All I know is that drinking anything with aspartame in it gives me a migraine and I know several other people with the same problem. I have also seen research, but I'm afraid I can't cite the papers, which links aspartame with various forms of brain tumour and minor nerve damage.

The only advice when concerned about the effects of a chemical is to look up the research yourself (and see how much of it is funded by the people who make the chemical, in this case I believe Monsanto, and make your own decision.

In my case aspartame has definite bad side effects, and tastes horrible, so I cut it out. You may decide differently...

Personally I suspect that most of the dangers supposedly associated with the chemical are scaremongering, but the claim made by Monsanto that the chemical can't cross the blood-brain barrier and thus can have no effect on the brain is demonstrably untrue in my case at least (and yes, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data...)

Update 8/02/04 momentatus' w/u below seems to explain why aspartame gives me migraines - I hadn't seen that explanation before, but it makes perfect sense. The advice I give still stands however - look into the research for yourself if at all concerned. I find the claims against negative health effects in general far from convincing, but mildly worrying nonetheless.

However, there is one specific case when aspartame definitely has bad effects, that surprisingly hasn't been mentioned here, and that is the case of people with phenylketonuria, known as PKU. These people cannot process phenylalanine, and if they don't avoid any food containing it during their childhood years they suffer from severe brain damage. This is probably where a lot of the rumours about aspartame causing damage first come from.

There have been, over the years, many stories that claim aspartame is bad for your health (including a writeup that no longer exists here). The bottom line is that, imho, the story that aspartame is any more dangerous to your health than eating, say, eggs, is most likely disinformation without any scientific backing.

I submit to you, dear reader, the following excerpt from a reputable medical journal.


From a letter to the Lancet, Volume 354 (9172), (July 3, 1999), p 78:

Aspartame and the Internet
[Correspondence]

Zehetner, Anthony; McLean, Mark
Department of Endocrinology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney NSW 2145, Australia

Sir-Patients at our diabetes clinic have raised concerns about information on the internet about a link between the artificial sweetener aspartame and various diseases. Our research revealed over 6000 websites that mention aspartame, with many hundreds alleging aspartame to be the cause of multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosis, Gulf War syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, brain tumours, and diabetes mellitus, among many others. Virtually all of the information offered is anecdotal, from anonymous sources and is scientifically implausible. (emphasis mine)

Aspartame, a dipeptide composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid linked by a methyl ester bond, is not absorbed, and is completely hydrolysed in the intestine to yield the two constituent aminoacids and free methanol. Opponents of aspartame suggest that the phenylalanine and methanol so released are dangerous. In particular, they assert that methanol can be converted to formaldehyde and then to formic acid, and thus cause metabolic acidosis and neurotoxicity.

Although a 330 mL can of aspartame-sweetened soft drink will yield about 20 mg methanol, an equivalent volume of fruit juice produces 40 mg methanol, and an alcoholic beverage about 60-100 mg. The yield of phenylalanine is about 100 mg for a can of diet soft drink, compared with 300 mg for an egg, 500 mg for a glass of milk, and 900 mg for a large hamburger. [1] Thus, the amount of phenylalanine or methanol ingested from consumption of aspartame is trivial, compared with other dietary sources. Clinical studies have shown no evidence of toxic effects and no increase in plasma concentrations of methanol, formic acid, or phenylalanine with daily consumption of 50 mg/kg aspartame (equivalent to 17 cans of diet soft drink daily for a 70 kg adult). [1,2]

The antiaspartame campaign purports to offer an explanation for illnesses that are prominent in the public eye. By targeting a manufactured chemical agent, and combining this with pseudoscience and selective reporting, the campaign makes complex issues deceptively simple. Sensational website names (eg, aspartamekills.com) grab the browser's attention and this misinformation is also widely disseminated via chat groups and chain e-mail.

People consult the internet about medical issues for various reasons and many users regard online sources as being authoritative and valid. The medical profession has a role in teaching our patients to be discriminating consumers of the information offered there.

*Anthony Zehetner, Mark McLean
Department of Endocrinology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney NSW 2145, Australia

REFERENCES
1. Aspartame. In: Gelman CR, Rumack BH, Hess AJ, eds. DRUGDEX® System. Englewood, Colorado: MICROMEDEX, 1998. Edition expires 1999.
2. Anon. ADA position statement: use of noncaloric sweeteners. Diabetes Care 1991;

Aspartame: C14H18O5 AKA Nutrasweet

Has the structure :-


H2N-CH-CO-NH-CH-CO2CH3
    |        |
    CH2      CH2
    |        |
    CO2H    / \
           | O |    = Benzene ring
            \ /

So far as any scientific study has shown, there's nothing in Aspartame that poses any danger to humans... except its taste.

