Aspartame and the Brain

“Aspartame and the Brain” In a Harvard study of hundreds of thousands
of people compared to non-coffee drinkers, those drinking up to four or more cups a day
only appeared to have half the suicide risk. What about more than four? A Kaiser Permanente study of a
hundred thousand people found that suicide risk continued to drop, 80%
lower at more than 6 cups a day. Eight or more cups a day, though,
is associated with increased risk. Perhaps those with more severe forms of
depression try to use very high doses of coffee as a form of self-medication
to make themselves feel better, but was, nontheless,
insufficient to elevate their mood. It may also matter
what goes into the coffee. The NIH-AARP study of hundreds of thousands
of Americans followed for years, found that frequent consumption of
sweetened beverages, especially diet drinks, may increase depression
risk among older adults, whereas coffee consumption
may lower the risk. Whether soda or fruit-flavored drinks or iced tea, those
artificially sweetened appeared to carry higher risk. Same with hot tea or coffee. There was a benefit in coffee
drinkers compared to non-drinkers, but add sugar and much of
that benefit disappears, and add Equal or Sweet-n-Low
and the risk may go up. Various effects of artificial sweeteners, including
neurological effects, have been suspected. For example, aspartame — the
chemical in Equal and NutraSweet— may modulate brain neurotransmitters
such as dopamine and serotonin, although data have been
controversial, inconsistent. Scientific opinions range anywhere from
“safe under all conditions” to “unsafe at any dose.” The controversy started in the 80’s
soon after aspartame was approved. Researchers at the Mass College
of Pharmacy and MIT noted that given the very large number
of Americans routinely exposed, if only 1% of the 100,000,000 Americans
thought to consume aspartame ever exceed the sweetener’s
acceptable daily intake, and if only 1% of this group happen
coincidentally to have an underlying disease that makes their brains
vulnerable to the effects, then the number of people who might
manifest adverse brain reactions attributable to aspartame
could still be about 10,000, a number on the same
order as the number of brain and nerve-related consumer
complaints already registered with the FDA before they stopped accepting further reports
of adverse reactions to the sweetener. Who might be especially vulnerable? Those with a history of depression. Researchers at Case Western
designed a study to ascertain whether individuals with mood disorders are particularly
vulnerable to adverse effects of aspartame. Although they had planned on recruiting
40 patients with depression and 40 controls, the project was halted early by the
Institutional Review Board for safety reasons because of the severity of reactions to aspartame within the groups of patients – within the group with a history of depression. It was decided that it was unethical to
continue to expose people to the stuff. It’s interesting, normally when you
study something, a drug or a food, the company usually donates it to the researchers because they’re proud of the benefits or safety of their product. But the NutraSweet company refused to even sell it
to them, but they managed to get their hands on some, and within a week there were significantly more adverse effects reported in the aspartame group than in the placebo group. They concluded that individuals with mood disorders
may be particularly sensitive to aspartame, and therefore its use in this
population should be discouraged. In a review of the direct and indirect cellular
effects of aspartame on the brain, it was noted that there are reports of aspartame
causing neurological and behavioral disturbances in sensitive individuals: headaches,
insomnia and seizures, but they go further and propose
that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the development
of certain mental disorders and also in compromised learning
and emotional functioning. They conclude that due to all
the adverse effects caused by aspartame, it is suggested that serious further testing and research
be undertaken to eliminate any and all controversies, to which someone wrote into the journal
that there really is no controversy: aspartame really is potentially toxic stuff. But what do they mean – excessive ingestion? The latest study on the neurobehavioral
effects of aspartame consumption put people on a high aspartame diet
compared to a low aspartame diet. But even the high dose at 25 mg/kg was only
half the kind of limit set by the FDA. So the FDA says one can safely consume 50 a day,
but after just 8 days on half that, participants had more irritable mood, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on certain brain function tests. And these weren’t people with a pre-existing history
of mental illness; these were just regular people. They conclude that given that the
higher intake level tested here was well below the maximum accepted daily intake level: 40 in Europe, 50 here, careful consideration is warranted when consuming food products that may affect neurobehavioral health. Easier said than done, since
it’s found in over 6,000 foods apparently making artificial sweeteners impossible
to completely eradicate from daily exposure. Impossible? While that may be true for
the great majority of Americans, it’s only because they elect
to eat processed foods, so this is another reason
to stick to whole foods. Then you don’t even have
to read the ingredients lists, because the healthiest foods
in the supermarket are label-free. They don’t even have ingredients lists.

