Aspartame is an artificial non-saccharide sweetener. It is a sugar substitute in foods and drinks. Aspartame was originally branded under the name NutraSweet in 1965. Today you can find it in Splenda, Equal and Sugar Twin.
Table sugar is called sucrose. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Its caloric benefit is negligible. It sweetens without adding calories. Ninety countries around the world claim that it is safe for human consumption. Aspartame components are absorbed in the body as amino acids, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and ethanol. Other foods that we eat have higher levels of these chemicals compared to aspartame.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates artificial sweeteners. As such, food additives must be approved by the FDA. They publish a list of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) additives. The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners as GRAS – saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame and acesulfame potassium.
Many animal studies on artificial sweeteners have proven that they can cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and more. Scientists are divided in their views as to the safety of various artificial sweeteners. Some scientists claim that opposing views are dismissed without father review and analyses. Aspartame has been involved in several political and medical controversies over the years.
Duke University did a study using a single large dose of aspartame with people claiming sensitivity to aspartame. This double-blind placebo study was one of the best conducted on aspartame. Anecdotal experiences were not proven in this study. The conclusion was that the perceived sensitivities were not directly attributed to aspartame but may still have been real. Reactions were equally divided between the aspartame group and the placebo group.
Each of us has sensitivities to various things. Sometimes these sensitivities/allergies last our entire lives. I developed a sensitivity to tomatoes. It lasted a couple of months. I experienced immediate and severe headaches from an additive in one brand of beer that I used to drink after running races. There were beer trucks and free beer offered to the finishers. I noted that one brand gave me immediate feedback. I stopped drinking that brand.
Part of the problem with foods is that the FDA cannot test foods and declare them same or harmful. They can control what the manufacturers and producers of food can say about them and their safety. It may very well be true that dark tart cherries have a health benefit, but companies are not allowed to put that in writing in their advertising.
Several years ago, the FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Food for making a true statement about health claims. Because of the wording, the FDA threatened to force a food (walnuts) to be considered as a new drug. Our current laws require that any food or supplement making a medical claim must be classified as a drug. It may be true that a food or supplement might help your health, but it cannot be made known publically.
It doesn’t take much in today’s world to circulate hoaxes by the Internet. A smidgen of truth or a perception might be all that is required for it to become viral and passed along to the rest of the world overnight.
As far as I can tell in my research on aspartame, it is generally recognized as safe for human consumption. Will some people associate or experiences various symptoms (decreased vision, headaches, depression, irritability, hyperactivity in children, birth defects, mental retardation, fibromyalgia, and others) with aspartame? Yes, I suppose they will be based on their beliefs and sensitivities.
It is difficult to test a single food/supplement/additive in our society because of the interactions of so many other foods and their preservatives, coloring, flavorings, thickeners, stabilizers, anticaking agents, humectants, foaming agents, and more. We are not eating foods directly out of the garden in most cases. When you have a choice, it is worth the extra money for organically grown foods.
As for now (2018), aspartame has not been proven to be a health risk to the general population.