Bitter sweet


colaThe Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a new study into aspartame and will investigate claims of adverse reactions from consuming the artificial sweetener. Aspartame is added to diet soft drinks and other foods. It is sold under a variety of brands, including NutraSweet and Canderel. In the EU, aspartame is often listed in ingredients as E951.

Aspartame has long been linked with health issues although the FSA have always claimed the sweetener is safe to consume.  According to, aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the US Food & Drug Administration. Symptoms documented as being caused by aspartame include headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain. Researchers have also linked aspartame with the triggering or worsening of chronic illnesses such as brain tumours, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. 

Aspartame is an ingredient in over 6,000 foods and drinks sold worldwide, including diet cola, cereals, breath mints, sugar-free chewing gum, frozen desserts, juices, chewable supplements, milkshake mixes and instant coffees. It is often used in hot drinks as a sugar replacement and is popular with diabetics. Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar and the quantity needed to make a product taste sweet is minimal and therefore adds very few calories to the food. This makes it popular for slimmers and in foods marketed to slimmers.

Aspartame is made from 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine and 10% methanol. Aspartic acid when mixed with excess excitatory amino acids such as glutamic acid (found in MSG) in food can cause serious neurological disorders. Phenylalanine is an amino acid found naturally in the brain however excessive levels of phenylalanine can cause a reduction in serotonin levels. Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a poison. Methanol is more readily absorbed into the body when it mixes with free methanol, which is created when aspartame is heated to above 86°F (30°C). Methanol breaks down in the body into formic acid and formaldehyde, a dangerous neurotoxin.

Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA said “This research is not to test the safety of aspartame – that is already established. The study will address consumer concerns, including anecdotal reports that have linked a range of conditions to aspartame. The Agency’s view remains that aspartame can be consumed safely and we are not recommending any changes to its current use. However, we know that some people consider they react badly to consuming this sweetener so we think it is important to increase our knowledge about what is happening”

The study is expected to take 18 months and the results should be published in 2011. Anyone interested in taking part in the study should email


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One Response to “Bitter sweet”

  1. Emma Says:

    thats great. i used to have a fearsome diet coke habit – then BING! a 4 year case of depression. not surprisingly once i cleaned up my lifestyle and kicked the coke habit its been easy to stay off anti depressants.

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