Wellbeing with Nutrition
Nurturing the Mind and Body

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used to flavour many foods, medicines and drinks. It has many brand names such as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. Even though aspartame is an approved sweetener, there are many health concerns.  


Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company, was testing an anti-ulcer drug.
It was originally approved for dry goods in 1974, but objections filed by neuroscience researcher Dr John W. Olney and Consumer attorney James Turner in August 1974 as well as investigations of G.D. Searle's research practices caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put approval of aspartame on hold. It was approved later for dry goods in 1981 and for carbonated beverages in 1983. 

In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle and made Searle Pharmaceuticals and The NutraSweet Company separate subsidiaries.

Aspartame - Adverse Effects

Aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.
Here are just a few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame:

  • headaches/migraines, vision problems, memory loss
  • dizziness, hearing loss, vertigo, tinnitus
  • seizures,
  • nausea,
  • numbness,
  • muscle spasms, 
  • heart palpatations, breathing difficulties
  • weight gain,
  • rashes,
  • depression, irritabilty, anxiety, 
  • fatigue, insomnia
  • joint pain
  • slurred speech, loss of taste

According to some researchers and physicians, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting aspartame:

  • brain tumours,
  • multiple sclerosis,
  • epilepsy,
  • chronic fatigue syndrome,
  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • Alzheimer’s,
  • mental retardation,
  • lymphoma,
  • birth defects,
  • fibromyalgia and diabetes.  

What Is Aspartame Made Of?

Aspartame is made up of 3 chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.

Aspartic Acid (40% of Aspartame)

Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi, published a book 'Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills Health' (1994), which details the damage caused by the ingestion of excessive aspartic acid from aspartame. Blaylock makes use of almost 500 scientific references to show how excess free excitatory amino acids such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid (about 99% of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is glutamic acid) in our food supply are causing serious chronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms. 

Aspartate and glutamate act as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neurone to neurone. Too much aspartate or glutamate in the brain kills certain neurones by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are referred to as "excitotoxins." They "excite" or stimulate the neural cells to death.

The blood brain barrier (BBB), normally protects the brain from excess glutamate and aspartate as well as toxins, however the BBB

  1. Is not fully developed during childhood,
  2. Does not fully protect all areas of the brain,
  3. Is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions, and
  4. Allows seepage of excess glutamate and aspartate into the brain even when intact.

The excess glutamate and aspartate slowly begin to destroy neurones. Before any clinical symptoms of a chronic illness are noticed, a large majority (75% or more) of neural cells in a particular area of the brain will have been damaged.

A few of the many chronic illnesses that have been shown to be contributed to by long-term exposure to excitatory amino acid damage include:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Memory loss
  • Hormonal problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Hypoglycemia
  • AIDS
  • Dementia
  • Brain lesions
  • Neuroendocrine disorders

The risk to infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with certain chronic health problems from excitotoxins is therefore high. 

Phenylalanine (50% of Aspartame)

Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in the brain. Persons with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolise phenylalanine. This leads to dangerously high levels of phenylalanine in the brain. It has been shown that ingesting aspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excess levels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not have PKU.

Many people who have eaten large amounts of aspartame over a long period of time and do not have PKU have been shown to have excessive levels of phenylalanine in the blood. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels of serotonin in the brain to decrease, leading to emotional disorders such as depression. It was shown in human testing that phenylalanine levels of the blood were increased significantly in human subjects who chronically used aspartame. 

One account of a case of extremely high phenylalanine levels caused by aspartame was recently published in the "Wednesday Journal" in an article titled "An Aspartame Nightmare". John Cook began drinking six to eight diet drinks every day. His symptoms started out as memory loss and frequent headaches. He began to crave more aspartame-sweetened drinks. His condition deteriorated so much that he experienced wide mood swings and violent rages. Even though he did not suffer from PKU, a blood test revealed a phenylalanine level of 80 mg/dl. He also showed abnormal brain function and brain damage. After he kicked his aspartame habit, his symptoms improved dramatically.  

Methanol (10% of Aspartame)

The absorption of methanol into the body speeds up considerably when free methanol is ingested. Free methanol is created from aspartame when it is heated to above 86 Fahrenheit (30 Centigrade). This would occur when an aspartame-containing product is improperly stored or when it is heated. This would occurwith foods like sugar-free jelly which contains aspartame

Due to the lack of a couple of key enzymes, humans are many times more sensitive to the toxic effects of methanol than animals. Therefore, tests of aspartame or methanol on animals do not accurately reflect the danger for humans. As pointed out by Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, director of the food science and nutrition laboratory at Arizona State University, "There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possible mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic effects of chronic administration of methyl alcohol." 

For more information, see Dr Mercola's article on aspartame here