What are the dangers of using aspartame as an artificial sweetener for diabetes patients?

For a diabetic it is very important to keep a check on the carbohydrate intake. Having diabetes can deprive you from consuming sweets or sugary foods. Sugary foods can induce the blood sugar levels in the body. There are various substitutes of sugar available In the market most popularly one among them is aspartame. It is known to be one among the most popularly used food additives in most countries. It acts the same way on the taste buds on tongue as sugar.

It is sometimes also used as a tabletop sweetener. Before knowing if aspartame is safe for consumption for a diabetic let’s have a look into what is aspartame. Basically, aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s much more sweeter than sucrose. A product that is labelled as sugar free usually contains artificial sweeteners as a substitute of sugar.

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Examples of aspartame products available in the market are:

  • Sugar free ice creams
  • Diet coke
  • Sugarless candies etc.

It basically contains amino acids mainly L- aspartic acid and L- phenylalanine. During digestion the digestive enzymes break aspartame into the following compounds:

  1. Phenylalanine
  2. Aspartic acid
  3. Methanol

Any side effects faced by the consumers on consumption of aspartame is due to the action of these compounds when absorbed into the blood. Phenylalanine is an important amino acid that we must get from the diet. Aspartame contains very little amount of phenylalanine when compared to other sources or foods.

Phenylalanine is used by the body to make certain hormones and brain chemicals. Foods with high amount of phenylalanine can be highly toxic to people with genetic disorders such as phenylketonuria and is not recommended.

Aspartic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid i.e. it can be produced by our own body. Aspartame contains very little amount of aspartic acid when compared to other foods. Aspartic acid is used by the body mainly for the normal functioning of nervous system.

Methanol is a toxic compound related to ethanol that is found in alcoholic beverages. Aspartame contains nearly four calories per gram similar to that of sugar. Although it is highly used as a substitute of sugar it has faced many allegations in the recent years.

Below are some of the dangers on using aspartame as an artificial sweetener:

1. Cancer:


The main concern over the use of aspartame is cancer. Many experiments have been conducted on animals such as rat and the experiments indicated that high intake or consumption of aspartame increase the risks of lymphomas ( it is a type of cancer that starts in the infection fighting cells of the immune system called the lymphocytes) and leukemia ( blood cancer).

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But people still remain suspicious if aspartame is safe for use.

2. Poisoning through methanol:

On intake, aspartame is broken down Into various compounds by the body one among them is methanol. As per 2014, researchers indicate that aspartame was found to be the greatest source of methanol. Increased intake of aspartame increases the risk of poisoning by increasing the level of methanol in the body.

Although the absorption of methanol from the body is similar to the absorption in case of natural foods and fruit juices. Due to lack of scientific evidences people still remain unconvinced with the use of aspartame as a safe artificial sweetener.

3. Damage to vision:

Although there is no strong  scientific evidence with the use of aspartame. One of the strongest allegations on aspartame is its damage caused to vision. Increased intake of aspartame can lead to various problems such eye pain, night blindness, or in the worst case it could lead to total blindness.

Again there are no such proven cases with respect to damage to vision .

4. Premature birth:


Higher consumption of aspartame can lead to premature birth. It is scientifically proven that for women facing with the genetic effect named phenylketonuria, may experience an earlier delivery leading to premature birth of the baby or can also lead to fetal damage.

5. Headaches:

Intake of aspartame on higher levels can lead to or trigger headaches in individuals with migraine. Formaldehyde – a byproduct of aspartame. Migraine can be the result of an allergic response  with formaldehyde, In individuals suffering from migraine.

This theory was put forward by Jacob and Stechshulte in 2008 after a patch test that was conducted on five patients. Three out of five patients reported migraine recurrence that was estimated after 8 to 12 weeks later.

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This could be a reason of the allergic response or due to overconsumption of aspartame over a longer time.

6. Metabolism:

A 2016 study says that increased intake of aspartame may alter the balance and  diversity  of the bacteria within the gut. This way of disruption or alteration in the balance of the gut microbes can increase the risk of glucose intolerance which can turn out to be curse for people with type 2 diabetes and obesity .

People with a healthy weight are not much into the risk factors of aspartame.

7. Tardive dyskinesia:

Tardive dyskinesia is a neurological disorder that is caused by long term intake of psychiatric drugs. It is usually a side effect of drugs  (antipsychotics) that are used to treat schizophrenia or other mental disorders. Tardive dyskinesia can cause stiffness or jerky movements in face and body that are not under one’s own control.

Intake of aspartame for people suffering with tardive dyskinesia can trigger the joint movements .

8. Phenylketonuria:

Phenylketonuria is an inborn error of metabolism. In this the metabolism of amino acid called phenylalanine is decreased this results in the accumulation of phenylalanine in the body.

People with phenylketonuria can not process phenylalanine properly and completely, this can be highly toxic. Therefore for people with phenylketonuria aspartame is highly toxic and not recommended.

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9. Weight gain:


Researchers say that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners  result in weight gain, it makes the dieters or people consuming them hungrier eventually leading them to overeat. As we know overeating alone is not a great deed, overeating further results In weight gain and an unhealthy gain in weight brings along with it a lot of risk factors .i.e. Unhealthy weight gain is accompanied by a lot of risk factors.

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Obesity or overweight is also one of the major risk factor linked with diabetes. Therefore this type of gain can further to lead to various complications. However there is no strong evidence against the dangers of aspartame but these allegations and controversies makes aspartame a suspicious sweetener.

These allegations and lack of strong medical evidences  have lead many people remain unconvinced that aspartame could be completely safe for use without any harmful side effects. Therefore before opting for artificial sweeteners it’s better to cut down on them and stay natural.

Diabetes can still consume variety of foods that can not only stir their taste bites but also can keep them healthy and safe with natural foods.

Dr Sharon Baisil MD

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