About the author


  1. I noticed the same effect using a creatine supplement containing artificial sweeteners (acesulfame-k and sucralose) my mood got significantly worse and symptoms of depression were definitely perceptible. Even though the supplement contained creatine I believe to have noticed a decrease in mathematical skills (school math class).

  2. Idk how anyone can live in this society and not struggle with depression… Unless you are a sociopath… About two hundred species go extinct everyday, thousands of children starve to death everyday, war, drones strikes, fashionable consumption, pollution, the sixth great extinction is under way… How the fuck could anyone be happy all the time? I look at people who never get down about such things and wonder: where is the humanity? What has happened to us as a species? There are people walking around that are genuinely stoked about crap on television… Sports games, American idol, game of thrones… When I look out into the world I see a vast sea of nothingness… Mannequins walking around seemingly artificially animated and I wait for death. Someday I will be free.

  3. This makes me so angry. I have a very dear friend going through a very dark time in her life. She is now heavily medicated to deal with her horrible life event……… and she drinks 6 to 8 cups of coffee each with two tablets of FAKE sugar….. every single day….

  4. I think aspartame is dangerously addictive. I used to drink upwards of a six pack a day of diet coke and couldn't stop drinking the stuff. It took me three attempts to quit. With the first two attempts I went through severe withdrawal, a screaming migraine headache for several hours, nausea and vomiting. I tried weening myself off with coffee and that didn't work so, it just wasn't the caffeine. It took five months after I quit to finally stop craving the stuff.

  5. Federal approval of Searle's aspartame occurred because Donald Rumsfeld was Searle's CEO.  From
     In 1985 Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the chemical company that held the patent to aspartame, the active ingredient in NutraSweet. Monsanto was apparently untroubled by aspartame's clouded past, including a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry, comprised of three independent scientists, which confirmed that it "might induce brain tumors."
    The FDA had actually banned aspartame based on this finding, only to have Searle Chairman Donald Rumsfeld (currently the Secretary of Defense) vow to "call in his markers," to get it approved.
    On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener, and Reagan's new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the board of inquiry's decision.
    It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-2 decision, but Hull then installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame's favor. Hull later left the FDA under allegations of impropriety, served briefly as Provost at New York Medical College, and then took a position with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Monsanto and GD Searle. Since that time he has never spoken publicly about aspartame.

  6. Dr Greger,have you ever done a video on the dangers of carrageenan? May I suggest that? no one I talk to seems to know what it is, how prevalent it is in store bought products, and how we are all being lied to about its safety.

  7. good lord, I'm glad I avoid artificial sweeteners! It's easy to tell they're no good for you but it's a little disturbing to know just how bad they really are.

  8. I really need your help. My dad doesn't want to listen to me and is completely brain washed by this woowoo fraudulent pyramid company called Amega and he keeps drinking this liquid that they claim to be a drink that heals your cells and the ingridents clearly state distilled water and sodium cholride. He gets angry and extreamly defensive anytime I try to reasson with him. If you could do a video on the laws of labeling ingridents and what consuming sodium cholride on a daily basis can do to someone's health that would really help, not only my dad but the thousands of others brain washed by this company.

  9. Could you look into the study that found artificial sweeteners change the gut bacteria in such a way that insulin resistance is increased, and people have a greater craving for sucrose? Anecdotal, but when I stopped using artificial sweeteners cold-turkey my cravings stopped too, almost immediately.

