    The patients mentioned who were sensitive to Aspartame confirmed their symptoms with pure Aspartame.
    Alfred Miller,M.D.

  • @ Dr. Miller, thank you for your response. It is always appreciated when we can get first hand accounts of the things we write about. Thank you for clarifying the animal studies. Can you now comment on the newest studies, Namely the EFSA review of aspartame? This is currently the latest review on the topic (published in 2013). It has also been touted as the most in-depth review on the subject. Since it comes from a source other than the FDA (as you have stated you felt the FDA was biased) and still claims aspartames safety, it would appear as though all of our claims are correct. Do you agree or disagree with this reviews conclusion, if so, why?

    Thanks again

  • Alfred Miller,M.D.

    In 1987, at the conclusion of the Senate Hearing on Aspartame, the president of the Aspartame company, Mr. Shapiro, distributed to the Senators, those who testified, and the press copies of an article which had just been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    The article related the results of a new study performed at Duke University which attested to the safety of Aspartame and concluded no headaches were the result of Aspartame consumption.
    The article was peer reviewed and presumably valid.
    The study was very impressive.
    Reading the fine print – the study was conducted at Duke University in a facility provide by Aspartame and the study was funded by Aspartame.
    In the Spring of 1988, Letters To The Editor from Albert Einstein Medical School refuted those findings.
    If you search “Pubmed” for Aspartame studies there are many.
    The damaging effects of Aspartame are clearly documented – none are sponsored or paid for by Aspartame.
    In my Medical Practice for decades numerous patients suffered symptomatic side effects from “pure” Aspartame.
    Please don’t ask me to accept another “conclusive” study absolving Aspartame when my experiences over several decades is “conclusive” the opposite !

  • @ Dr. Miller. Thank you again for your response. Whenever there are controversial subjects it is always great to get opposing opinions so that we can make informed decisions. That being said. The review we are speaking of is not a study, but rather a review of all studies ever done on aspartame. They also take testimony and comments from countless stakeholders on aspartame. Both for and against. It was done in 2013. It was done by the EFSA. We are not asking you to accept any study but rather comment on the EFSA’s conclusion. Given that their information is the most current available and not done and or performed over 20 years ago, we are interested in your take on current research, not research performed 20 years ago.

  • Alfred Miller,M.D.

    Aspartame is the same today as it was 20 years ago.
    This is an exert from EFSA report:

    “Following a thorough review of evidence provided both by animal and human studies, experts have ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and inducing cancer. EFSA’s experts also concluded that aspartame does not harm the brain, the nervous system or affect behaviour or cognitive function in children or adults. With respect to pregnancy, the Panel noted that there was no risk to the developing fetus from exposure to phenylalanine derived from aspartame at the current ADI (with the exception of women suffering from PKU).”

    These experts are wrong !!

    If I review the math problem of 2×2 = 4 and as an expert conclude 2×2 = 5 …..I have come to an erroneous conclusion !!

  • Greg, these claims are completely fallacious. Over 90 regulatory authorities worldwide have examined aspartame and over twenty+ years found no safety problems when used as directed.
    Aspartame is degraded in the GI tract to its three constituents, phenylalanine, aspartate and methanol. Phenylalanine and aspartate are found in greater concentrations in normal foods, like milk and meat. Wurtman completely refuted his own earlier, but widely cited allegation, that phenylalanine or aspartame caused any problem with their conclusion: “Large daily doses of aspartame had no effect on neuropsychologic, neurophysiologic, or behavioral functioning in healthy young adults,” –
    Only methanol amongst aspartame degradation products presents any risk to normal people and, since all risk is dose-dependent, at the concentrations involved, methanol presents no risk. Methanol is oxidized to formaldehyde and formate–both are chemically directly converted by the (tetrahydro)folate vitamin system into very valuable methyl groups. These substances and the methyl groups produced detoxify really toxic homocysteine (see Wikipedia) and protect DNA (by converting uracil to thymine). For more on this cycle see the figure at the top of p 3000 here, –
    Any issue with aspartame is a purely PERSONAL issue. ALL these can be explained by PERSONAL matters like folate deficiency and corollary issues (both known and some likely yet unknown) like genetic folate enzyme issues (polymorphisms, Wikipedia: methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), B12 deficiency (often vegetarian-related), (genetic) methionine synthase enzyme issues, and/or (genetic) homocysteine accrual. Folate, B12, and homocysteine are all functionally interrelated (see the metabolism of folic acid All involve not just the normal, natural recycling of otherwise essential formaldehyde and formate produced from methanol into methyl groups, but the availability of these methyl groups regulate vital-to-life (DNA) itself. Ethanol (primarily through its antagonist metabolite acetaldehyde) is also known inhibitor of these vital folate reactions. So in these borderline cases of aspartame sensitivity, alcohol consumption may be a prime factor explaining any increased sensitivity to aspartame as well. Realize ethanol, not methanol, is the cause of fetal alcohol syndrome, and ethanol is a documented factor in facilitating many cancer types, for example – and –
    Critics suggest aspartame causes about every ill effect known to man claiming some 92+ symptoms. Analysis of these, however, directly links all of these issues to the above described personal issues. In what I have written above I note that various folate, B12 and related issues better explain any problems with aspartame. This year’s Norwegian autism study, – – only confirms the current importance of the deficiency issue, but those results may also reflect the fact that most of Europe still has not mandated folate fortification. But this isn’t particularly surprising both in view of methanol’s requirement for folate for metabolism, but also because folate uptake into brain has been linked to childhood autism. -
    Consider aspartame’s most widely reported issue, migraine headaches. Migraines have been linked directly to the MTHFR C677T folate polymorphism – and – Both papers report complete resolution of these migraines with added folate alone. These investigations revealed that more than the normal daily recommended amounts are needed (2-5 mg), but in these papers increased folate doses ALONE solved the migraine problem [and aspartame was not even involved]. That alone suggests a human sub-population that is even more deficient in folate for which resolution of their symptoms requires even more folate. And that is confirmed by science; up to 40% of some populations have these genetic folate polymorphisms that require even more folate, but most don’t even know it. For more –

