Introduction and description
Aspartame (APM) is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. In the European Union, it is codified as E951.
Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. It was first sold under the brand name NutraSweet. Because its breakdown products include phenylalanine, aspartame must be avoided by people with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU).
The reason it is on the site is that there are case studies that link it with mania and hallucinations or psychotic episodes. Those suffering or prone to suffering mood disorders may be at most risk.
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a chemist working for G.D. Searle & Company. Schlatter had synthesized aspartame as an intermediate step in generating a tetrapeptide of the hormone gastrin, for use in assessing an anti-ulcer drug candidate. He discovered its sweet taste when he licked his finger, which had become contaminated with aspartame, to lift up a piece of paper.
Since then, the safety of aspartame has been the subject of several political and medical controversies and United States congressional hearings since its initial approval for use in food products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981. At the time of approval of the drug, Donald Rumsfeld (Iraq war architect) headed Searle. From 1977 to 1985 Rumsfeld served as Chief Executive Officer, President, and then Chairman of G. D. Searle & Company. In 1985, Searle was sold to Monsanto Company.
Since its discovery in 1965, and its first approval by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 1981, the safety of APM, and in particular its carcinogenicity potential, has been controversial. The present commentary reviews the adequacy of the design and conduct of carcinogenicity bioassays on rodents submitted by G.D. Searle, in the 1970s, to the FDA for market approval. We also review how experimental and epidemiological data on the carcinogenic risks of APM, that became available in 2005 motivated the European Commission (EC) to call the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) for urgent re-examination of the available scientific documentation (including the Searle studies). The EC has further requested that, if the results of the evaluation should suggest carcinogenicity, major changes must be made to the current APM specific regulations.
Taken together, the studies performed by G.D. Searle in the 1970s and other chronic bioassays do not provide adequate scientific support for APM safety. In contrast, recent results of life-span carcinogenicity bioassays on rats and mice published in peer-reviewed journals, and a prospective epidemiological study, provide consistent evidence of APM's carcinogenic potential. On the basis of the evidence of the potential carcinogenic effects of APM herein reported, a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies must be considered an urgent matter of public health. PMID: 24436139
Aspartame is marketed under the brand names of NutraSweet and Equal. Many people with diabetes use aspartame instead of table sugar. You’ll find it in sugar-free beverages, gum, candy, instant desserts, low-calorie desserts, drink mixes,” lite” and “diet” labels, power bars, soft drinks. Today, aspartame is an ingredient in literally thousands of different food and drink products. In fact, it is often marketed in “health products” such as diet sodas. One lass called Abby Cormack became manic from chewing gum [see references].
Aspartame (APM) has been used since the 1980s and is now present in over 6,000 products, including over 500 pharmaceuticals. The olanzapine orodispersible (‘melt in your mouth’) tablets contain aspartame and some brands of chewable vitamin supplements contain aspartame. This is of particular interest as the number of hallucinations caused by vitamin tablets is exceptionally high according to eHealthme. Although the evidence seems to point simply to overdosing on vitamins, aspartame may be a contributory factor.
On Jan, 07, 2017, for example, 33,007 were people reported to have side effects when taking Multivitamins. Among them, 155 people (0.47%) had Hallucinations.
Pharmaceuticals in general have a heady record for producing a number of side-effects – one of which is hallucinations, and it would be interesting to know whether those on multiple medications were being affected by this addition of aspartame.
Anecdotal reports have listed a whole range of effects - headaches, nausea, depression, rashes, seizures, dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, ringing in the ears, and hallucinations.
But because aspartame is not classed as a ‘drug’ but as a food additive, Adverse Drug Reports do not get collected, as such no formal record exists.
Furthermore, the very fact it is found in many food products hide the side effects, as people very often do not associate food and drink with illness, other than food poisoning. These papers provide an overview of the possible risks with respect to neurological disorders. We have seen above that this product is also linked to cancer, but we will explore this link under the heading ‘cause’.
This study was designed to ascertain whether individuals with mood disorders are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of aspartame. Although the protocol required the recruitment of 40 patients with unipolar depression and a similar number of individuals without a psychiatric history, the project was halted by the Institutional Review Board after a total of 13 individuals had completed the study because of the severity of reactions within the group of patients with a history of depression.
