Side effects of aspartame


Aspartame is an artificial, noncarbohydrate, low-calorie (4 calorie/gram) sweetener discovered in 1965 by James Schlatter and used since the 1980s now found in 6000 sugar-free products. It is very similar to the taste of sugar ability to intensify and extend fruit flavors, such as cherry and orange and used in various carbonated and powdered soft drinks, beverages, chewable multi-vitamins, breakfast cereals, chewing gum, puddings and fillings, yogurt products, and over 500 pharmaceuticals. Aspartame chemical name is (N-l-α-aspartyl-l-phenylalanine 1-methyl ester), 200 times sweeter than sucrose and is approved for use in food products in over 90 countries around the world. Some of the side effects and benefits of aspartame are as follows

Approved by the health agency

Aspartame (APM) is first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981 for limited use in solid food. In 1983 its approval was extended to soft drinks in and then authorized as a general sweetener in 1996. In 1994 aspartame approved by European Union for general use. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and other international regulatory agencies have approved aspartame for general use in a range of foods including tabletop sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, yogurt, and confectionery.

The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame is currently 50 mg/kg body weight in the United States (US FDA FDA) while the JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) has set this value as 40 mg/kg of body weight/day for both children and adults.

Health Benefits of Aspartame

1. Treat Osteoarthritis

Aspartame contains bioactive compounds that act as an anti-inflammatory agent that is effective to relieve pain caused by chronic inflammation of the joints, reduces the formation of blood clots and fever thus has antithrombotic, antiarthritic properties (1, 2).

2. Nongenotoxic properties

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), aspartame does not contain any genotoxic activity (damage the genetic information like DNA) thus aspartame has no potential for mutagenic or genotoxic activity (3).

Side effects of Aspartame

Aspartame is made up of phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid (40%) and methanol (10%) and its safety profile are much better than that of saccharin or cyclamate.

When absorbed, aspartic acid is transformed into alanine plus oxaloacetate; phenylalanine is transformed mainly into tyrosine and, to a lesser extent, phenylethylamine and phenyl-pyruvate; and methanol is transformed into formaldehyde and then to formic acid. Some of the side effects of aspartame are as follows

1. Risk of allergy

Consumption of aspartame may cause some allergic reactions due to the presence of diketopiperazine, methanol, and formaldehyde, or its metabolite. Like anaphylaxis, contact dermatitis and induce hives which can be acute, delayed, or chronic when aspartame decomposes (4, 5).

2. Unstable in high temperature

Aspartame is not stable under certain conditions including baking and cooking (86F) and prolonged exposure to acid conditions generates formic acid, which in turn causes metabolic acidosis.

Moreover, on heating aspartame converts its component amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid), methanol as well as diketopiperazine and loses its sweetness in which methanol toxicity imitates multiple sclerosis, lead to death (6).

3. Risk of Cancer

A research study suggested that aspartame consumption has no significant carcinogenic effect thus the intake of low as well as the high amount of aspartame is not associated with the risk of cancer (7). Although another study on rats suggested that exposure of aspartame in the fetus, as well as an adult, increases the risk of lymphoma, leukemia, urinary tract tumors, and neurological tumors. Even at a daily dose (20 mg/kg) that is much less than the acceptable daily dose (40 mg/kg) thus there is a lack of data about the effect of aspartame on humans (8, 9).

4. Phenylketonuria

The person who is already suffering from phenylketonuria should avoid intake of aspartame because it contains phenylalanine which is not metabolized and then builds up to dangerous levels in their brains (10).

5. Harmful for brain development

If you are pregnant or a lactating mother or have infants you should avoid or use utmost caution of aspartame. Because it reduces the bodyweight of developing organisms, produces anxiety-like behavior and causes injury to the brain in several ways like memory impairments (11).

Intake of aspartame increase the levels of phenylalanine, tyrosine and aspartic acid in the brain which blocks the transport of important amino acids to the brain. It also reduces levels of dopamine and serotonin, causes hyperexcitability of neurons and leads the death of neurons (12).

Aspartame is responsible for central nervous system depression, vision disorders and other symptoms leading ultimately to metabolic acidosis and coma by alteration in brain neurotransmitter concentrations (13).