    • Nate – well said and well-documented!

      I’ve told people time and again when they trumpet about Aspartame’s evils (or other dietary “Truths”): Every human is NOT built the same.

      Maybe aspartame does make your snot turn orange and cause you to speak in tongues. You’re off on the end of the bell curve without much company. These standards and tests span the big bulge of the bell curve representing the majority of folks.

      Bananas made my father deathly ill, but they weren’t banned from our house, let alone the rest of civilization. Peanuts make some people swell up and die, but I don’t see obsessive campaigns to remove peanuts from human existence. People with allergies simply take precautions and hope their loved ones support this flaw in their biochemistry.

      And, worst case scenario puts aspartame in that realm.

      • Sylvia salinas

        perhaps many foods cause allergic reations. But there natural.
        Sugar subitutes are man made and not naturally recognized by the body.
        Ive removed all forms of artificial. Sweetners from my life. And there is a obvious difference in my quality. Of life, without all the pervious multiple issues.

  • Here’s a fact: aspartame as an artificial sweetener can cause hyperactivity in people with sensitivity to A1 beta casein. This is because the most well established form is produced from the waste of milk-fed bacteria, and although a synthetic version exists that doesn’t cause the same issue, the chemical still has to be avoided because the purely artificial type isn’t as widely used as the other and the source of aspartame is never indicated on packaging. Drinks manufacturers are really missing a trick!

  • I was a Diet Coke drinker off and on for over 25 years and had noticed there was some controversy over the safety of aspartame but didn’t give it much thought because, after all, it had been approved by the FDA and was being used in thousands of products.
    In the fall of 2013 I started to have some health issues including numbness in the extremities, dizzyness, elevated blood pressure and heart palpatations. Went to my doctor and he ran a few tests but found nothing. After a few more weeks it got bad enough to send me to the emergency room. The doctors thought I had a stroke. They ran an MRI and various other tests but found nothing except for elevated blood pressure. I was feeling better the next day so they sent me home with no diagnosis and told me to follow up with my primary doctgor who ran many more tests but
    still no diagnosis. During this time , not wanting to aggrivate my blood pressure, I discontinued use any caffeine products and felt better for the next week. The following monday was hot and dry
    here in so. Ca. and I consumed three diet sodas during the course of the day. That evening my
    symptoms returned. At that point I started to wonder if the diet soda was the problem and did
    some research online and found much information on the toxicity of this substance and read many stories from other people who had very similar experiences.
    I immediately discontinued using any product containing aspartame and felt better for a few days but since this substance is very addictive, withdrawal symptoms followed for about a week that
    were very uncomfortable.
    It’s been a little over a year now and even though there have been many ups and downs, things
    have slowly gotten better. During this time I have noticed eight other conditions/side effects, some of which I had for years and didn’t know the cause, that have gone away so I am absolutely sure aspartame was the problem.
    The FDA and the aspartame industry says this sweetener is safe but my experience says otherwise.
    Even one of the doctors that treated me, when I told him of my suspicions, admitted that he had a
    bad experience with aspartame that caused him severe muscle and joint pain.
    Anyone that says this toxic sweetner is safe is either working for this bazillion dollar a year industry or has never had the pleasure of experiencing it’s nasty side effects. I would advise everyone to not use any product containing aspartame and to become a discriminating label reader. This sweetener is in thousands of food items and even in some medicines so even though you don’t drink diet sodas you probably are still getting aspartame in your diet. Any food item that says sugar free, 0 calorie or no added sugar probably contains aspartame and should be avoided.
    This past year has been the worst of my life and has opened my eyes to the reality that our government is not looking out for us and that we all should educate ourselves on all aspects of our daily lives and to not trust those who would benefit from our trust and ignorance.

