Is Aspartame Bad For You?
Let’s take a minute to talk about aspartame. It’s a commonly used artificial sweetener that is controversial in some circles and not well understood by others. I decided to take the time to review the data and the studies and come to a conclusion about the product myself. I’m sharing that review and the data with you. All the articles I reference are available at the end of the post.
Aspartame was first created in 1965 and initially labeled as nutrasweet. It received final FDA approval in 1981 after several controversies surrounding its initial approval during the prior decade. As a result, most of the studies and data on aspartame were done in the 1980s and early 1990s. All the studies I reference will be available in the about section for you to look up and review yourself.
One of the major concerns with aspartame was it’s safety in the general population. After all, it’s made in a lab and doesn’t grow on plants, so how can it be safe? Well some really smart people have asked that question and have found it to be safe. The safety of aspartame has been thoroughly investigated with animal studies, clinical and epidemiological research as well as postmarketing surveillance and repeatedly documented to be safe. A more recent study called that into question..
A 2001 postmarketing analysis concluded “the weight of scientific evidence confirms that, even in amounts many times what people typically consume, aspartame is safe for its intended uses as a sweetener and flavor enhancer.”
A 2007 study reviewed any toxicological side effects concluded “The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.”
And most recently, a 2013 study concluded aspartame research “does not support the existence of a consistent association with hematopoietic neoplasms (cancers of the blood), brain cancer, digestive sites, breast, prostate and several other neoplasms; similarly, low-calorie sweeteners are not related to vascular events and preterm deliveries.”
A 2014 review of the carcinogenic effects of aspartame concluded “on the basis of the evidence of the potential carcinogenic effects of aspartame.. a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies must be considered an urgent matter of public health.”
The goal of aspartame was to act as a sweetener without the added calories you get from sugar. So the next question you may have is, does it actually work? Here are a handful of studies, and 4 of them suggest that it is beneficial as a supplement to sugar or high fructose corn syrup in some capacity. Others say that it is hard to state there are any benefits.
A 1990 study wanted to know the effects of consuming aspartame on food intake and body weight. They found aspartame sweetened soda reduced calorie intake and decreased the body weight of males but not females. It also lead to reduced sugar (glucose) intake.
Another 1990 study sought to investigate the effects of aspartame on hunger, thirst and food intake in men. They found that calorie intake was significantly greater in sucrose sweetened drinks rather than aspartame sweetened drinks. They also suggest “ did not increase hunger ratings or food intake.”
A 1997 study investigated the effect of aspartame as part of a multidisciplinary weight-control program on short- and long-term control of body weight. They concluded that “a multidisciplinary weight-control program that includes aspartame may facilitate the long-term maintenance of reduced body weight.”
A 1997 study investigated the effect of aspartame sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice in women. This study actually found that substituting sucrose-sweetened drinks with aspartame sweetened drinks did not reduce total energy intake.
And finally, a 2010 study investigated the effects of aspartame on postprandial insulin and glucose levels. They found that aspartame reduced postprandial insulin but not glucose when compared to sucrose ingestion.
A 2017 meta analysis looking at metabolic effects of aspartame in adulthood concluded “Data concerning effects of aspartame on main metabolic variables associated to diabetes and obesity do not support a beneficial related to its consumption.”
Aspartame and Headaches
There is evidence to suggest that aspartame does increase headaches in certain at risk individuals. A 1994 study found that among individuals with self-reported headaches after ingestion of aspartame, a subset of this group report more headaches when consuming aspartame under controlled conditions. In other words, the authors found that some individuals could recreate their headaches after consuming aspartame. However, this was true only for a small subset of people and does not appear to be true for the general population.
Aspartame and Pregnancy
A 1985 study concluded “that, under foreseeable conditions of use, aspartame poses no risk for use in pregnancy.” Another study concluded that although aspartame could be detected in breast milk 4 hours after administration, no significant difference was noted over the entire 24-hour watching period.
Aspartame and Children
A 1994 study found that aspartame did not affect children’s behavior or cognitive function. Another study looking at kids specifically with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) reached the same conclusion.
When to Avoid Aspartame
It is worth mentioning that individuals with phenylketonuria or PKU should avoid aspartame because phenylketones are one of its metabolites.
- Aspartame is generally considered safety. A more recent study called into question the safety based on some small animal studies and more research should be done to determine if there are truly any carcinogenic effects.
- The evidence for aspartame use and weight loss is mixed and unclear
- The most common side effect is headaches
Marinovich, M., Galli, C., Bosetti, C., Gallus, S., & Vecchia, C. (n.d.). Aspartame, low-calorie sweeteners and disease: Regulatory safety and epidemiological issues. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 109-115.
Magnuson, B., Burdock, G., Doull, J., Kroes, R., Marsh, G., Pariza, M., ... Williams, G. (n.d.). Aspartame: A Safety Evaluation Based on Current Use Levels, Regulations, and Toxicological and Epidemiological Studies. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 629-727.
Butchko, H., & Stargel, W. (n.d.). Aspartame: Scientific Evaluation in the Postmarketing Period. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 221-233.
Tordoff, M. (1990). Effect of drinking soda sweetened with aspartame or high-fructose corn syrup on food intake and body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51(6), 963-969.
Lavin, J., French, S., & Read, N. (1997). The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters. International Journal of Obesity, 37-42.
Rolls, B., Kim, S., & Fedoroff, I. (n.d.). Effects of drinks sweetened with sucrose or aspartame on hunger, thirst and food intake in men. Physiology & Behavior, 19-26.
Blackburn, G. (1997). The effect of aspartame as part of a multidisciplinary weight-control program on short- and long-term control of body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(2), 409-418.
Anton, S., Martin, C., Han, H., Coulon, S., Cefalu, W., Geiselman, P., & Williamson, D. (n.d.). Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite, 37-43.
Eeden, S., Koepsell, T., Longstreth, W., Belle, G., Daling, J., & Mcknight, B. (n.d.). Aspartame ingestion and headaches: A randomized crossover trial. Neurology, 1787-1787.
Sturtevant, F. (1985). Use of aspartame in pregnancy. International Journal of Fertility, 30(1), 85-87.
Stegink, L. (1979). Plasma, erythrocyte and human milk levels of free amino acids in lactating women administered aspartame or lactose. Journal of Nutrition, 109(12).
Wolraich, M., Lindgren, S., Stumbo, P., Stegink, L., Appelbaum, M., & Kiritsy, M. (n.d.). Effects of Diets High in Sucrose or Aspartame on The Behavior and Cognitive Performance of Children. New England Journal of Medicine, 301-307.
Schaywitz, B. (1994). Aspartame, Behavior, and Cognitive Function in Children With Attention Deficit Disorder. Pediatrics, 93(1), 70-75.
Santos, N. C., Araujo, L. M., & Canto, G. D. (2017). Metabolic effects of aspartame in adulthood: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 00-00. doi:10.1080/10408398.2017.1304358
Soffritti, M., Padovani, M., & Tibaldi, E. (2014). The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 57(4), 383-397. doi:10.1002/ajim.22296