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Monday, May 04, 2009


On the subject of aspartame, never in the field of human diet has so much nonsense been so credulously believed by so many (with apologies to Winston Churchill).

Do some searching on the web or just listen to your well-meaning friends next time you reach for a diet drink. It happened to me again yesterday. I opened the fridge and took out a Coke Zero and my friend immediately said "Don't drink that - it's got that poisonous aspartame stuff in it!" Regardless of my answer, I was unable to change his conviction that he was saving me from a terrible fate.

If you are a type 2 diabetic and that hasn't happened to you yet, rest assured, it will. The sweetener police are a Special Squad of the Diet Police, always out to save us from ourselves.

Let me put it politely and succinctly. It is ALL utter nonsense.

We can thank a few individuals for this myth. The truth is lost in the mists of time.

(2017 note. Many of the old links are gone since I first wrote this; where necessary I have used wayback machine links to resurrect those pages).

This anti-aspartame web-page claims that a certain Betty Martini was the originator, but this equally anti-aspartame page is dedicated to Nancy Markle who is more often accredited with the "discovery." Some believe they were the same person. There are several disciples on the web these days, busily spreading the gospel according to Nancy Markle (note added 11th March 2011. That Nancy Markle page has disappeared and the various Betty Martini web-pages now claim Markle never existed).

If you do some searching on the web you will find that the followers of these kooks are very web-savvy and have ensured they will be on the first page of your search results. If you have the time, read some of them. You will find a web of inter-woven "supporting" research papers, some real, some not, most quoting each other, rarely peer-reviewed by any reputable journal and most performed using unlikely levels of aspartame on unrepresentative rodents.

On the other hand, if you go to more reputable sites such as the US National Cancer Institute, a division of the US national Institutes of Health, you will find some more credible references. Their summary (the emphasis is mine) is as follows:

"A study of about half a million people, published in 2006, compared people who drank aspartame-containing beverages with those who did not. Results of the study showed that increasing levels of consumption were not associated with any risk of lymphomas, leukemias, or brain cancers in men or women.

Researchers examined the relationship between aspartame intake and 1,888 lymphomas or leukemias and 315 malignant brain cancers among the participants of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study from 1995 until 2000. Development of these cancers was not associated with estimated aspartame consumption, refuting a recent animal study with positive findings for lymphomas and leukemias and also contradicting claims regarding brain cancer risk."

As a person with leukemia, those conclusions were of direct interest to me. I should note that I rarely consumed aspartame in any form before my double-diagnosis in 2002; I have consumed it daily since. Both conditions have improved; I don't credit that to aspartame, I am just making the point that neither got worse.

2017 note: that report is no longer directly available on the web. This is the orginal study underlying the assessment (pdf): Consumption of Aspartame-Containing Beverages and Incidence of Hematopoietic and Brain Malignancies 
Results: During over 5 years of follow-up (1995-2000), 1,888 hematopoietic cancers and 315 malignant gliomas were ascertained. Higher levels of aspartame intake were not associated with the risk of overall hematopoietic cancer (RR for z600 mg/d, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.76-1.27), glioma (RR for z400 mg/d, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.46-1.15; P for inverse linear trend = 0.05), or their subtypes in men and women.  
Conclusions: Our findings do not support the hypothesis that aspartame increases hematopoietic or brain cancer risk. (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15(9):1654 – 9)

Similarly, another organisation that gives credible support using reputable studies for their conclusions about aspartame is Green Facts. You can read their reports here: Scientific Facts on Aspartame. For further reading, begin with Snopes: Kiss my Aspartame

No matter what food substance you test someone, somewhere will have problems with it. Of course some people will have problems with aspartame. Some people have deadly problems with peanuts, or fish, or gluten or even lactose. But that does not mean that any of those substances necessarily have any dangers, if ingested in moderation, for the rest of us.

I have also consumed almost all of the other artificial sweeteners available to us these days, including Splenda, saccharine, and several others. None have harmed me in any way.

I repeat, I never drank diet sodas until AFTER my cancer and diabetes diagnoses and the only effect it has had on me has been to let me enjoy soft drinks without harming my blood glucose levels.

You must make your own judgement and test for yourself.