In a crossover design, subjects received aspartame 30 mg/kg/day or placebo for 7 days. Despite the small n, there was a significant difference between aspartame and placebo in number and severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression, whereas for individuals without such a history there was not.
We conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged. [Biol Psychiatry. 1994] PMID: 8373935
Administration of the artificial sweetener aspartame (L-aspartylphenylalanylmethyl ester; 200 mg/kg) by gavage to rats caused large increments in brain and plasma levels of phenylalanine and its product tyrosine. Glucose administration (3 g/kg, by gavage, a dose sufficient to cause insulin-mediated reductions in plasma levels of the large neutral amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine) also elevated brain phenylalanine and tyrosine, and enhanced the increments caused by the aspartame, nearly doubling the rise in brain phenylalanine.
Each animal's brain phenylalanine or tyrosine levels were highly correlated (r = 0.97 and 0.99, respectively) with its plasma phenylalanine or tyrosine ratios, affirming that aspartame's effects on the brain amino acids result from the changes it produces in plasma composition.
As described previously, glucose consumption increased brain tryptophan levels, and consequently, brain levels of the 5-hydroxyindoles serotonin and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid.
Aspartame alone had no effect on these compounds but completely blocked the changes in 5-hydroxyindoles caused by glucose. Each animal's brain level of tryptophan (r = 0.89) and 5-hydroxyindoles (r = 0.74) was also significantly correlated with its plasma tryptophan ratio, affirming that the effects of glucose or aspartame on these brain constituents also result from the changes they produce in plasma composition.
The aspartame-glucose combination also reduced brain levels of leucine, isoleucine, and valine to a significantly greater extent than aspartame or glucose alone.
These observations indicate that high aspartame doses can generate major neurochemical changes in rats, especially when consumed along with carbohydrate-containing foods. However, they should not in any way be interpreted as demonstrating that aspartame significantly affects the human brain. PMID: 620452
Ralph G. Walton, M.D. Medical Director, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine said the following:
Although undoubtedly well intentioned, any attempt to replace sugared beverages with aspartame containing diet products will, in my opinion, have a devastating impact on the health of our children and adolescents. The alarming increase in obesity, type II diabetes, and a wide variety of behavioral difficulties in our children is obviously attributable to multiple factors, but I am convinced that one powerful force in accentuating these problems is the ever increasing use of aspartame.
Aspartame is a multipotential toxin and carcinogen. The dipeptide component of the molecule can alter brain chemistry, significantly changing the ratio of catecholamines to indolamines, with resultant lowering of seizure threshold, production of carbohydrate craving and in vulnerable individuals leading to panic, depressive and cognitive symptoms.
The methyl ester component of aspartame is metabolized to methanol, which in turn is broken down into formic acid and formaldehyde. Methanol can lead to serious eye problems, formic acid and formaldehyde are potent carcinogens. The diet food industry and the F.D.A. are fond of saying that aspartame is "the most studied product in history" with an outstanding safety record. In fact, however, virtually all of the studies in the medical literature attesting to its safety were funded by the industry, whereas independently funded studies, now numbering close to 100, identify one or more problems. It would be especially tragic if an attempt to improve the health of our children led to even greater exposure to this highly toxic product. Thank you for your attention to this urgent public health issue.
The description above provides some logical arguments as to why aspartame causes brain damage. But there is an added factor which may have been overlooked. The intestine is a key part of our immune system. Its complex flora provides protection against parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses entering the blood stream. If this flora is compromised in any way, all these pathogens can enter the system, as such any chemical that damages the intestinal flora is opening the way to multiple diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis. And this aspartame does:
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2012) 66, 972; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2012.47; published online 16 May 2012 GUT bacteria and aspartame: why are we surprised? E Pretorius Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
The artificial sweetener aspartame (APM; L-aspartyl-L-phenylanaline methyl ester) has been the subject of many debates since its initial approval for human consumption in 1974. However, these sweeteners are frequently used as part of a weight control regime, despite research indicating the negative effects on the body.
In a Science article late in 2011, Wu et al. discussed the fact that various dietary factors have an impact on gut bacteria, including the controversial dietary sweetener, APM.
Recently, in the October 2011 Science Perspective Section, Uri Gophna commented on this observation, stating that it is surprising that even minor concentrations of the artificial sweetener APM, can modify bacterial communities. The observations by Wu et al., however, should not be ‘surprising’, as APM has, over the past 20 years, frequently been under vigorous scientific discussion.