  • Correlation does not imply causation.

  • Everything in moderation works for me. If your body feels better by not eating or drinking something, then stop. Our bodies all react differently. Stop worrying so much and enjoy life.

  • I bet that people that complain about all these weird symptoms have something else in their life causing the problem: stressful job or marriage, money problems, or with food intake do they smoke, drink alcohol, or too many carbs in general, get enough exercise? drink water? I have been drinking diet sodas with no caffeine (like Fresca, etc.) that have no dyes etc in them for years and don’t have any health issues from them. BUT I also get exercise, drink water, and don’t eat a bunch of sugar, etc. It’s really about moderation. I think people that have all these health issues are because of OTHER unhealthy choices that combined have sparked it off. Or the shear amount of the soda their drinking. Or the fact that their soda has caffeine in it, the ones I drink don’t. The the solution is incredibly simple: exercise, drink water sometimes (I do about one-to-one ratio), don’t eat a tons of carbs and sugary snacks, and get some sleep, stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. You would have to be a real conspiracy nut to believe this stuff is harmful in moderate doses.

    • Also, Coke just did a thing this year where they stopping using BVOs and about 15 other chemicals that people were nervous about in an effort to restore faith in their products. So the companies are listening and trying to remove anything they see as even potentially harmful.

  • So the next time you are the gym and need a lift, why dont you just go up to the counter ask for a dose of their latest sports drink cancer supplement? Because you’ll find in most of these supposedly healthy drinks and protein powders a healthy dose of cancer inducing chemical sugars.

  • This article is so very wrong.
    Ammonium Sulfate smells a little bit like urine.
    Hydrogen Sulfide smells like rotten eggs or farts.

  • Even the hyper-link took you to an article re: Hydrogen Sulfide.

  • Last thing, Dr. Miller you of all people should know that anecdote is no basis for conclusion. Only double blinded PROSPECTIVE research involving large groups of otherwise healthy test subjects with similar diet, drug and psychiatric histories and placebo controls even approach scientific credibility. Migraine headache has a trigger list a mile long how were you controlling for other potential triggers? Are you really a doctor or using an “appeal to authority” strategy to compensate for the weakness of your argument. Linus Pauling was a brilliant Nobel laureate but he was wrong about Vitamin C. And Greg, since when do paramedics receive training in metabolic biochemistry? The high levels of aspartate “found” in ALS and the like are probably not etiologic but rather symptomatic of the illness if they are associated with it at all. If the proximate cause of those illnesses was definitively known, they would be treatable.
    To those who spout the term “organic” and “natural” to mean “safe” may I remind you aflatoxin, petroleum, ricin and excrement fit that description perfectly, but I wouldn’t eat them intentionally. Get you head out of your ass! New age “woo woo” nonsense severely erodes your credibility. Believe it if you want, but don’t present it as science if you want to be taken seriously – if so many of us are being poisoned, then why is the population exponentially expanding and life span increasing apace with technological advances despite increasing levels of pollution? Think about it……..

  • In June 2005 I was drinking A LOT of aspartame drinks and foods with aspartame in them to keep from putting on weight. One day I began to have some strange symptoms. My speech began to slur a bit, when I would try to write my handwriting would be very small, and I would get a bit of a dizzy feeling. These symptoms reminded me of MS at the time and I remembered that someone had sent me an email about a year before that said aspartame could cause MS symptoms. I was frightened and stopped taking anything with aspartame in it. I went to see my doctor and he sent me to a neurologist who performed a spinal tap and ordered a CT scan on my head. The ct scan was inconclusive, but the results of the spinal tap made him send me to an MS specialist. My appointment was about 2 months out and in the meantime, my symptoms worsened a bit, especially the speech. One day, just as quickly as the symptoms appeared they disappeared. A week later I saw the MS specialist and all my symptoms were gone!! He had me go for more ct scans and I kept a couple more office visits with him. I asked him at one point whyI needed to keep coming because everything was gone. He told me “A person who is having an acute attack of MS might have about 11 of the proteins they find in a spinal tap, but you had 19!!” I was shocked. I realized that he wanted me to keep coming because he was thinking I may have relapsing remitting MS. When those symptoms stopped I NEVER experienced that again!! This is 14 years ago now. The only thing I changed was I stopped eating and drinking anything with aspartame in it.