Any time you ingest something that tastes strongly of sugar, your body (prompted by the brain) releases insulin. If there's no sugar in your stomach at the time, and particularly if there's no sugar there and your liver's supply of glycogen (sugar stored for quick release) is depleted (say at the end of a long day), you're risking insulin shock - the mechanism behind diabetic seizures, which occur when diabetics inject insulin and then forget to eat some carbohydrates. So it shouldn't be big surprise that despite repeated studies showing Aspartame itself to be safe (and actually safer as your body gets more used to it), perhaps the most common claim against it on the internet is that “it causes seizures”.

Particularly if your body isn't used to aspartame, and hasn't learned that you like to tease it this way; add a little sugar (preferably longer acting fructose) to the drink. Otherwise, you'll be a good candidate for a mild seizure such as an absence seizure, and if you're subject to migraines, one of those isn't exactly unlikely either. (You could just eat, say, a couple of corn chips with the pop, of course, but you might not stop at just two.)

Fructose (fruit sugar) is absorbed slowly and won't act as an appetite stimulant, so you'll still have something of a diet drink (assuming you add only a little). In contrast to fructose, studies show sucrose stimulates the appetite by raising and then crashing blood sugar levels. We haven't evolved to handle sucrose well because it is extremely rare in nature: only a handful of plants produce it in any quantity.

Needless to say, the above cautions apply to any and all sugar substitutes which might cause the release of insulin in the absence of actual carbohydrates. (Some diet substitutes for sugar, such as mannitol, are actually sugars, but less caloric.)

It seems likely, or at least possible, that over a long time of exposure to Aspartame your body, so to speak, would learn to be more cautious in releasing insulin, presumably making seizures far less likely. However, if it therefore began to release less insulin in all sugary situations, this adaptation could produce powerful side effects itself - perhaps greatly increasing blood sugar levels since sugars weren't being stored, or perhaps a strong dietetic effect, as fewer sugars were being stored from meals or snacks. Needless to say, more study is needed here.

If you're diabetic, and don't have a significant insulin response, aspartame should be perfectly safe for you.

It should be noted that while the body is known to conduct hormonal activity in response to sensations like taste, especially in conjunction with memories activated by these sensations (such as a possible memorable association between tasting sweetness and then receiving sugar to the bloodstream), the massive majority of hormone release is done in direct response to levels of the substance in question (in this case sugar) in the blood, through homeostatic mechanisms. Additionally, while it is possible that in some remote physiologies a false sweetener (which could be aspartame, saccharine, stevia, sucralose, or anything remotely sweet by this reasoning) could cause a premature release of insulin, it is highly unlikely that this would occur repeatedly, as your body would not receive any reinforcement to its standard that sweetness and sugar intake are associated. Look at Pavlov's dogs, for evidence--repeated stimulus with no reinforcement produces a reduced reaction to the stimulus (because the dogs aren't dummies, and hell, neither is your body).

Migraines can be triggered by any number of things, not all of which are scientifically understood, including chocolate and other foods, depending wholly on the individual. It is entirely possible that migraines could result from something which metabolizes from aspartame, or which results tangentially from your body's contact with the chemical.

Migraines are not likely to be indicators of possible brain damage.

Furthermore, advice to the world:

If you like it, enjoy it. If you dislike it, do not enjoy it. Do not be quick to tout a product's medical drawbacks because it tastes funny. Asparagus tastes funny, but it doesn't cause brain damage. Question what you will, but don't take scientific sides on the basis of taste. Enough evidence exists to indicate that aspartame is perfectly safe, including the FDA approval process, which is more frequently called excessively rigorous than not.


By the way, it should be very much expected that a corporation would fund scientific surveys to determine the toxicity of its products. Funding does not imply corruption--keep in mind we're talking about artificial sweeteners, here, not the X-Files.

imho, Myself and another epileptic I know cannot have any form of artificial sweetener. This has proven bad on more than one occasion. For example. Living in a house with a diabetic and a diet-obsessed person led me to ending up about two miles from home, thoroughly lost and disoriented, after having used what I thought were sugar packets, because my parental unit kept both in the house. I didn't know how to tell the difference at the time. Now I do. But, on that note, if you do have epilepsy and can have artificial sweeteners without a problem, go for it. But if you don't know, please, please be careful and consult your neurologist!

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