Is Aspartame Safe or Does It Cause Health Problems?

Aspartame, like other sugar substitutes, has been the focus of intense scrutiny and many reports suggest that it may cause a host of health problems. Aspartame is used as a sugar substitute in many commercially manufactures sodas, beverages, snacks and foods. It may also used in a home or health environment for people who suffer from diabetes or are off sugar due to obesity or weight problems and is sold under brands like Equal, Spoonful and NutraSweet.

Problems linked with aspartame

There have been reports that aspartame is perilous to health and can cause many problems. Among the health concerns associated with aspartame are:

• Muscle spasms

• Vertigo

• Memory loss

• Vision, hearing and speech problems

• Palpitations

• Headaches and migraines

• Anxiety attacks

• Insomnia

• Seizures

• Weight gain

• Depression

While there have been studies showing that aspartame may cause some health problems, these studies did not come to any definitive conclusion and their methodology was flawed. However, the studies did spawn an urban legend regarding the negative effects of aspartame.

Research studies hold that aspartame is safe

A panel that was initiated by the Burdock group and funded by Ajinomoto (a maker of aspartame) went through all research studies regarding the safety or otherwise of aspartame. It came to the conclusion that it was safe to use. “The panel concludes aspartame is a well-characterized, high-intensity sweetener, thoroughly studied, with a long history of safe use in the food supply,” Magnuson said. “We found no effect on cancer or neuronal function. Overall, we thought aspartame could reduce the caloric content of a wide variety of foods.” This panel came out with its report in 2007.

Another evaluation carried out in 2013 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) featuring all existing scientific research again cleared aspartame use. The research held that aspartame did not cause cognitive decline, nervous system disorders or brain problems.

Yet another study carried out by Hull York Medical School in Britain and published in 2013 recruited 100 people. Of these 50 were those who had consumed aspartame without any problems and 50 were those who had earlier suffered some reaction to aspartame. They were fed cereal snack bars, some with aspartame and some without. This double blind study found that neither group suffered any harm and concluded that aspartame is safe to use.

Does that mean that aspartame is safe to use?

The fact is that the regulatory bodies have set a standard of 40 mg. of aspartame per kilo of body weight as being safe. Since aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar, you would need to more than 15 cans of diet soda a day to exceed the limit. Aspartame cannot be had by people who suffer from a rare genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU). It contains phenylalanine and patients who have phenylketonuria cannot metabolize phenylalanine. People who have PKU are put on special diets and they should not be taking aspartame in any form.

However, the controversy on aspartame use refuses to die down. There are anecdotal incidences of people suffering from various problems after using aspartame. There have also been studies that show that sugar substitutes may actually made weight loss more difficult. That is because when the body wants sugar and does not get actual sugar, its satiety control goes out of whack and the affected person will actually eat more to satisfy the sugar craving. At the same time, the use of sugar is in itself controversial, with some medical experts saying that sugar is a dangerous and addictive substance that should be banned. Sugar, too, is a refined product though it is extracted from natural sources.

An occasional beverage or food with aspartame or sugar should not cause any problems, unless you have an underlying issue like diabetes or obesity. If you are concerned about aspartame or have suffered any reaction to it, you should simply avoid it. If you have diabetes or need to reduce you calorie intake, you can manage your diet in a more healthy way.