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Aspartame (NutraSweet) in Diet Drinks and Your Health

Aspartame in Diet Drinks and Your Health 

Back to the Table of Contents page for information on many other subjects!

Is aspartame (NutraSweet) dangerous?  What is the real answer?  Here are some studies that suggest a correlation between aspartame and brain cancers.  On the other hand, given the huge numbers of people drinking diet drinks, if it were a substantial problem, wouldn't we see more than this? 

The bottom line is common sense:  until more conclusive evidence from reliable sources is available, you're best off avoiding or at least minimizing  drinks containing any such artificial compounds.  Stick to water and fruit juices and it will obviously be better for you!

If you hear of any new studies, drop us an email at so we can include them!

Now, here are the opinions!

Positions that Aspartame is dangerous

Articles are alleging aspartame is dangerous are below. Links to related sites follow the articles.

Symptoms of claimed aspartame poisoning include:
Headaches/Migraines, Dizziness, Seizures, Nausea, Numbness, Muscle spasms, Weight gain, Rashes, Depression, Fatigue, Irritability, Tachycardia, Insomnia, Vision Problems, Hearing Loss, Heart palpitations, Breathing difficulties, Anxiety attacks, Slurred Speech, Loss of taste, Tinnitus, Vertigo, Memory loss, Joint Pain
 

Some people believe that Aspartame metabolizes into a poison and other dangerous chemicals (despite the claims of the manufacturer to the contrary), and therefore,  it can trigger or worsen the following conditions:

Brain tumors, Arthritis, Multiple sclerosis, Epilepsy, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, Mental retardation, Lymphoma, Birth defects, Fibromyalgia, Diabetes, Thyroid Disorders

Many people report that if they regular consume products containing aspartame, such as Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, over time the symptoms, especially headaches, become progressively worse, often beginning within an hour of consuming the aspartame.  At the office here, several people have commented that they have noted these same symptoms.  Since aspartame is combine with caffeine, it is difficult to know which (or both, or neither) are related to the symptoms. 

Scientific / Historic Information Section

 

General Aspartame is Bad Documents Section

 

Other Allegedly Dangerous Sweeteners Section

 

Con Links Section

 

You may want to print out and read  through the Aspartame Toxicity Reaction Samples that are available on the Aspartame (NutraSweet) Toxicity Information Center web page. This document will take a minute or two to load in web browser so please be patient. Those who have been severely damaged by aspartame have recently been encouraged to pursue legal recourse. A class-action lawsuit may be possible in the future.

Diet Drinks Suspected
for Increasing Brain Cancer Risk

SOURCE: Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology,
55(11):1115-23, 1996

Increased Brain Cancer Rates are at least partially suspected to be caused by the diet drink ingredient ASPARTAME (also known as Nutra-Sweet).  Concern arises as new research shows diet drink sweeteners can cause mutagenic damage. Scientists at Washington University explained their findings in the  abstract summary below:

"In the past two decades brain tumor rates have risen in several industrialized countries, including the United States.  During this time, brain tumor data have been gathered by the National Cancer Institute from catchment areas representing 10% of the United States population.  In the present study, we analyzed these data from 1975 to 1992 and found that the brain tumor increases in the United States occurred in two distinct phases, an early modest increase that may primarily reflect improved diagnostic technology and a more recent sustained increase in the incidence and shift toward greater malignancy that must be explained by some other factor(s).  Compared to other environmental factors putatively linked to brain tumors, the artificial sweetener aspartame is a promising candidate to explain the recent increase in incidence and degree of malignancy of brain tumors.  Evidence potentially implicating aspartame includes an early animal study revealing an exceedingly high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats compared to no brain tumors in concurrent controls, the recent finding that the aspartame molecule has mutagenic potential, and the  close temporal association (aspartame was introduced into US food and beverage markets several years prior to the sharp increase in brain tumor incidence and malignancy).  We conclude that there is need for reassessing the carcinogenic potential of aspartame.