Cheers, Alan
Everything in Moderation - Except Laughter

PS. Comments from the kooks will not be published, so don't waste the effort of typing.


RodS said...

I don't think the kooks read your stuff mate, too many unknown words like;


reputable journal

reputable sites

credible references

The dictionary they use doesn't explain them :-)

Foodie McBody said...

thanks for this. I was just diagnosed with D2 in April and am exploring the world of nonsugar sweeteners...

web said...

I get so angry when people post fear-mongering comments about artificial sweeteners, usually in the form of "I heard from my cousin whose uncle was a nurtritionist..." or some such blather. I don't indulge that often, but they allow me to have at least a small amount of participation in social rituals, which are usually heavily connected to food and drink. I always bring my own diet drinks to parties now, so I don't have to feel totally cut off and left out.

Anonymous said...

Finaly some common sense.Bravado to you

Tom and Amanda said...

The only thing I can add to this convo is that I have absolutely NO allergies to anything...aspartame (phenylalanine) makes me violently ill which I discovered at the tender age of 10 when I drank my first diet coke. Coincidentally, my younger brother is also sensitive to aspartame which we discovered the first time he drank diet faygo orange when he was four. My other family members seem to tolerate it without any troubles. Just my two cents...neither of us has any other allergies of any sort. Weird. Being sensitive to aspartame makes life as a diabetic slightly more challenging.

Alan said...

When I wrote "Comments from the kooks will not be published, so don't waste the effort of typing" I probably should have been clearer. Issues like this tend to attract zealots on both sides of the argument.

Read my sig - everything in moderation.

If you are one of those who sent me a pre-prepared anti-anti-aspartame manifesto of over 800 words, I'm really not out to become an evangelist on this subject. All I am trying to do is inject a dose of reality to help diabetics in their range of food choices.

I won't be clogging up the comments section with long diatribes supporting either side of the argument.

Brief personal comments, pro or con, such as those we have already seen are fine.

country mouse said...

Personally, I don't care if other people drink it but I really object to it (and sucralose) being snuck into foods. Aspartame makes me stupid and gives me horrible migraines. Sucralose, well,let's just say I cannot tell you the number of times I've been caught with my pants down from foods stuffed full of sucralose and not labeled as such. the gas generated by sucralose would have me convicted of war crimes.

Terrible stuff.

Alan said...

G'day mouse.

Sorry to hear of the migraines; there is always someon who will have porblems with any substance.

"Aspartame makes me stupid". I hadn't heard of that side effect before. Have you been tested to be certain it's the aspartame that's at fault? Are you sure the problem was corrected when you stopped drinking it?

Alan said...

PS Aspartame may cause typing errors...actually, at the moment I'm sipping a nice aspartame-free Shiraz...

country mouse said...

@alan re stupid :-) good one. seriously, I've experienced cognitive dulling from a variety of drugs and conditions such as hypothyroid. drs are always amazed at the before and after. it really sucks because I've was dismissed from a contract job because undiagnosed hypothyroidism made me look like I was drunk or on drugs.
so whenever the "stupids" creep up on me, I start eliminating drugs/foods and that is how I discovered aspartame causes me problems. hidden lower levels = stupids, higher level = migraines.

I am glad that fake sweets work for somebody. there is not a single one that does not cause me problems usually of the intestinal kind. being t2 now, it looks like sweets will only be the rare piece of fruit.

Alan said...

Glad you took it in the way it was intended:-)

Sorry to hear of your other medication difficulties. However, I think it would be reasonable to say you aren't representative of the average aspartame user; or of the average medication user for that matter.

country mouse said...

Glad you took it in the way it was intended:-)hey, life is too short to get pissy. Unfortunately, I don't always live by that rule especially when it comes to software failing and making it impossible for me to work ( am disabled, need speech recognition)

Sorry to hear of your other medication difficulties. However, I think it would be reasonable to say you aren't representative of the average aspartame user; or of the average medication user for that matter.I'm the kind of person that makes many things fail in new and interesting ways. For example, when developers gives me a nice bright shiny new toy, just holding in my hands makes dark brown smelly stuff news out of every opening. Power supply spark and with a final whimper of defeat, the developer takes the now gooey object from my hands and shuffles off with a black cloud overhead.

