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Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame and Its Effects on Gut Bacteria

Updated on December 8, 2021
Written by
Joel
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Aspartame is a popular low-calorie artificial sweetener. It is widely used as a sugar substitute.

It is commonly consumed by people who want to lower their sugar intake while still enjoying something sweet. 

Other common artificial sweeteners include:

  • Cyclamate
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame and Its Effects on Gut Bacteria 3

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What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Just a small amount often goes a long way. It is most often found in:

  • Low-calorie food
  • Diet sodas
  • Some medications

Once consumed, aspartame is broken down into two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. These are used in metabolism and protein synthesis. 

Aside from the two amino acids, the digestion of aspartame also produces a small amount of methanol. It is a compound typically found in vegetables and fruits, and their juices. 

Despite its wide usage and popularity, aspartame use is still controversial. Medical experts have varying opinions regarding the safety of sugar substitutes.

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Where is Aspartame Used?

Aspartame is used to reduce the amount of sugar present in food and drinks. It is commonly found in the following:

  • Breath mints 
  • Candy
  • Carbonated sodas (even diet soda)
  • Cereals
  • Chewing gum
  • Dairy products like low-fat flavored milk and yogurt
  • Flavored water
  • Frozen desserts like popsicles, and ice cream
  • Fruit juices
  • Gelatins
  • Instant coffee and tea
  • Nutrition bars
  • Powdered drinks
  • Puddings
  • Syrups, sauces, and condiments
  • Tabletop sweeteners

In addition, some medicines and chewable vitamins also contain aspartame. It lessens the bitterness and significantly improves the taste.

Aspartame cannot be used for baking or cooking. It is deemed unstable. When exposed to temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, aspartame will:

  • Break down
  • Turn into amino acids
  • Lose its sweetness

Is Aspartame Safe?

Yes, aspartame is safe to use within the recommended acceptable daily intake (ADI).

Aspartame is one of the most extensively studied food ingredients. There are more than 200 studies and clinical trials supporting its safety.

Safety evaluations and scientific risk assessments have been made by leading health authorities worldwide. It has been approved for use in dry foods, in carbonated drinks, and as a sweetener.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set an ADI of 50 mg per kg of body weight per day. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), on the one hand, has placed it at 40 mg per kg of body weight per day.

Aspartame is also safe for:

  • Children
  • People with diabetes
  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding women

Can Aspartame Cause Digestive Problems?

Consuming artificial sweeteners does have an effect on the body. There have been reports of gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances. Reported symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea 

However, the results of a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial did not confirm that the gastrointestinal symptoms were indeed caused by aspartame. Both the aspartame group and the placebo group reported GI symptoms.

Whether or not digestive problems are caused by aspartame, knowing the state of your gut could help you find answers. At-home microbiome test kits are intended for this purpose. 

Thryve’s Gut Health Program analyzes a stool sample, so you get a picture of the state of your gut wall. It comes with a digital health report, personalized food plan, and customized probiotics.

Do Aspartame Cause Harm to Gut Bacteria?

The controversy lies on whether aspartame affects the gut microbiome or not.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its opinion on the results of the re-evaluation of aspartame. It stated that aspartame does not reach the colon. It is already broken down into its component amino acids before it ever reaches the site where the gut microbes are clustered. 

Similarly, a panel of low-calorie sweetener experts, via a research study, concluded that there is no sufficient data available regarding the adverse effect of aspartame on human gut microbes. 

While in several studies, researchers found that aspartame consumption doesn’t adversely affect gut microbes, other studies claim the opposite. Findings revealed that when you consume artificial sweeteners, healthy gut bacteria are affected. 

Additionally, a study published in the Molecules journal revealed that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame turn our own gut bacteria into pathogenic gut bacteria. 

With opposing views from health experts, the best advice is to proceed cautiously and stick to the FDA-approved acceptable daily intake. 

What are the Benefits of Aspartame?

Despite the controversies, many calorie-conscious consumers are still using aspartame. It is a low-calorie sweetener with negligible calorie content. Additionally, aspartame provides the following benefits:

A small amount goes a long way.

Aspartame needs only to be used in small quantities to achieve a sweet taste. While it does provide calories when metabolized, the calorie count is negligible.

It lasts longer than sugar.

Aspartame is used to extend and enhance fruit flavors in food and drinks. Mixing it with other artificial sweeteners could result in a more sugary taste.

It is safe for the teeth.

Aspartame is deemed safe for oral health by the American Dental Association. It does not cause or contribute to the development of tooth decay. 

It is helpful for diabetics.

People with diabetes need to budget their carbohydrate intake. Since aspartame has no carbohydrates, it does not affect blood sugar levels

The results of a research study back this claim. This allows diabetics to stick to their healthy meal plans. It also allows them to manage their weight without having to worry about their blood sugar level spiking.

It is helpful for weight watchers.

Obesity is a prevalent health problem. Aspartame is beneficial because it has low calories compared to sugar.

It replaces sugar without compromising taste.

Aspartame replaces sugar without food having to taste less sweet. This way, you do not feel deprived of your sweet cravings. You get the same sweet taste in a healthier way.

Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame and Its Effects on Gut Bacteria 3

Ombre (formerly Thryve) - Best Gut Health Test

Ombre gets our recommendation for the best microbiome test because they've been around the longest, they specialize in only testing the microbiome, and they also have a good follow-up service (personalized probiotics and other items).

What are the Side Effects of Too Much Aspartame?

Researchers found that the adverse effects of aspartame only happen with huge doses exceeding the acceptable daily intake. However, people diagnosed with phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame at all costs.

Consuming high amounts of aspartame is considered bad for the health because it may cause:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty of breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Generalized body pain
  • Hives and Rashes
  • Impotence
  • Irritability
  • Migraine headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Seizures
  • Weight gain

The Final Word on Aspartame

The human gut microbiome plays an important role in human health. Serious health issues can arise from an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.

While the debate is still ongoing about aspartame, it is best to play on the safe side.

There are pros and cons associated with aspartame consumption. It has FDA approval and is backed by health agencies. However, some health experts question its safety, with research studies to support their claims. 

No matter your reason for using aspartame, remember that it’s important to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle customized solely for you. Achieving good health is a multi-faceted approach, with several factors that need to be considered.

Setting your priorities straight and knowing what your personal goals are is important to your overall well-being. 

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Joel
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer that loves exploring DNA, at-home health, and optimizing my health. He believes that the democratization of home health is in its early stages.
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