Aspartame Health Risks: Is This Sugar-Free Sweetener Safe Or Not?

Health & Wellness

Aspartame is one of the most popular alternatives to sugar. But are there health risks associated with frequent consumption of the man-made sweet stuff?

An artificial sweetener that has been used as a sugar substitute since 1981 (and in soda since 1983). Although it is sugar-free, may be just as bad for your health as regular sugar. In fact, research suggests that high doses of this sweetener may increase your risk of developing leukemia, lymphoma and other types of cancers. Although most of the studies done on aspartame have involved animals, the findings are cause for alarm.

Studies on aspartame conducted on humans also are concerning. One scientific paper published in 1996 looked at brain tumor data gathered by the National Cancer Institute.

The paper suggests that the rise in brain tumors from 1975 to 1992 occurred in two distinct phases. The first, earlier phase was a modest uptick that the researchers primarily attributed to improved diagnostic technology. But the more recent, sustained and dramatic increase “must be explained by some other factor(s),” the study authors suggest. And one of the other factors, say the researchers, is aspartame. 

“The aspartame molecule has mutagenic potential,” the researchers suggested. Mutagenic means that it can mutate into a cancer cell. Aspartame was introduced into the US food and beverage markets several years prior to the sharp increase in brain tumor incidence and malignancy. This is why the researchers see a connection.

Products with Aspartame

There are many products that contain this artificial sweetener. Of course, there’s diet soda. Other products include sugar-free: breath mints, gums, flavored waters, cereals, syrup condiments, Jell-O, etc. Millions of people are ingesting it everyday without being aware of the side effects.

Aspartame is the main sweetener in the brand names, Equal and Nutrasweet. 

Side Effects of Drinking Diet Soda

More recent studies have determined that the link between aspartame and developing cancer is actually inconclusive. Aspartame may have cancer-causing potential. But the research that does show a link involved high doses of the artificial sweetener in rodents. 

Nonetheless, there are other alarming aspects of aspartame. According to Dr. Mercola, aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of all adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Several of these allergic reactions are quite severe. They include: seizures, tachycardia, heart palpitations, vertigo, anxiety attacks and others.

Moreover, long-term consumption of aspartame has the potential to make serious illnesses worse. These chronic conditions include: Alzheimer’s, lymphoma, diabetes, brain tumors and fibromyalgia. 

Dr. Mercola’s website states that the reason aspartame can produce such deleterious side effects is due to its nature as an excitotoxin. An excitotoxin triggers massive amounts of free radicals. These free radicals can kill brain cells. This may be the reason that one of the most common complaints of frequent aspartame consumption is memory loss. 

Aspartame Health Risks For Cognitive Function

What’s concerning about aspartame’s effect on neurons (brain cells) is that much of the damage occurs before clinical symptoms are noticed. 

In addition, aspartame may lull people with type 2 diabetes into a false sense of security. Because aspartame is sugar-free, if you’re a diabetic, you may feel that the sweetener gives you a free licence to eat or drink as much as you can stomach.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, many products with aspartame contain other ingredients that can cause blood-sugar spikes. And secondly, even calorie-free diet soda may cause cravings for other foods that are high in sugar and/or sodium.

Other concerns with aspartame relate to its potential to cause mood imbalances. Some research even suggests an association with aspartame and depression. Also, the artificial sweetener may cause migraines and have addictive properties.

Aspartame Health Risks: Conclusion

Whether or not aspartame causes cancer is up for debate. Nevertheless, there are several conditions that may be caused by or made worse by frequent consumption of aspartame.


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