  10. Did you hear how aspartame appears to cause psychological symptoms such as irritability and depression?

    Watch below or click the link to watch on

  11. It may be that other artificial sweeteners (besides aspartame) are harmful, but one cannot make that conclusion based on your presentation. I would appreciate more precision in your conclusions.

  12. I had massive panic attacks and depression which benzos barely helped and my doc considered starting antidepressants but I refused… got way better(not gone though) once I got rid of aspartame and sucralose and no longer take any meds!! And it was causing these brain zaps. I never considered the link for years. But they are gone as well!! Some people dont get reactions from it, but I did. But thanks Dr. Greger for all you do. I have been plant based for 2 months now and down 30 lbs from 285 to 255, crp back below one, cholesterol back to normal range. BP down as well. Still got a ways to go, but feel a lot better!!

  13. I am so glad I have been avoiding this, I can't imagine having consumed this during some of my worst periods of depression. I do wonder if some of this had to do with me developing my mental illnesses, my mom used to drink a lot of this when I was young. Of course, my family has a history of these disabilities and much of it is likely (read science equivalent of, I'm sure but things could always change) my genetic predisposition. I'm just thinking this stuff probably didn't help. Oh well, I am an individual and this is anecdotal I suppose.

  14. It PAINS me to think how many diet sodas, "Crystal Light" powdered drinks, and packets of NutraSweet, etc. that I have consumed…and given to my child over the years. I feel the same away about the number of vaccines, too. Seems that there is no LIMIT to the EVIL things that people (like Donald Rumsfeld)…will do for money( and their NWO agenda). They have NO souls or consciences….just allegiance to the devil.

  15. I am under normal circumstances always very calm and collected, but if i consume products sweetened with aspartame, i get angry, annoyed and irritable over the simplest things that would otherwise not bother me at all. It's nice to see that there's some science to back it up. Haven't had aspartame for a very long time now, and i'm not planning to.

  16. why " doctor" should we ignore all the scientifically repeatable studies done over the decades on aspartame and blindly follow these non repeatable studies. If we are to give these papers you sight any weight they need to perform repeatable tests that can be peer reviewed and more than 40 participants involved. I can go grab 50 or so people of the street and prove anything i want and write a paper on it.

  17. why " doctor" should we ignore all the scientifically repeatable studies done over the decades on aspartame and blindly follow these non repeatable studies. If we are to give these papers you sight any weight they need to perform repeatable tests that can be peer reviewed and more than 40 participants involved. I can go grab 50 or so people of the street and prove anything i want and write a paper on it.

  18. hahahaa, really cool information, the FDA approved this nasty stuff (Aspartame), and is well known is really dangerous for everyone.

    Thanks for your tremendous information Dr. Greger…I really loved the apple in the final xD

  19. I quit drinking aspartame years ago and I started eating only organic food years ago too. They do not put it in organic food.

  20. Initially, the FDA rejected aspartame as a food additive due to safety concerns using Searle's own data. They hired Donald Rumsfelt to convince the newly elected president (R. Reagan) to fire the FDA head and add another vote to the advisory board and low and behold, it was okayed. The documentary "Sweet Misery" covers the series of events nicely.

  21. ASPERTAME and it's like were only allowed to be sold after Donald Rumsfeld did a favour for his buddies. It had been REJECTED BY THE FDA MANY TIMES before finally getting the ok. It was deemed to be very very unfit for human consumption… but, hey, don't worry, his rich friends keep getting a nice profit off the stupidity of americans..

  22. This is a way too critical stance on sweeteners. They are pretty harmless and can be beneficial. It's a good idea to avoid high aspartame consumption though.

  23. dont drink diet coke…… it will cause brain damage, you will feel moody, bipolar, angry, depressed, unstable, and will have anxiety, and will jumble up your brain like its in a blender, then when you realize this and want to quit you will go through horrible withdrawl

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