Olney, JW; Farber, N.B.; Spitznagel, E.; Robins, L.N.
Department of Psychiatry, Washington University Medical School, St. Louis, MO

  Dorway To Discovery
Aspartame=Death Web Page (Mission Possible Radio)
Neotame Toxicity Information Center
NutraMancer City (Explore the city's hospital!)
More Resources & Links!


Positions that Aspartame is Safe


Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame


September 1997 If you are a working jounalist and have a question, would like more information, or need to identify scientific experts and sources, please contact IFIC's Media Relations Office (E-mail: morgan@ific.health.org)

Favorably Reviewed by:

American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation

(November 1997) Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener used in foods and beverages in more than 90 countries around the world. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. The calories in foods can be substantially reduced, and in many products be almost eliminated, by using aspartame in place of sugar.

Aspartame was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981 for use in powdered mixes and as a tabletop sweetener. In 1996, it was approved for use in all foods and beverages, including products such as syrups, salad dressings and certain snack foods where prior approval had not yet been obtained.

Prior to its approval, aspartame underwent one of the most thorough scientific reviews ever conducted. Regulators consider it one of the most widely tested ingredients in the food supply. The safety of aspartame has been affirmed by the FDA and leading independent health groups such as the American Medical Association.

The rapid growth and widespread use of aspartame in foods has led to much publicity, and with it, a variety of questions about this ingredient. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about aspartame.

 


What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener. It is used to sweeten a variety of foods and beverages and as a tabletop sweetener.

Why is aspartame used?

Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, tastes good, enhances citrus and other fruit flavors, saves calories and does not contribute to tooth decay.

What is aspartame made of?

Aspartame is made by joining two protein components, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are building blocks of protein and are found naturally in all protein-containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methanol is found naturally in the body and in many foods such as fruit and vegetable juices.

How is aspartame handled by the body?

Aspartame is digested just like any other protein. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into its basic components and is absorbed into the blood. Neither aspartame nor its components accumulate in the body over time.

What types of products contain aspartame?

Aspartame is used to sweeten many prepared foods, as a tabletop sweetener, and in simple recipes that do not require lengthy heating.

Can aspartame be used in cooking or baking?

Aspartame's components separate when heated over time, resulting in a loss of sweetness. Therefore, aspartame is not recommended for use in recipes requiring lengthy heating or baking. It may, however, be added at the end of the cooking cycle in some recipes. If a food containing aspartame is inadvertently heated, it would still be safe, but would simply not provide the desired sweetness.

Is aspartame safe?

As a governmental agency charged with safeguarding the American food supply, the FDA has concluded that aspartame is safe for the general public, including diabetics, pregnant and nursing women, and children. Persons with a rare hereditary disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) must control their phenylalanine intake from all sources, including aspartame. These persons are diagnosed at birth by a blood test performed on all babies. Products sweetened with aspartame carry a statement on the label that they contain phenylalanine.

How much aspartame may people consume?

The FDA uses the concept of an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for many food additives, including aspartame. The ADI represents an intake level that if maintained each day throughout a person's lifetime would be considered very safe. The ADI for aspartame has been set at 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.

How much aspartame are people actually consuming today?

The FDA monitors the amount of aspartame that Americans consume through ongoing dietary surveys. The average daily intake of Americans is less than 2 percent of the FDA guideline for acceptable consumption. The most frequent consumers of aspartame are consuming only 4 percent to 7 percent of the ADI.

How much aspartame are children consuming?

Because of children's small size, they consume proportionately larger amounts of all food ingredients than adults in relation to their body weight. Among children between the ages of 2 and 5, average consumption of aspartame is 3 percent of the ADI. The most frequent consumers of aspartame among children have been found to consume from 4 percent to 16 percent of the ADI.

Is it safe to consume more aspartame than the ADI?

Since the ADI has a built-in safety factor and represents a guideline for intake every day over a lifetime, occasional use of aspartame can be greater than the ADI without concern for safety. Tests with humans consuming much greater levels of aspartame than the ADI have shown no adverse side effects. Aspartame's ADI is the sweetness equivalency of consuming one pound of sugar per day. This amount of sweetness would be difficult for an individual to consume during one day, let alone every day over many months or years.

Have independent physicians and dietitians reviewed the safety of aspartame?

