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What are the Potential Dangers of Aspartame?

Nicole Long
Nicole Long

Aspartame is used as a substitute for sugar in some food and drink products. It has been at the center of debate concerning potential dangers to those who consume products containing the sweetener. Some groups have suggested that the dangers of aspartame include cancer, headaches, mood disorders, and a host of other medical conditions, while others refute those claims.

Manufacturers use aspartame as a sugar substitute in various products. This artificial sweetener is most commonly found in diet beverages. Since the caloric value of aspartame is so small, many see it as a way to continue consumption of diet and others that contain the ingredient in an effort to achieve weight loss goals.

A diet soda containing aspartame.
A diet soda containing aspartame.

Initially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, various food and health safety agencies around the world followed suit. Since allegations of dangerous side effects have surfaced, several countries, manufacturers, and jurisdictions have taken up further scientific studies on the additive. Some manufacturers, especially those in the United Kingdom, have voluntarily stopped using the ingredient in their private label products due to some of the reported dangers of aspartame.

Aspartame contains methanol.
Aspartame contains methanol.

Various safety risks have been associated with aspartame. Some of the dangers of aspartame have been related to hoax, but some have been related to scientific studies and consumer reports. Cancer, headaches, and mood disorders, such as anxiety and irritability, have all been associated with aspartame.

Studies have focused on the metabolites when discerning the dangers of aspartame. The metabolites of aspartame include methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. There appears to be no associated risk of these byproducts of aspartame consumption. In fact, the average person consumes higher amounts of these metabolites in meats, vegetables, and other food products.

Concerns surrounding the dangers of aspartame tend to rest with the level of consumption and not with the additive itself. Those with an abnormally high consumption of diet beverages and other products containing aspartame should be concerned and limit their intake to recommended daily allowances. The current recommended allowance is 40 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight according to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee of Food, while the FDA recommends a level of 50 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight.

Studies continually demonstrate that aspartame poses little risk to the average person, with one exception. Reports do show a possible increase in the occurrence of migraines with the consumption of products containing aspartame. Aside from migraines, limited proof exists for the other alleged risks.

Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Pretty cynical there, huh? You may have a point and you might not. I would like to think that the scientific community and the government isn't so up for sale that people will allow something like an aspartame cancer to spread through the nation so people can make some money.

I am not sure if aspartame is safe. I'm not sure if any artificial sugar is safe.

But I do rely on what my doctor tells me because he has made a career out of keeping up with things that might harm his patients. And he tells me I have a medical condition that is aggravated by aspartame so I should probably avoid it. In other words, if you want to know if aspartame is safe for you then ask your doctor and trust his advice.


@Melonlity -- The key word there is "objective" when it comes to scientific studies of the side effects of aspartame. The manufacture of that stuff generates billions (perhaps trillions) of dollars in revenue and you had better believe the companies profiting from that don't want aspartame to be found dangerous.

Let's say there is a study that details something nasty like aspartame cancer. That could threaten the income poured into the aspartame industry, so a set of scientists are hired to come up with a report that says aspartame is dandy and the first one was flawed.

So, here's the question. Was the first report truly objective or was it funded by some group with an ax to grind (a company that makes an aspartame competitor, for example)? Are we talking about an objective report against one that is not, or studies produced by two groups that have a vested interest in the outcome of the research?

After wading through that, don't even get me started about the lobbying that goes on to put an end to political threats to industries.


Aspartame was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration back in 1974 and people have been arguing over whether it is poison or not since then. People have reported it is possible to get aspartame poisoning, that the stuff metabolizes into formaldehyde during the digestion process and have generally talked the negative side effects of aspartame for decades.

Here is a question I haven't seen answered. How on earth can it be so hard to tell if aspartame is actually harmful? Isn't our science advanced enough to do some objective studies and reach some real conclusions?

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    • A diet soda containing aspartame.
      By: gtranquillity
      A diet soda containing aspartame.
    • Aspartame contains methanol.
      By: Nico Armbrust
      Aspartame contains methanol.