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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2016-05-01 (EDT)

Aspartame, which is also known by the name NutraSweet or E951 and Equal is an intense sweetener that is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar but has virtually no calories. It has been used throughout the world in soft drinks and other low-calorie or sugar-free foods since 1974, and was first approved for use in the UK in 1982.


Aspartame is a common artificial sweetener that is contained in many food products including:

  • diet soda
  • yogurts
  • chewing gum
  • cooking sauces
  • crisps
  • tabletop sweeteners
  • drink powders
  • flavored water
  • cereals
  • sugar-free products.

Impact on Health

Even though Health Canada considers Aspartame safe for human consumption, except in people who have phenylketonuria in which case it can cause mental retardation, there are some growing concerns that warrant mention:

  • Weight Gain
  • Increased cravings for carbohydrates are associated with those that ingest a lot of aspartame.[1], and an increase in appetite.[2]
  • Decreases cellular energy
  • Aspartame decreases the formation of the following antioxidant liver enzymes in rats and mice; reduced glutathione, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase. Depletion of these enzymes leaves cells more vulnerable to oxidative damage.[3]
  • Risk of Cancer
  • Studies on aspartame consumption in humans have demonstrated that even when aspartame is consumed daily at a rate of 34 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram body weight per day for 24 weeks, the concentration of methanol in the body (approximately 10% of aspartame is converted in to methanol in the body) remains well below the level at which it is considered harmful.[4] A 355ml can of diet cola contains around 130mg of aspartame. Thus, the people in this study were consuming the equivalent of around 20 cans of diet cola per day, and still neither methanol nor formaldehyde accumulated in their body.
  • However, when consumed daily at a rate of 1000 milligrams per kilogram body weight and greater, aspartame has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.[5], [6]
  • Aspartame is composed of phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid, (40%) and methanol (10%).[1] It is broken down into these constituents via the metabolic processes of digestion in the intestines and liver.[6][3], [5] Methanol is further metabolized in the body into formaldehyde and formic acid.[6], [3] Methanol and formaldehyde are known to cause cancer when in high concentrations in the body.[1], [6] Adducts of formaldehyde are mutagenic and can alter nucleic and mitochondrial DNA.[1]


Co-Authored by:

Dr. Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE [1]
Dr. Raymond Trott, ND
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Humphries P, Pretorius E, Navde H (2008) Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.;62:451-462
  2. Pizzorno Joseph E, Murray Michael T (1997) A Textbook of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Abhilash M, Paul M, Varghese M, Nair R (2011) Effect of long term intake of aspartame on antioxidant defence status in liver. Food and Chemical Toxicology;49(6):1203-1207.
  4. Magnuson B, Burdock G, Doull J, Kroen R, Marsh G, Pariza M, Spencer S, Waddess W, Walker R, Wlliams G (2007) Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, and toxicological and epidemiological studies. Critical Reviews in Toxicology;37:629-727
  5. 5.0 5.1 Whitehouse C, Boullates J, McCauley L (2008) The potential toxicity of artificial sweetners. American Association of Occupational Health Nurses;56(6):251-260
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Manservigi M, Tibaldi E, Lauriola M, Falciani L, Luciano B (2010) Aspartame administered in food beginning prenatally through life span, increases cancer of the liver and lung in male swiss mice. Journal of Industrial Medicine;53:1197-1206.