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs reviewed research on aspartame and found the sweetener to be safe. The American Dietetic Association also has concluded that moderate use of aspartame is acceptable as part of a healthful diet.

What is methanol and is it a problem in consuming aspartame?

Methanol is a natural and harmless by-product of metabolization of many commonly consumed foods. The methanol produced by the metabolism of aspartame is identical to that which is provided in much larger amounts from fruits, vegetables and their juices and is part of the normal diet. In fact, a glass of tomato juice provides 6 times as much methanol as a similar amount of diet soda. During the metabolization of aspartame in the gastrointestinal tract, methanol is released and then metabolized by normal body processes. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the methanol derived from aspartame does not accumulate in the body and thus cannot reach harmful levels.

How was aspartame tested before it was approved for use in foods?

Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied ingredients in the food supply. It was tested in more than 100 scientific studies prior to its approval by the FDA in 1981. These tests were conducted in animals and humans, including normal adults and children, lactating women and persons with diabetes, obesity and special genetic conditions. Aspartame was tested in amounts many times higher than individuals could consume in the diet. Today scientists continue to conduct new studies on this sweetener as they do many other ingredients used in the food supply. The FDA also monitors and evaluates all research on this and other food ingredients.

Have other regulatory bodies reviewed aspartame's safety?

Aspartame has been approved for use by more than 90 nations worldwide. It is used widely in major industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Aspartame has been reviewed and found safe by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization. It also has been reviewed and approved for use by the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Community.

Can pregnant women consume aspartame?

A task force of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition concluded that aspartame is safe for both the mother and developing baby. Of course, it is important for all pregnant women to consult with their doctors regarding nutritional needs during pregnancy.

Can persons with diabetes consume aspartame?

The American Diabetes Association has stated that aspartame is acceptable as a sugar substitute and can be included in a diabetic meal plan.

Is aspartame safe for people with epilepsy?

The Epilepsy Institute, an organization devoted to people suffering from seizure-related problems, has concluded that aspartame is not related to seizures among epileptic patients.

Is there any relationship between aspartame and cancer or tumor formation?

It is physiologically impossible for aspartame to be a carcinogen. Aspartame is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract to small amounts of common dietary components including the amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. We consume these same components in much greater amounts in common foods, such as milk, meat, fruits and vegetables. The body handles these amino acids in the same way it handles them from other food sources. Aspartame itself never enters the bloodstream. In addition, tests of abuse doses of aspartame in rats and mice showed no evidence of brain tumors or any kind of tumors.

Has aspartame been found to affect children's behavior?

Studies have shown that aspartame consumption does not affect the behavior of children, including those diagnosed as hyperactive or with attention deficit disorder.

Can aspartame affect vision?

Scientists know that only huge quantities of methanol can affect vision. A small amount of methanol is formed when aspartame is digested or when its components separate. However, the amount of methanol one could possibly consume from aspartame is well within safe levels, and is actually less than that found in many fruit and vegetable juices.

Can aspartame cause weight gain?

Studies have shown that foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame can be an effective part of a weight management program. Obviously, aspartame is not a drug stimulating weight loss; however, it does make possible low-calorie foods and beverages for those wishing to control their caloric intake.

Do some people have adverse reactions to aspartame?

There is no scientific evidence that aspartame is linked to adverse reactions in people. The FDA has investigated all complaints since 1980, and has stated that there has been a gradual decrease in reports of adverse reactions to aspartame received over time. The trend for reports of adverse reactions to aspartame has declined from the 1985 peak. Individuals who have concerns about possible adverse reactions to aspartame should contact their physicians.

Does aspartame cause allergic reactions?

Studies investigating aspartame as a potential allergen have found no association between aspartame and allergic reactions. In double-blind placebo-controlled studies with people who believed they developed allergic reactions after consuming aspartame, researchers found aspartame was no more likely than placebo to cause allergic reactions.

The chart below shows the number of servings of typical foods sweetened completely with aspartame that individuals would have to consume every day to reach the ADI.