Margie's Musings said...

Hi Alan, What is your opinion of the high fructose corn syrup that is found in nearly any product at the market?

Alan said...

I can't really get into that discussion Margie, because it's not a major problem in my country so I haven't really done the research. Australia is a a major sugar-cane produceer, I'm surrounded by cane-fields here, so HFCS is generally only in imported products here.

From the reading I have done I suspect that if I did the research I would share your concern.

Cia said...

Thanks for the article on Aspartame. I use it all the time and have many allergies as you know, but have not found one diet sugar that has given me an allergic reaction. I'm happy it is available so that we have more variety in our choices of soft drinks and foods.

See, I do visit your site often. :)

Good day to you.

Alan said...

Nice to see you again, Cia.

Cheers, Alan

Shelly said...

I am a new diabetic (type 2) and I do love the "food police" so much. I am an adult and actually choose what goes in my body, I happen to choose diet coke, and have LONG before my diagnosis. "Should you be eating/drinking that?" as they are stuffing their faces with a large cream cheese slathered bagel. Some people don't get it at all.

Great Blog!

Anonymous said...

I'm very interested to read Countrymouses's experiences, because they are close to mine.

I have always tolerated liquid sucralose in small amounts.

All of my intolerances improved once I went gluten free (not just low carb and gluten lite). Gluten also had a lot to do with the migraines, as it turned out!

I've been told that the increased sensitivity is an indicator of poor gut health/increased permeability. After going GF/CF, I used Vitamin D, probiotics and glutamine - all these seem to help.

I have not tried aspartame again yet - I had such a bad migraine last time and I had the aspartame on its own without any food.....but I am much more tolerant of fragrances and my health seems more robust in general.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if aspartame causes some one difficulties, it may be a sign of other issue(s) that need attention.

Abe said...

I guess you could use your own question here: Who or which of the following may go blind, etc., when it turns out aspartame causes some unforeseen problems?

It seems from the comments that the major reason to use aspartame is to drink soda. If you stop and think about it - what is that stuff, diet or otherwise? I haven't had a soda in over 2 years, and I don't miss it.

Are sodas so critical to your happiness that you can't give them up? Try it for a couple of weeks, and then taste one, very carefully. They actually taste like crap. I try not to be a kook, but I prefer my food to come from nature, not a laboratory.

Alan said...

Fair enough Abe; I accept that you aren't a kook and I've posted the comment.

I don't think I need to respond, my views are quite clear in the blog post. But if others wish to, feel free.

Anonymous said...

Abe, with T2, all I can drink is water and that is getting boring really fast. I'm not drinking enough just because I can't stand the taste of water. I'm one of these people that need a large variety of flavours in order to maintain interest in food. So I look forward to sweet drinks with bright colors and flavors not found in nature for taste and visual entertainment, also, when I'm cooking my pies (of some renown), I need a sweetness to bring out the more subtle flavors in the fruit and spices rather the rather flat taste you get from just fruit alone.

What I've found to solve my flavor/taste problem is a soft drink called zevia. Sweetened with Stevia it has that classic long sweet tail that last long after the soda has passed through your mouth. It's not as bad as the taste you get from aspartame or sucralose but it's clearly artificial. It's kind of expensive. At the local Hannaford's it's something like $5.50 for a sixpack.

The other sweetener that helps is Zweet.(Erythritol). It really tastes very close to sure. Mouth feels very similar. And best of all, I have not mentioned a single bump on my glucose readings. Apparently, you don't get the digestive upsets of other alcohol sugars because this supposedly goes out through the small intestine and through the kidneys like regular sugar. Read the website if you want the PR but, I'm happy with it. I can make lemonade, lineade, sweetened iced herbal tea which starts taking care of my sweet drink craving.

sorry about the anon but I really don't feel like retrieving my password --cm

Anonymous said...

