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 aspartames.
The amount of calorie in 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, desert mixes, yogurt, frozen desert, ice cream, chewing gums, nutrition bars
Soft drinks, fruit juice, vegetable juice, energy drinks
Sauces, syrups, dressings
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 for 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.
Cause damages to neurons (nerve cells), cause neuroinflammation and damaged blood brain barrier (leaky brain).
Symptoms include impaired learning and memory.
Cause disruption in the neurotransmitters levels 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 emotional symptoms like irritability and depression. People with mood disorders are especially sensitive to aspartame.
Trigger migraines and headaches.
Cause damages to the liver and kidneys.
Impair heart function.
Lead to reduced heart rate variability, sympathetic dominance and lead to loss of vagal tone
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, lead to increased fasting glucose levels and impair 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. 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.
Choudhary, Arbind Kumar, and Etheresia Pretorius. "Revisiting the safety of aspartame." Nutrition reviews 75.9 (2017): 718-730.
Choudhary, Arbind Kumar, and Yeong Yeh Lee. "Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection?." Nutritional neuroscience 21.5 (2018): 306-316.
Lindseth, Glenda N., et al. "Neurobehavioral effects of aspartame consumption." Research in nursing & health 37.3 (2014): 185-193.