Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Can you believe that a single food additive was responsible for 75% of all reports of adverse reactions to substances in the food supply from 1981 to 1995? Can you guess which food it was? Hint: It’s something that people with diabetes are often encouraged to consume.

According to former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Epidemiology Branch Chief Thomas Wilcox, it’s the artificial sweetener aspartame. A total of 92 different symptoms and health conditions were reported by physicians and consumers of aspartame in this time frame.

People have made claims associating aspartame with everything from cancer to depression. Although some studies have found no cancer link, some of the psychological illness effects found have been quite dramatic. Arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension are among the serious medical conditions that have been potentially linked with aspartame. The FDA, American Medical Association (AMA), and American Dietetic Association (ADA) say it’s safe. From the research I’ve seen, though, I don’t want it in my body or yours. I think that the FDA, AMA, and ADA are all a bit too influenced by corporations to be completely trusted.

What is aspartame?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is made from two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. In the body, some of it breaks down into methanol, which is further digested into formaldehyde. The government does not consider either of these dangerous in small amounts.

Aspartame is everywhere. It’s sold packaged as NutraSweet and Equal, among other names. It’s also added to almost any low-calorie or diet product. Most sugar-free jams and marmalades contain aspartame, as do many “light” sweetened products like yogurts and cereals. Cakes, chewing gum, ice cream, toothpaste, mouthwashes, popsicles, lip balm, lemonade, and many liquid medications do, too. Diet sodas are probably the biggest source for most people.

Why it’s controversial
H.J. Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P., writing on mercola.com, says, “aspartame can have multiple neurotoxic, metabolic, allergenic, fetal and carcinogenic effects…The existence of aspartame disease continues to be denied by the FDA and powerful corporate entities. Its magnitude, however, warrants removal of this chemical as an ‘imminent public health threat.’”

Some people consider critics like Dr. Roberts alarmists. All of big medicine and government say it’s safe. But from the beginning, it was approved under suspicious circumstances. When studies showed an increase in brain tumors in animals who had been fed aspartame, and an FDA task force found major mistakes in the safety research of manufacturer G.D. Searle & Company, the FDA refused to approve it. But in 1981, a new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., was appointed, and he legalized aspartame a year later.

Donald Rumsfeld was president and later CEO of Searle at the time. In November 1983, Hayes resigned and joined Searle’s public relations firm as a senior medical advisor. (This “revolving door” between industry and government has been documented for years. See “Revolving Doors” in this article at mercola.com.)

So maybe the reports of neurological disease, diabetes, cancers, and less serious problems such as headaches and gastrointestinal upsets are all due to something else. Maybe there are just a few highly sensitive people out there, and it’s fine for everyone else. But I don’t drink it anymore. I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke when I was an advice nurse at nights. I don’t know how much, if at all, this contributed to my multiple sclerosis, and I never will. But I wouldn’t want any of my friends on this blog or in my life to touch aspartame.

A documentary on aspartame called Sweet Misery can be viewed here if you have high-speed Internet.

Have you had any experiences with aspartame? We’d like to hear about them in the comments section below.


  1. I drink “diet pepsi” like water … have been for 40+ years. I also take an anti depresent
    , called Effexor, for 15 yrs. I haven’t had a professional job since I was “downsized (read fired)” from a big 3 consulting firm in 1999. Is it me? or the drugs. Is being “comfortably numb” a symptom? or does it matter now?

    Posted by extra sweet |
  2. hi

    i been drinking diet drink’s for off on most of my life, and i know i can;t drink the
    just coke, and i can’t drink just other reg-drink also, so i like water, but there come a time i what someelse to drink,the reg-drink can do me bad for sure, so yes,i do drink or eat thing’s that have other kind of suger in it, it make me able to enjoy my self when i drinking or eating something,if you look at any studys will see how much of one other suger you have have to take. that would be alot, i mean alot of it, to get you in to trouble. i still will drink my diet cooke time to time, and eat other suger’s time, when i would like something diffrent other then water.


    Posted by martha |
  3. I have taken this stuff and I get an instant headache. I have gotten the headache and then checked the box so it is not that I expect to get a headache. I also have Fibromyagia and it exacerbates it big time even with a samll amount. I have told many fibros to stop it and sure enough they have less symptoms.

    Posted by Helen |
  4. Studies on animals usually involve megadoses, so I take them with a grain of salt. Anything in moderation is fine and I have no worries about using aspartame from time to time. I would not, however drink several cans of diet soda a day. It’s more like one every 2 weeks. I have never had an adverse reaction to aspartame, but I certainly have had to sugar if you call sky high Blood Glucose levels an adverse reaction. It might also be worth checking out Snopes at http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/aspartame.asp
    particularly the links contained in this write-up.

    Posted by sparrow |
  5. I became diabetic almost two years ago. When I became a diabetic I drank and ate more things with aspartame. I started having severe heart palpitations. The doctor first said to cut out caffeine but I already drank decaf coffee, decaf soda, etc. Ok, so that meant just the couple pieces of chocolate that I had each week. That certainly didn’t work. I remembered someone told me that they were getting dizzy spells and the doctor put her through loads of tests which didn’t show anything. She accidentally read an article about aspartame. She immediately stopped all aspartame. It took a few days to get it out of her system but the dizziness stopped. My doctor wanted me to have lots of expensive tests when I remembered what my friend had said. My doctor agreed to trying that first. Didn’t take me long to have the heart palpitations stop. I can’t believe this stuff is on the market.

    Posted by Karen |
  6. Given the fact that I have Type 1 for over 25 years and I have to eat a gluten-free diet, I will not avoid a product that has aspartame.