Currently, it is still approved by the FDA, as well as the EFSA; even though on consumption, each molecule of APM releases a molecule of methanol, which metabolizes into a molecule of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde (which is a highly reactive substance) is classified as a known human carcinogen, with no safe level of consumption. Therefore, it is not unexpected that very small amounts of the sweetener can modify bacterial communities, as these bacteria acts as the first line of intestinal defense and are therefore in direct contact with the sweetener and its metabolic compounds.
During obesity or periods of weight management regimes, where patients might use APM (as part of their management program), it is perhaps more crucial to have optimum bacterial community functioning in the intestines.
The observations of Wu et al., as well as a renewed interest in the APM debacle, spurred on by a new prepublication book released by Woodrow Monte, entitled ‘While Science Sleeps: A Sweetener that Kills’ might urge scientists and regulatory bodies to look at APM again.
References and further reading
- Biol Psychiatry. 1993 Jul 1-15;34(1-2):13-7. Adverse reactions to aspartame: double-blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population. Walton RG1, Hudak R, Green-Waite RJ. 1Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Youngstown.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 1984 Jul;40(1):1-7. Effects of aspartame and glucose administration on brain and plasma levels of large neutral amino acids and brain 5-hydroxyindoles. Yokogoshi H, Roberts CH, Caballero B, Wurtman RJ.
- Am J Ind Med. 2014 Apr;57(4):383-97. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22296. Epub 2014 Jan 16. The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation. Soffritti M1, Padovani M, Tibaldi E, Falcioni L, Manservisi F, Belpoggi F.
- Wu GD, Chen J, Hoffmann C, Bittinger K, Chen YY, Keilbaugh SA et al. Linking long-term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science 2011; 334: 105–108.
- Gophna U. Microbiology. The guts of dietary habits. Science 2011; 334: 45–46.
- Humphries P, Pretorius E, Naudé H. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. Eur J Clin Nutr 2008; 62: 451–462.
- Monte W - While Science Sleeps: A Sweetener Kills. San Francisco, 2011.
- Read Abby Cormack's story in her own words at: this LINK
- Sweet Misery A Poisoned World
Dr. H. J. Roberts, M.D., FACP, FCCP has written a number of papers on the subject
- Perspective on aspartame-induced pseudotumor cerebri. Roberts HJ. South Med J. 2009 Aug;102(8):873. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181ad605b. PMID: 19593279
- Overlooked aspartame-induced hypertension. Roberts HJ. South Med J. 2008 Sep;101(9):969. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3181826e78. PMID: 18708962
- Aspartame-induced thrombocytopenia. Roberts HJ. South Med J. 2007 May;100(5):543. PMID: 17534100
- Aspartame disease: a possible cause for concomitant Graves' disease and pulmonary hypertension. Roberts HJ. Tex Heart Inst J. 2004;31(1):105; author reply 105-6. PMID: 15061638
- Regarding "pancreatitis in a woman taking an herbal supplement". Roberts HJ. South Med J. 2007 Jun;100(6):614-5. PMID: 17591320
- Aspartame and brain cancer. Roberts HJ. Lancet. 1997 Feb 1;349(9048):362. PMID: 9024408
- Aspartame as a cause of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Roberts HJ. Arch Intern Med. 1996 May 13;156(9):1027-8. PMID: 8624169
- Aspartame and headache. Roberts HJ. Neurology. 1995 Aug;45(8):1631; author reply 1632-3. PMID: 7644072
photo Evgeny Kolesnik
- Aspartame-induced fibromyalgia, an unusual but curable cause of chronic pain 024040
- Relief of fibromyalgia symptoms following discontinuation of dietary excitotoxins 024035
- Aspartame & Psychiatric Disorders By Ralph Walton, MD 024036
- Autism genes are selectively targeted by environmental pollutants including pesticides, heavy metals, bisphenol A, phthalates and many others in food, cosmetics or household products 024041
- Biochemical responses and mitochondrial mediated activation of apoptosis on long-term effect of aspartame in rat brain 024039
- Effects of aspartame metabolites on astrocytes and neurons 024038
- Neurobehavioral effects of aspartame consumption 024037