|The Dangers of Aspartame
The Artificial Sweetener Aspartame: Safe or Not?
The drawback of this technique is that a byproduct, the bitter tasting
β-form, is produced when the wrong carboxyl group from aspartic acid
links to phenylalanine. A process using an enzyme from Bacillus
thermoproteolyticus to catalyze the condensation of the chemically
altered amino acids will produce high yields without the β-form
|Aspartame (or APM) is an
artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some
foods and beverages. The most notable name brand of aspartame is
In the European Union, it is codified as E951. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide.
It was first synthesized in 1965. The safety of aspartame has been the
subject of several political and medical controversies, Congressional
hearings and internet hoaxes since its initial approval for use in food
products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974.
A 2007 medical review on the subject concluded that "the weight of
existing scientific evidence indicates that aspartame is safe at current
levels of consumption as a non-nutritive sweetener".
its breakdown products include phenylalanine, aspartame must be avoided
by people with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU).
Aspartame is a
methyl ester of the dipeptide of the natural amino acids L-aspartic acid
and L-phenylalanine. Under strongly acidic or alkaline conditions,
aspartame may generate methanol by hydrolysis. Under more severe
conditions, the peptide bonds are also hydrolyzed, resulting in the free
There are two approaches to synthesis which are used commercially. In
the chemical synthesis, the two carboxyl groups of aspartic acid are
joined into an anhydride and the amino group is protected by a compound
that will prevent further reactions of that group.
methylated and combined with the N-protected aspartic anhydride, then
the blocking group is removed from aspartic acid by acid hydrolysis.
|Aspartame (E951) is an artificial sweetener, used in over 6000 products.
The food industry claims that aspartame helps in losing weight, but why
is obesity then becoming such an ever increasing problem?
A variant of this method, which has not been used commercially, uses
unmodified aspartic acid, but produces low yields. Methods for directly
producing aspartyl-phenylalanine by enzymatic means, followed by
chemical methylation, have also been tried but not scaled for industrial
|Aspartame, Brain Cancer & the FDA Approval Process
The approval of the artificial sweetener aspartame (E951) was the most
contested in FDA history. The approval was not based on any scientific
grounds but was granted due to political and financial pressure.
Aspartame was first 'discovered' in 1965 by Searle, a drug company based
in Chicago. The FDA finally approved aspartame in 1981, even though
scientific research had clearly shown that aspartame caused brain cancer
in lab animals.
The tests that Searle used to determine the so-called safety of
aspartame were severely flawed. Searle used unscientific lab practices,
falsified data and withheld crucial information during the FDA approval
Because aspartame caused brain tumors in laboratory
animals, it poses a real cancer risk to humans as well. Cancer is
increasing in western countries and will soon be the leading cause of
Aspartame (E951) is now being used in over 6000 products and millions of
people worldwide use the sweetener on a daily basis. In addition to
causing cancer, aspartame also causes many other health problems
including epilepsy, migraines, diabetes, obesity, brain disorders, ADHD,
ADD, MS, etc.
The US Department of Health has recorded 92
symptoms following complaints about aspartame. In fact, over 80% of all
complaints filed with FDA are aspartame related.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener and is approximately 200 times
sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar.
Due to this property, though
aspartame upon metabolism produces 4 kilocalories of energy per gram,
the quantity of aspartame needed to produce a sweet taste is so small
that its caloric contribution is negligible.
The taste of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners differ from that
of table sugar in the times of onset and how long the sweetness lasts,
though aspartame comes closest amongst artificial sweeteners to sugar's
The sweetness of aspartame lasts longer than sucrose, so it is often
blended with other artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium to
produce an overall taste more like sugar.
Aspartame can be synthesized from its constituent amino acids,
L-phenylalanine and L-aspartate.Like many other peptides, aspartame may
hydrolyze (break down) into its constituent amino acids under conditions
of elevated temperature or high pH.
This makes aspartame undesirable as a baking sweetener, and prone to
degradation in products hosting a high-pH, as required for a long shelf
The stability of aspartame under heating can be improved to some extent
by encasing it in fats or in maltodextrin. The stability when dissolved
in water depends markedly on pH. At room temperature, it is most stable
at pH 4.3, where its half-life is nearly 300 days. At pH 7, however, its
half-life is only a few days.
soft-drinks have a pH between 3 and 5, where aspartame is reasonably
stable. In products that may require a longer shelf life, such as syrups
for fountain beverages, aspartame is sometimes blended with a more
stable sweetener, such as saccharin.