Furthermore, consumption of a high amount of aspartame (30 mg/kg/day for 7 days) may cause other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, headaches (migraine), insomnia, seizures, learning problems, irritable moods, anxiety as well as depression. Therefore, excessive aspartame ingestion may be involved in certain mental disorders and also misbalance learning and emotional function (14, 15).

6. Aspartame not good for the heart

One of the main side effects of aspartame is produced an excessive amount of reactive oxygen species that damage DNA and reduces cardiac function thus aspartame may toxic for the heart (16).

7. Damage liver

Aspartame increases the activity of some enzymes of the liver which disturb the lipid profile levels, increase oxidative stress due to the production of excessive free radicals and affect liver and kidney (17, 18). However other study suggested that aspartame (15 mg/kg) is safe for the person who is suffering from alcoholic stable liver disease therefore use of aspartame is controversial (19).

8. No effect on an obese and diabetic person

Aspartame consumption does not affect the blood glucose levels, insulin levels, total cholesterol, triglycerides level, and bodyweight however it increases high-density lipoprotein cholesterol serum levels. Thus intake of aspartame does not support a beneficial effect on diabetes and obesity (20).

9. Risk of fibromyalgia

Some people experience wrist, hand and cervical pain as well as fatigue after ingestion of aspartame however these symptoms have undergone after removal of aspartame in diet thus patients who are suffering from fibromyalgia should avoid intake of aspartame (21).

10. Aspartame Cancer

Aspartame shows carcinogenic effect in rats while other studies suggested that aspartame does not associate with an increased risk of cancer in humans thus we can say that aspartame is safe. 

What is so bad about aspartame?

Consumption of aspartame in the human diet for long-term will affect the nervous system, cardiac, liver, kidney behavioral and genetic function thus it is recommended to restrict or avoid the use of aspartame as much as possible, and if its use is necessary, decrease the dose (22, 23).

Is aspartame a poison?

Aspartame itself is not poison but yes there are some side effects of aspartame. When consumed it gets converted into toxic components. It is metabolized in the gastrointestinal tract and converts into its toxic components like aspartic acid, phenylamine, and methanol. In which phenylalanine plays an important role in neurotransmitter regulation. It further breaks into dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Which is responsible for hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, pulmonary hypertension, systemic hypertension, and irregular heartbeat (either too slow or fast) (24). Aspartic acid and their precursor glutamate, asparagines and glutamine cause hyperexcitability of neurons in the central nervous system. Moreover, methanol is converted into formate, which can either be excreted or can give rise to formaldehyde, diketopiperazine (a carcinogen) and a number of other highly toxic derivatives. However, aspartame is not considered as a poison but you should avoid excessive consumption of aspartame (25).

Will aspartame kill you?

Nope, there is currently no evidence to suggest that aspartame cause death, however it act as a chemical stressor that increases plasma cortisol level in the brain, may alter gut microbiota, may disrupt the oxidant/antioxidant balance, induce oxidative stress, and damage cell membrane integrity, and other health problem (26, 27).

Is aspartame safe?

Aspartame is safe for regular consumption however it should be used in the recommended fashion. A high dosage may cause a negative effect on the organ system.

How much aspartame is too much?

These “diet” sodas, along with thousands of other products containing aspartame. Diet sodas contain 50-125 mg of aspartame and accepted daily intake of aspartame by FDA, FAO/WHO is 40-50 mg/kg. Thus you can consume 16 cans per day of diet coke without any side effects.

Let’s take a closer look at some products that contain aspartame (28, 29)

Products containing Aspartame Additional non-nutritive sweeteners
Diet Coke/Coca Cola zero Aspartame & acesulfame K
Coca Cola Life Cane sugar + stevia
Diet Pepsi Aspartame/sucralose
Diet Mountain Dew Aspartame, acesulfame K and Saccharin
Fanta Zero Soda Aspartame, acesulfame K and Saccharin
IBC Diet Root Beer Aspartame and Saccharin
Shasta Diet Grapefruit Soda Aspartame and Saccharin
Tab Soda Aspartame and Saccharin
Sugarfree traditional Indian sweet (Halwa/Khoya Barfi/Rasgolla) Aspartame & acesulfame K & sucralose
Chewing gum Aspartame & acesulfame K



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