I'm a type2 with a background in research. I suspect that aspartame reaction may be based on the individual. I notice that for me aspartame consumption seems to cause my blood sugar to bounce up as much as 75 points. I noticed this before reading any of the hysterial nonsense found on the web. I wouldn't go so far as to ban the very helpful stuff, but if control becomes a problem - it might be wise to see if you are sensitive to it. Just switch to seltzer for a week or so. (I miss my diet Pepsi) I also notice that some brands of diet tonic water are made with saccharine and not aspartame. They do not raise my blood sugar, either. It makes sense that that are a wide variety of metabolisms and possibly a variety in metabolic responses - Momcat

Alan said...

That response is certainly unique. I have to say that I have never before heard of anyone with such an extreme blood glucose reaction to aspartame. It suggests that you are one of the few who are actually allergic to it. As you said: "aspartame reaction may be based on the individual".

Sam Durkin said...

The aspartame fear pervades even my most intelligent of friends. People who know peer review is important. Yet they still fear the sweetener. They know the fear is irrational, but it still has them worry about using it and pass on those fears to other people.

Anonymous said...

I guess my question is; why all the fuss? If apartame does not have all the side effects, what do the kooks really have to gain by going after aspartame?

Badgertale said...

I've been off of Diet Coke for about two weeks and I feel the withdrawals and I am suffering hypoglycemic bouts every other day. For me, and I STRESS for me, it seems to have an effect. Something to look into if you are a Diabetic type 2 as I am.

As others have said on the site, individually, people should check this out before bashing it wholesale. We're all different, after all.

Daniel said...

I do occasionally get pins and needles, which does stop within a day or two of stopping aspartame (maybe coincidence??) - but that's the only thing I've noticed with it! if I go asp free for a few days, I go back on it and I'm fine!

Diabetologica said...

Thanks for pointing to the literature and evidence. I think there is a strong tendency to demonize and fear technology, including sugar substitutes and big pharma, both of which have helped immensely.

Natalie said...

For the person who said aspartame raises his BGs -- I have found that green tea, drunk without sweetener does the same thing. Someone suggested that it was the caffeine, and I wonder if you've been drinking caffeinated soft drinks, and whether that might actually be the culprit.

Anonymous said...

It is so funny that this article was even written because it was written by someone who has had brain dammage caused by the poison of aspartame. it is a known fact that aspartame is a chemical that in your body turns to formaldehyde and MANY other poisonous substances. It is not a natural product it is a man made CHEMICAL, how could that be safe?! if you google aspartame there have been so many studies on it and the majority of them tell you how unsafe it is. The only ones who say they are unsafe are the ones benefiting finacially from it. It is also very unsafe for people with diabetes. It actually causes you to crave more carbohydrates and causes your body to be less likely to control your diabetes. Aspartame is actually a sponser of the diabetes foundation that is why the diabetes foundation says it is good . why would you put a chemical into your body. this sweetner is poison and should be banned! it is killing people and causing an increase in many types of diseases. Use stevia instead it is a natural sweetner from a herb and it does not cause your blood sugar to rise! Just because aspartame is on the market still does not mean it is safe, look at cigarettes, they are still on the market and everyone knows how unsafe they are!

Alan said...

I reject many comments daily; mostly spam but the occasional passionate kook.

I allowed the previous comment to add some balance and give the opposing point of view. You can form your own opinion as to which of us is brain-damaged.

On benefiting financially I suspect I will still be waiting for my cheque from the aspartame people for a long time to come.

On the other hand, many of those who get vehement about aspartame seem to have links to stevia sales. Not that I have anything against stevia; use whatever works for you.

Kris said...

My "doctor" (that's PAC to you) advised me just yesterday to ditch the diet sodas because they're "proven metabolic disrupters." I was flabbergasted, finally managed to splutter, "Um--the ADA disagrees." I'm newly diagnosed diabetic (A1C 6.9%), and I'm finding that a lot of what my PAC says doesn't jibe with what the CDC, ADA, or other reputable organizations say. I'm happy to read this, though--it's in keeping with my own thoughts.

Andie Clarke said...

I just want to say that I was drinking diet pepsi every day for 6 years. Prior to this I did not have any health issues. I was afraid of gaining weight, so I switched to diet pepsi.

Before I get started I wanted to say that I'm a very healthy eater and I practice calorie counting. I only take in 1,200 - 1,300 of lean meats, veg, fruits. I don't eat processed. Aside from that I got hooked onto my soda because to me it was a daily treat. I was taking in 8 oz, once per day.