Aspartame's major decomposition products are its:
and its constituent components:
- cyclic dipeptide (diketopiperazine form),
- the de-esterified dipeptide (aspartyl-phenylalanine),
At 180° C, aspartame undergoes decomposition to form a diketopiperazine (DKP) derivative.
- aspartic acid,
- and methanol.
In products such as powdered beverages, the amine in aspartame can
undergo a Maillard reaction with the aldehyde groups present in certain
The ensuing loss of both flavor and sweetness can be prevented by
protecting the aldehyde as an acetal. Descriptive analyses of solutions
containing aspartame report a sweet aftertaste as well as bitter and
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a
chemist working for G.D. Searle & Company. Schlatter had
synthesized aspartame in the course of producing an antiulcer drug
candidate. He accidentally discovered its sweet taste when he licked his
finger, which had become contaminated with aspartame, to lift up a
piece of paper.
In 1975, prompted by issues regarding Flagyl and Aldactone, a U.S. FDA
task force team reviewed 25 studies submitted by the manufacturer,
including 11 on aspartame. The team reported “serious deficiencies in
Searle’s operations and practices".
The FDA sought to authenticate 15 of the submitted studies against the
supporting data, in 1979 the Center for Food Safety and Applied
Nutrition (CFSAN) concluded that, as any problems with the aspartame
studies were minor and did not affect the conclusions, the studies could
be used to assess aspartame's safety.
In 1980, the FDA convened a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) consisting of
independent advisors charged with examining the purported relationship
between aspartame and brain cancer. The PBOI concluded that aspartame
does not cause brain damage, but it recommended against approving
aspartame at that time, citing unanswered questions about cancer in
Citing data from a Japanese study that had not been available to the
members of the PBOI, and after seeking advice from an expert panel that
found fault with statistical analyses underlying the PBOI's hesitation,
yet argued against approval, FDA commissioner Hayes approved aspartame
for use in dry goods.
In 1983, the FDA further approved aspartame for use in carbonated
beverages, and for use in other beverages, baked goods, and confections
In 1996, the FDA removed all restrictions from aspartame, allowing it to
be used in all foods. Several European Union countries approved
aspartame in the 1980s, with EU-wide approval in 1994. The European
Commission Scientific Committee on Food reviewed subsequent safety
studies and reaffirmed the approval in 2002.
The European Food Safety Authority reported in 2006 that the previously
established Acceptable Daily Intake was appropriate, after reviewing yet
another set of studies.
Upon ingestion, aspartame breaks down into natural residual components,
including aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol, and further breakdown
products including formaldehyde and formic acid, accumulation of the
latter being suspected as the major cause of injury in methanol
poisoning. Human studies show that formic acid is excreted faster than
it is formed after ingestion of aspartate.
In some fruit juices, higher concentrations of methanol can be found
than the amount produced from aspartame in beverages. High levels of the
naturally-occurring essential amino acid phenylalanine are a health
hazard to those born with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare inherited
disease that prevents phenylalanine from being properly metabolized.
Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional
source of phenylalanine, foods containing aspartame sold in the United
States must state "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine" on their
In the UK, foods that contain aspartame are legally
required by the country's Food Standards Agency to list the chemical
among the product's ingredients and carry the warning "Contains a source
of phenylalanine" – this is usually at the foot of the list of
Manufacturers are also required to print '"with sweetener(s)" on the
label close to the main product name' on foods that contain "sweeteners
such as aspartame" or "with sugar and sweetener(s)" on "foods that
contain both sugar and sweetener".
Aspartame has been the subject of several controversies and hoaxes since
its initial approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in
1974. Critics allege that conflicts of interest marred the FDA's
approval of aspartame, question the quality of the initial research
supporting its safety, and postulate that numerous health risks may be
associated with aspartame.
The validity of these claims has been examined and dismissed. In 1987,
the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that the food
additive approval process had been followed properly for aspartame.
Aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than
ninety countries worldwide, with FDA officials describing aspartame as
"one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency
has ever approved" and its safety as "clear cut".
The weight of existing scientific evidence indicates that aspartame is
safe at current levels of consumption as a non-nutritive sweetener.