know your dna logo
search iconmenu Icon

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

Updated on July 28, 2021
Written by
KnowYourDNA is reader-supported. This means we may receive a commission when you buy something from one of the links on this page.

Aspartame is a popular low-calorie artificial sweetener widely used as one of the sugar substitutes. 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, and saccharin.

Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame and Its Effects on Gut Bacteria 2

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, and 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.

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.

One important thing to remember about aspartame is that it cannot be used for baking or cooking. Aspartame is deemed unstable. When exposed to temperatures higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, aspartame will break down and turn into amino acids. It will also lose its sweetness.

Is Aspartame Safe?

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

There have been more than 200 studies and clinical trials conducted on aspartame, supporting its safety. It is one of the most extensively studied food ingredients. 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.

To ensure safety and prevent adverse effects, 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.

If you’re wondering if aspartame is safe for children, people with diabetes, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women, the answer is yes.

Can Aspartame Cause Digestive Problems?

Consuming artificial sweeteners does have an effect on the body. There have been reports of gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances after consuming sweetened drinks and foods with aspartame. Reported symptoms include bloating, stomach cramps, nausea, constipation, and 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. There’s a balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiota in a normal, healthy human gut. When this balance is disturbed - and with bad gut bacteria invading - problems happen.

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 because 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 controversy surrounding aspartame, many calorie-conscious consumers are still using it more than sugar. Aside from it being one of the many low-calorie sweeteners with negligible calorie content, aspartame provides the following benefits:

A small amount goes a long way.

When it comes to sweeteners versus sugars, which one is better? Aspartame needs only to be used in small quantities to achieve a sweet taste, so 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. Because of this, 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 because it does not cause or contribute to the development of tooth decay. 

It is helpful for diabetics.

People diagnosed with diabetes and glucose intolerance can benefit from the flexibility that aspartame provides. People with diabetes need to budget their carbohydrate intake, but since aspartame has no carbohydrates, it does not affect blood sugar levels

The results of a research study back this claim. This allows diabetic individuals to stick to their healthy meal plan and at the same time manage their weight without having to worry about their blood sugar level spiking.

It is helpful for weight watchers.

With obesity being a prevalent health problem, we must take extra measures to ensure that we only consume the appropriate amount of calories that our body needs. Aspartame is beneficial because it has low calories compared to sugar.

It replaces sugar without compromising taste.

Aspartame can take the place of sugar in a healthy diet 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.

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. Despite it being FDA approved and with the backing of other health agencies, there are health experts that 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. 

Content Contributor
Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.
back to top