After about 3 years of drinking diet pepsi, diet pepsi max, and diet vanilla and cherry pepsi, I started putting on weight. I steadily gained and put on 30 lbs.
I attributed that to old age, and started working out more and cutting on some things that I thought I was eating that could be creating the problem. Had a thyroid and blood work up done. Nothing showed up that would suggest a health problem. My doctor suggested I was entering perimenopause. I was 40 at the time.

I continued to gain another 10 lbs. totaling my gain to 40lbs. I decided to get off the diet pepsi. I stopped cold turkey, and switched off to one regular soda per morning to combat any caffiene withdrawal. (I'm not a coffee drinker)
I developed tremors in my hands, vomiting, and sleepless nights. I went back on the diet soda and it all went away.

I stayed on it for another six months, and within that period of time I developed tinnitus, dizzy spells, heart racing, and restless legs. Just from one can per day.
I went to my GP who checked me over for everything. Went to a cardiologist for a work up, then a neurologist and internist to make sure it wasn't something else because I had a hard time believing that diet soda would cause heart racing.

My dr called me up during that period of time to let me know that my blood work had returned and that he wanted me back in for an AC1 test because my blood sugars were high. Shortly after I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.I was shocked about that because I don't eat processed things, white flour or sugar.

No one in my family has diabetes, so I was shocked. When I asked my dr if aspartame can cause my high blood sugar he said no. So I continued to drink it.

Now at that point people would say why didn't you stop it when you felt that sick? I was in total denial. The doc said it was OK, and to be honest I was addicted to it. I felt like I needed it to get through the day. It took a mild stroke to wake me up. I was in my home and my husband was on the way to work when I suddenly felt confused, the world behind me started to fall away, my face went extremely burning hot, and when he spoke to me the words that fell out of my mouth were slurred and garbled. Then I lost feeling in my legs and went down. I went to the ER in an ambulance.

I was in the hospital for two weeks. They ran every test on me that they could and found nothing. They diagnosed it based on my symptoms. In the hospital I wasn't given diet soda so I began to detox off of it then.

When I got out of the hospital with my life still intact, I stayed off the diet soda and I continued getting better after the first couple of weeks of shakes, headaches, and sleeplessness. I started to feel very good again and my weight dropped by 8 lbs in two weeks. It has steadily dropped since then over the course of the year.

Now I don't know if aspartame caused all of this for sure, and I can't prove it. All I can say is that I was a very sick woman, and once I quit it, I have regained my health.

Thank you

Alan said...

I thought for a while before allowing the previous comment. I decided to approve it in the interests of fairness for further balance.

However, I have absolutely no way of checking on Andie Clarke's bona fides nor have I any way to check on her story.

Robert Miles said...

Margie's Musings: I've found that the researchers are still arguing about how safe high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) is. The research conducted on rats and mice used such high levels of fructose (higher than that found in HCFS) that it produced some bad effects on them, including insulin resistance (the main feature of type 2 diabetes). Research conducted on honeybees showed that if HCFS is overheated (as it often is during manufacture or transport), pairs of the fructose molecules combine into larger molecules that are toxic to honeybees (but with no sign that they're anywhere near as toxic to humans).

Do either of these results apply to humans? I've seen no sign that significant research on this question has been done - only such a wide variety of "expert" opinions on whether it does or not that it's rather doubtful that many of these "experts" should have the quotes removed.

Anonymous said...

@Andie Clarke: all the things you were drinking also contain significant amounts of caffeine which may be responsible for your symptoms.

I found this site via an osteoporosis site, as one of the better meds for that contains aspartame. Luckily, I was informed today that I've got vit D deficiency, so only have to regenerate my Vit D stores. However, I'm also epileptic and a close friend suffers from migraines. We are both "triggered" by aspartame, so we avoid it. Not being diabetic, we're able to go for sugar alternatives. I'm not sure what option I'd go for if I was.

Take care all,

lexiwords said...


Newly diagnosed myself and glad to hear I don't have to give up the diet pepsi.

I do have friends who truly believe that it was the diet pepsi that gave me diabetes and not a medication reaction.

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

Drink up, pal. :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.