Aspartame is the most utilized artificial sweetener in the United States, and has been called “chemical poison” by researchers studying it.

True story: I was an addict. Chewing gum was my drug, but I am currently in remission for over a month! I have attempted to give up gum twice in the last four years, but I had no idea of the physiological responses related to aspartame withdrawal. Upon further research, I came upon “aspartame brain” and learned how addictive aspartame is because it targets dopamine receptors in the brain. Try to get a diet soda lover to quit cold turkey. Not happening!

Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965, when a chemist working on an anti-ulcer drug accidentally spilled some on his hand, forgot to wash them, and licked his hand, finding this sweet substance. The rest is history and in 1981, the FDA approved the substance for public consumption, you may know it by the names Equal or Nutrasweet. However, since 2013, many scientists have been studying the sweetener and fighting to expose the dangers of it and to remove it from our food supply.


Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is composed of three naturally occurring amino acids, phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. It is made through a fermentation and synthesis processes. Specially cultured bacteria that produce these substances are grown, and after a few days the chemicals are harvested, and the bacteria killed off. When your body digests aspartame it ends up with methanol, and as of 2014 it is the largest source of methanol in American’s diet. Methanol is toxic because it is metabolized into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. Even small amounts of aspartame can have a huge negative effect on your body!

Aspartic acid, raises levels of aspartate and glutamate when we consume it. These amino acids are prominent excitatory transmitters in the brain. At low levels, they stimulate the central nervous system and help our cells pass information. However, at high levels, they start to cross the blood-brain barrier, flooding receptors and overstimulating our neurons! This damage to our blood-brain barrier has side effects, though: other substances like calcium and free radicals gain ability to cross the barrier, causing further brain damage, which is speculated to be a major cause of many of the brain disorders we are currently fighting as a population. It is reported that up to 75% of some people’s brain neurons have been killed before real symptoms were identified and disease was diagnosed!

The wrong substances crossing the blood-brain barrier has been linked to memory loss, cancer, seizures, headaches, depression, ADHD, dizziness, weight gain, birth defects, lupus, Alzheimer’s disease, tinnitus, vision problems, hearing loss, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and more! All of these are being made worse by one of the world’s most popular artificial sweeteners. While long-term consumption of aspartame is still being studied, learning about this stuff can give you nightmares, and is more than enough to make you want to avoid aspartame.

Before I quit chewing gum, I could easily consume a pack a day. After quitting, I began to experience many of the symptoms of aspartame withdrawal: migraine headaches, anxiety, appetite changes, trouble concentrating, cravings, depressed thoughts, dizziness, joint pain, mood swings, trouble sleeping, and restlessness. It was no fun! Additionally, the more you consume every day, the worse your symptoms will be when you quit. It is recommended that you taper off consumption, rather than going cold turkey, if you consume a lot of aspartame every day, in order to minimize the side effects.

What is a lot? The FDA has set the daily intake for aspartame at 50mg/kg of body weight per day. That’s over 3,000mg for a 135lb person. A typical diet soda has 120-180mg, while a stick of gum has 6-8mg. You can see how high the limits for safe consumption have been set, but many people still reach it! Aspartame is found in many processed foods, especially those labeled as “sugar free” or even “low sugar”. Ice cream, fruit juices, medicines and yogurt can all have aspartame in them. A one-liter beverage that is sweetened by aspartame can produce as much as 56mg of methanol in your body, which is already 6 times the EPA limit!

The best way to avoid all of this aspartame? Eat whole, naturally sweetened fruits, drink water and tea, and don’t go for processed foods! If you have to, take a look at the back of the package and see if aspartame is present in the ingredients, and remember: it’s the little things that will add up and get you in the end!

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