According to a research review conducted by South African scientists from the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high intake of the artificial sweetener aspartame may lead to the degeneration of brain cells and various mental disorders.
“We propose that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders, and also in compromised learning and emotional functioning,” the researchers concluded.
The researchers also noted that aspartame appears to cause excessive signaling of nerve cells, and nerve cell damage or even death. By disrupting the functioning of the cells’ mitochondria, or energy source, aspartame leads to a cascade of effects on the whole system.
“The energy systems for certain required enzyme reactions become compromised, thus indirectly leading to the inability of enzymes to function optimally,” the researchers wrote.
Same face, different name
Previous research was reviewed and it was found that aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Canderal and Tropicana Slim, leads to both direct and indirect changes in the brain when consumed in high quantities. It was found that the chemical can disrupt amino acid metabolism and structure, degrade nucleic acids, and interfere with the function of nerve cells and hormonal systems. It also appears to change the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Aspartame is used in more than 6,000 products around the world. It has been controversial since its introduction, with a number of studies linking it to cancer and neurological and behavioral disorders. Side effects have been reported by many people including headaches, insomnia and even seizures from aspartame consumption.
The FDA and the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), however, continue to insist that the sweetener is safe.