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Aspartame

What is aspartame?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar but cheaper sugar, so it has been widely used in foods, beverages, and even pharmaceutical drugs to replace sugar. NutraSweet and Equal are examples of aspartame.


The amount of calories in the same amount of sugar and aspartame is similar but because only a small amount of aspartame is needed for the same level of sweetness, the calorie content has reduced. Aspartame has therefore been widely used in low-calorie food products and beverages.


Where can you find aspartame?

  • Chips, breakfast cereal, dessert mixes, yogurt, frozen dessert, ice cream, chewing gums, nutrition bars

  • Soft drinks, fruit juice, vegetable juice, energy drinks

  • Sauces, syrups, dressings

  • Chewable multivitamins

  • Pharmaceutical products

  • Sugar-free, low-sugar, or low-calorie food products and beverages


Health impacts of aspartame

  • Increased oxidative stress and inflammation

    • Excessive oxidative stress and inflammation are well-known causes of many chronic health conditions and they are also the root causes for the following adverse health effects associated with aspartame.

  • Increased clotting in people with type 2 diabetes.

  • Causes damage to neurons (nerve cells), cause neuroinflammation, and damaged the blood-brain barrier (leaky brain).

    • Symptoms include impaired learning and memory.

  • Cause disruption in the levels of the neurotransmitters and induce neuropsychiatric symptoms

    • Higher levels of aspartame can lead to a reduction in dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.

    • This can impair our cognitive function – cause deficits in attention, affect information processing, reduce executive function and cause loss of long-term memory.

    • Higher consumption of aspartame and imbalances in neurotransmitters are also associated with mental and emotional symptoms like irritability and depression. People with mood disorders are especially sensitive to aspartame.

  • Trigger migraines and headaches.

  • Cause damage to the liver and kidneys.

  • Impair heart function.

    • Lead to reduced heart rate variability, sympathetic dominance, and lead to loss of vagal tone

    • It can also lead to hypertrophy of myocytes (enlargement of heart muscle cells)

  • Affect immune function.

  • Alter gut microbiome.

  • Affect how the body absorbs and regulates glucose, leads to increased fasting glucose levels, and impairs insulin tolerance.


These adverse health effects aren’t limited to overconsumption of aspartame but were also observed in animals and humans consuming “safe doses” of aspartame. The severity for some of the symptoms was dose-dependent, meaning a higher aspartame dose yields more significant symptoms. So next time when picking up snacks and drinks, try looking at the ingredient lists and see if the ingredients are "real foods" or chemical additives like aspartame.




References

  1. Choudhary, Arbind Kumar, and Etheresia Pretorius. "Revisiting the safety of aspartame." Nutrition reviews 75.9 (2017): 718-730.

  2. Choudhary, Arbind Kumar, and Yeong Yeh Lee. "Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection?." Nutritional neuroscience 21.5 (2018): 306-316.

  3. Lindseth, Glenda N., et al. "Neurobehavioral effects of aspartame consumption." Research in nursing & health 37.3 (2014): 185-193.


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