What is aspartame?
Is it bad for you?
My favorite soft drink is Diet Coke. Diet Coke is sweetened by a substance called aspartame. I have been trying to improve every aspect of my life regarding health choices. One thing I plan to change is what I choose to drink.
Not surprisingly, water is going to be my main drink going forward. Water can be flavored using fruit for a different taste. Stay tuned for a future blog post on different ways to enjoy the healthiest drink on the planet!
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click on, or make a purchase through a third-party link.
What is Aspartame?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener marketed under the following names:
This substance is found in over 6,000 food items and is consumed by millions of Americans daily.1
Aspartame is found in many diet soft drinks, chewing gum, and vitamin supplements. It is not a good sweetener for baking because it breaks down and loses most of its sweetness when heated.
Aspartame is a dipeptide of two natural amino acids, L-aspartic acid, and L-phenylalanine. After ingested, aspartame is broken down into-
- Aspartic acid
- Formic acid
Aspartame and your Health
Aspartame has been a subject of controversy for years. Many believe that this sweetener is hazardous to one’s health. We will take a look at some of the available studies.
Effects on the Brain
The metabolism of aspartame mentioned above may lead to the following effects on the brain.
- Phenylalanine acts as a regulator of neurotransmission.6
- Aspartic acid is an excitatory neurotransmitter 7
Studies have shown a decrease in the production of dopamine and serotonin following aspartame ingestion.
This is believed to be caused by an increase in aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
We know that aspartame also increases the permeability of the blood-brain-barrier altering concentrations of some substances such as dopamine in the brain. This change in dopamine concentration may lead to the pathogenesis of some mental disorders.10
Other researchers have concluded that these adverse effects of aspartame only occur at very high concentrations not generally achieved by typical aspartame consumption.
A study published in April of 2014 tested the effects of high-aspartame meals (25 mg/kg/day) vs. low-aspartame meals (10 mg/kg/day) on spatial orientation, working memory, mood (irritability), depression and headaches.
This study was double-blind, and the subjects served as their own controls. They received either the high-aspartame diet or low-aspartame diet followed by a two-week washout period. During this washout period, they consumed their regular diet. After the washout period, they received the other aspartame diet (high or low).
The treatment periods were eight days in length.
The results are shown in Table 1 below.
This study found that subjects showed weaker spatial orientation and an increased frequency of irritability and depression when consuming the high-aspartame diet 12
Another study by Walton et al. in 1993 also found high aspartame diets caused more irritability and depression. This study was not completed due to adverse reactions experienced by the study subjects.13
Aspartame and Cardiometabolic Health
An analysis of 7 trials (1003 subjects) was published in 2017. These subjects were obese, overweight, or hypertensive. This study found that artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, may be associated with increased body mass index (BMI) and cardiometabolic risk.14
More experimental studies are needed to compare different sweeteners with regard to BMI and cardiometabolic effects. At the current time, research does not support a benefit of artificial sweeteners for weight management.
Other Health Concerns Regarding Aspartame
Aspartame has been a controversial substance for many years. Here are some of the other risks reported with its use.
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Some people have also reported headaches after ingesting aspartame.
My recommendation for anyone suffering from headaches is to keep a journal. Keep track of what you eat and drink daily. When you have a headache, write down the time and severity in the journal.
Determine if patterns exist.
Are certain foods a possible trigger?
If you are taking medications for psychosis or suffer from phenylketonuria, you should avoid aspartame.
Please see my blog post on low glycemic sweeteners by clicking here.
My research shows the most likely adverse effects resulting from aspartame consumption are weaker spatial orientation and an increased frequency of irritability and depression. These only seem to be a concern when consuming higher amounts of aspartame.
Although aspartame has been blamed for many other negative health effects, the available research doesn’t support this.
I look at aspartame as a risk vs. benefit situation.
Since there are other sweeteners available, I am going to limit my intake of aspartame. My goal will be to consume black coffee, water (flavored and plain), and AXIO.
I don’t feel the risk of consuming aspartame is currently worth the benefit.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know.
Have a great week, and be happy and healthy!
Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP
Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.
Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.