 

    50-lb.   150-lb.
    Child     Adult
      7        20      12-oz. containers of carbonated soft drink
                                OR
     11        34      8-oz. servings of powdered soft drink
                                OR
     14        42      4-oz. servings of gelatin dessert
                                OR
     32        97      Packets of tabletop sweetener

 

Scientist's/Regulators/Health Groups Support Aspartame's Safety

The Food and Drug Administration and almost all scientists who are familiar with the data conclude that aspartame, and its use in a wide variety of products, is a safe and useful option for those individuals who prefer a low-calorie sweetener. Also, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization, the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union, regulatory agencies in more than 100 countries and a number of health groups have reviewed aspartame and found it safe for use. Public comments supporting the safety of aspartame include:

Health Groups
"Available evidence suggests that consumption of aspartame by normal humans is safe and is not associated with serious adverse health effects."

— American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs report, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, July 19, 1985

"[P]resent levels of aspartame consumption appear to be safe for those who do not have PKU. . . . The blood phenylalanine levels reported in response to loading doses of aspartame in normal adults and those heterozygous for the PKU gene do not seem to be sufficiently high to warrant concern of toxicity to the individual or even to a fetus during pregnancy."

— American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, Task Force on the Dietary Management of Metabolic Disorders, December 1985 Final Report

"The American Diabetes Association finds the use of the two commercially available non-caloric sweeteners saccharin and aspartame to be acceptable. The use of both sweeteners is encouraged for the particular advantages of each."

— Position statement of the American Diabetes Association, "Use of Noncaloric Sweeteners," 1990 (issued prior to the approval of acesulfame K)

"Evidence indicates that long-term consumption of aspartame is safe and is not associated with any adverse health effects."

— American Dietetic Association "Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners" position statement, July 1993

"Several years ago, experiments on rats suggested that saccharin might cause cancer. Since then, however, sudies of primates and humans have shown no increased risk of cancer from either saccharin or aspartame."

— American Cancer Society, 1996 Dietary Guidelines

"Aspartame is an FDA-approved, safe sweetening agent and flavor enhancer than can be substituted for sugar in the diet."

— American Dental Association "Statement on Aspartame," July 17, 1981

"The extensive evidence presently available indicates that aspartame is a safe food ingredient. ACSH believes that consumers need not be concerned about its use. Extensive scientific evidence, including an unusually large number of studies in human subjects, indicates that aspartame is a safe food additive. Although aspartame is now approved for a wide variety of uses, levels of consumption remain well within safe limits."

— American Council on Science and Health report, "Low-Calorie Sweeteners," March 1993

"As an organization devoted to people with seizure related problems, we [at] the Epilepsy Institute have evaluated the current scientific evidence and found aspartame to be safe for people with epilepsy. . . . the members of the Professional Advisory Board of the Epilepsy Institute looked at the seizure activity of our patients, many of whom consume aspartame regularly, and saw no change over the past three years."

— The Epilepsy Institute, published in the Congressional Record, June 20, 1986

Regulators
"We do not have any medical or scientific evidence that undermines our confidence in the safety of aspartame. This confidence is based on years of study, analysis of adverse reactions, and research in the scientific community, including studies supported by FDA."

— Frank Young, commissioner, Food and Drug Administration, in testimony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, November 3, 1987

"The data and information supporting the safety of aspartame are extensive. It is likely that no food product has ever been so closely examined for safety. Moreover, the decisions of the agency to approve aspartame for its uses have been given the fullest airing that the legal process requires."

— John M. Taylor, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, Food and Drug Administration, in correspondence rejecting petitions seeking to ban aspartame as an"imminent hazard to public health" November 21, 1986

"Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety."

— Former FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, commenting in his final decision to approve aspartame, July 24, 1981

"[O]bjections to aspartame's approval in carbonated beverages] were fully dealt with in the earlier proceeding leading to the approval of aspartame for dry uses."

— Food and Drug Administration in denying a request for a public hearing on aspartame, Federal Register, February 22, 1984

"FDA adequately followed its food additive approval process in approving aspartame. . . . Throughout aspartame's approval history, GAO found that FDA addressed safety issues raised internally and by outside scientists and concerned citizens."

