This is the second time I have seen this report on Aspartame poisoning
posted on Sanet and it really got my curiosity going. Since I do extensive
literature searches from my desk, I searched the literature on aspartame
toxicity. It turns out that this has been extensively studied.
Aspartame does indeed break down to form methanol at about ten percent of
it's weight, mainly after ingestion. But the amount of aspartame consumed
(even by exceptionally voracious individuals) results in an amount of
methanol that is small compared to the amount normally consumed in food and
produced by flora in the gut. As always, "dose makes the poison." All this
has been verified in toxicological and epidemiological trials.
The other concern has been that the aspartic acid or phenylalanine produced
by aspartame metabolism could cause some sort of neurological effect (amino
acids are neurotransmitters). This is of particular concern for people with
an inherited defect in phenylalanine metabolism (phenylketonuria). But even
in these individuals, increase in phenylalanine level was modest. Again,
the contribution of these amino acids is small compared to dietary sources.
You may notice that aspartame bears a label warning phenylketonuriacs to not
use the product. If you have this disorder, you know it because it is a
devastating disease requiring a special diet. The safety of aspartame for
normal individuals and phenylketonuria heterozygotes in the neurotransmitter
context has been borne out in toxicological and epidemiological studies.
The only effect that seemed likely from the literature is a slight lowering
of blood pressure from very high doses via formation of tyrosine from
There were a couple reports of hives in a few individuals, probably an
allergic response to aspartame.
I found nothing troubling in the hundreds of abstracts I scanned, and I
personally am more worried about consuming the sugar in a can of
conventional soda than the aspartame in a can of diet soda. Let me know if
you want a copy of the abstracts I pulled out of Bioabstracts.
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