    Posted by mark r |
  7. Whenever it is feasible, my preferred “sweetener” is Stevia. If that’s not possible, I’d rather resort to Splenda than Nutrasweet.

    Of course with pre-prepared products (like Coke Zero or The Lipton Green Tea packets) I don’t get a choice, so end up using Aspartame, like it or not.

    It would be nice if our government agencies (like FDA) and others (like ADA, AMA, etc) would be more concerned with the reason they were originated (ie: aiding and protecting the CONSUMER) instead of getting dollars and satisfying the major corporations (and lobbyists)

    Posted by Ephrenia |
  8. I tried aspartame when it came out and immediately was assailed with violent headaches, which I never had before. I stopped and went back to Saccharin. I now use Stevia and ylotol and have had not reactions at all.

    Posted by bern 79 |
  9. Thanks David for a very informative article. It is unfortunate that most diabetic friendly food is sweetened with aspertame. I have tried unsweetened foods like cranberries on turkey day here in Canada. Suprisingly after a bit of time getting used to this I found it quite good as a condiment. I wonder if commercial foods could be made with low amounts of natural sugar. These would them be truely diabetic friendly.

    Posted by CalgaryDiabetic |
  10. I would like to learn more about splenda. I understand It’s supposed to be safer than o ther sweeteners on the market.


    Posted by philvol44 |
  11. Those who are looking to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet and avoid artificial sweeteners can try preserves made from fruits that are valued for their tartness, such as gooseberries or lingonberries. These may not be labeled “low sugar”, but often contain about half the sugar of regular preserves.

    Posted by Michael.Massing |
  12. Thanks David. It’s blogs like this that point out the incalculable value of anecdotal evidence to counter the self-serving controlled studies performed by evil drug companies and their syncophantic FDA advisors. I’m sick of the FDA butting their ignorant noses into my educated choices for therapeutic substances. The market process for dietary supplements and nutriceuticals has shown it superior to regulated products for presenting unbiased information. I prefer the information presented in your blog to drug studies prepared by doubly blind scientists.

    Posted by G Raymond |
  13. Great comments as usual. I like good sarcasm, and G Raymond’s note is quite good, to the point that I’m not quite sure it is sarcasm. But the truth is that, where big money is involved — as it is in drug and food product research — science can be a rigged game. I’ll write a blog entry about that soon, because it’s important to understand. I will also write more about artificial sweeteners, unless Amy beats me to it.

    Posted by David Spero RN |
  14. Hello,
    I have been type 2 diagnosed over 20 years ago. I’ve used lots of artificial sweeteners, Saccharin, Aspartame, Stevia etc. No headaches or migraines. Aspartame works fine for me. But a couple of my non-diabetic family members do have migraines and aspartame related headaches. I can’t take 83 mg aspirin because of gastric bleeding. Rezulin seemed to work fine for me; but it may have killed ~ 0.0001% of diabetics. And watch out for hydrocarbon solvent decaffeinated anything. I plan to still use aspartame.

    Posted by Leslie |
  15. My husband had a stroke (tia) a few months ago. The hospital could find no reason for the one-side paralisis, which did reverse. He has good BP, low cholestrol, but he had been dieting and consuming a large quantity of artificial sweeteners. (sodas, crystal light, yogurt)
    None of the tests showed any cause so the neurologist decided the artificial sweeteners probably caused a vaso-spasm in the brain, hince the stroke. He has since quit using them and has not had any more symptoms.

    Posted by kathy |
  16. I look at people ignoring anecdotal evidence that aspartame and other artificial sweetners is bad for them and continue to us them much like playing Russian Roulette. A lot of folks who like to think these man-made chemicals won’t do any damage to their bodies or their brains are likely normal thinking people for the most part and would never play russian Roulette. Perhaps one aspartame user reading this will think about it and stop using the chemical that so many Americans have said harmed them. Hey, your damage might not be known until you have a stroke or heart attack or grand mal seizure … if you don’t stop now.

    Posted by David |
  17. “Symptoms attributed to aspartame in complaints submitted to the FDA”
    That’s what your reference says (92 different symptoms…)

    My wife gets migraines from chocolate (we think.) No aspartame there. I’m going to submit a complaint to the FDA about headaches from chocolate.

    Hey, I’m in favor of collecting adverse event information, anecdotal or not. But let’s not take it out of context. It’s the follow-on studies that may determine if the symptoms are really caused by the product.

    Everything else has different motivations. Regarding aspartame: The developers want to make money. The sugar lobby wants to ban it to recover their sales. Some people want to win damage lawsuits against the developers. You are adding value to a magazine by perpetuating controversy…

    My comments apply to aspartame and most any other product people have “opinions” about. When I care, I seek out what appear to be legitimate studies and try not to be biased by anecdotal statements.

    Posted by G Raymond |
  18. They inject huge amounts of aspartame to the rats in the Lab. No wonder they come down with all kind of side effects. I have taken aspartame for the last 20 years and will continue to do so.

    Posted by julmag |
  19. Anything that you put in your body will cause some side effects however why dont your try drinking five regular cokes a day instead of five diet cokes and see what happens to your body. You will become fat and diabetic if you consume that much sugar. I would imagine that the fact that aspartane is metabolizing as methonal does not make it overall beneficial to your health but at the low dose which you recieve from a diet soft drink it appears that it is far less harmful to you than an alcoholic beverage or a sugary soda. It would be better to abstain completely but if it is a choice between a sugary soda, and alcoholic beverage or even apple juice, I would choose the diet soda.

    Posted by patient1 |

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