— General Accounting Office report to Senator Howard Metzenbaum, "Food Additive Process Followed for Aspartame," June 18, 1987

"FDA properly denied a hearing after finding that petitioners have raised no material issue regarding the safety of the wet use of aspartame."

— United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, decision upholding FDA's denial of a request for a public hearing on aspartame, September 24, 1985

"It is most unlikely that aspartame would have any effects on humans that would not be seen with common foodstuffs."

— Committee of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, Department of Health and Social Security, United Kingdom, September 6, 1983

"The committee concerned has considered the available information on aspartame on a number of occasions, most recently in February of this year, and as a result aspartame has been given full clearance for use in food and drink. . . . I would like to reassure those of your readers who may have been concerned about the articles in the national press that this Department remains satisfied as to the safety of aspartame."

— Sir Henry Yellowlees, chief medical officer, United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Security, in a letter published in the British Medical Journal, September 24, 1983

"[T]he data provided no evidence that the occasional transient changes in blood amino acid levels, following simultaneous ingestion of aspartame and glucose, could produce changes in neurotransmitter levels which might affect mood or behaviour. . . . The Committee saw no reason for concern over the amounts of methanol likely to be produced by the metabolism of aspartame when compared with those present naturally in food. . . . Foetal effects from excessive material aspartame consumption by pregnant women heterozygous for PKU were not likely in view of the available data on phenylalanine levels in maternal blood."

— "Report of the Scientific Committee for Food on Sweeteners," European Economic Community, January 3, 1985

Scientists
"[T]he data [consumer complaints alleging adverse reactions caused by aspartame] do not provide evidence of the existence of serious, widespread, adverse health consequences attendant to the use of aspartame."

— Centers for Disease Control "Evaluation of Consumer Complaints Related to Aspartame Use," published November 2, 1984, in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

"In conclusion, based on our research, I concur with the findings of the FDA and regulatory authorities around the world that aspartame is safe at expected levels of consumption."

— Dr. Lewis Stegink, University of Iowa College of Medicine, in April 2, 1985, testimony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee

"With the exception of individuals who have phenylketonuria (PKU) or are carriers of the disease, there is no credible or creditable evidence from human or animal experience at anything like a reasonable dose level to indicate a safety problem [with aspartame]."

— Dr. Arthur Raines, professor and acting chairman, Department of Pharmacology, Georgetown University, in a letter published in the Washington Post Health magazine, June 2, 1987

"In conjunction with previous studies demonstrating the safety of aspartame, this investigation confirms that aspartame is safe for use by persons with diabetes."

— Jeanine Nehrling, R.D., David Horwitz, M.D., Ph.D. et al, from their study, "Aspartame Use by Persons With Diabetes," published in the September/October 1985 Diabetes Care

"By conducting this study in a controlled hospital setting we were able to determine that aspartame was no more likely than placebo to cause allergic reactions in people allegedly sensitive to the product."

— Dr. Raif S. Geha, chief of the Division of Immunology at Children's Hospital in Boston and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in a Children's Hospital press release on research abstracted in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, January 1992

"[Aspartame] consumed at daily doses equivalent to those contained in approximately 10L of aspartame-containing beverage is not associated with any significant changes in clinical measures or adverse experiences in healthy adults."

— Dr. A.S. Leon et al, from their study, "Safety of Long-term Large Doses of Aspartame," published in the October 1989 Archives of Internal Medicine

"[D]oses of aspartame commonly found in beverages do not negatively influence mood or well being."

— Dr. E.E.A. Pivonka et al, in their study, "Aspartame- or sugar-sweetened beverages: Effects on mood in young women," published in the February 1990 Journal of The American Dietetic Association

"[I]t is my opinion that this entire issue [aspartame's alleged effect on behavior] long ago transcended any scientific base that might ever have supported it. Enough is enough; it is time to move on. There are simply too many substantive issues that await investigation in the area of nutrition and brain function to waste further effort being obsessive about something that isn't really there."

— Dr. John D. Fernstrom, Department of Psychiatry, Pharmacology, and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh, in a letter published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 1987

This page was updated on 28-Feb-2014