While stopping by my former workplace just a few days ago I came face to face yet again with one of my most hated conspiracy theories/pseudosciences. A friend and ex workmate of mine Drew asked whether I still suffer from the regular headaches that plagued me while I worked there. “Why yes” I replied and briefly mentioned some medical avenues I’m exploring to treat them. His follow up was “because I was speaking to Troy the other day and he was telling me about how diet coke can lead all sorts of problems like headaches”. Drew went on to mention how the artificial sweetener aspartame has been linked to all sorts of problems and cited a study on rats as evidence. Now Drew is a nice guy, he was genuinely interested in what I had to say and seemed to take a lot on board. The Aspartame scare was nothing new to me; in fact it is one of the most common examples of scientific paranoia that I encounter in day to day life. Let’s take a look at some of the claims from aspartame critics and evaluate the scientific evidence. I could never dream of covering such a broad topic in real depth but I wish to draw attention to a few main points.
I’ll start with a very brief and non-technical overview of aspartame. Discovered in 1965 aspartame’s chemical name is aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester. It is one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners world wide and is only applied in relatively small amounts (it’s around 180 times sweeter than sugar). If you’re a fan of diet drinks like Diet Coke, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero etc. then you almost certainly consume aspartame on a regular basis.
Aspartame sits in big pile along with mercury-amalgam fillings, vaccines, fluoridated water, food from the microwave, bottled water and many other byproducts of science that are criticized heavily despite having been studied intensively and proven to be safe for regular use. A literature review examining the body of peer-reviewed research surrounding aspartame published in the journal of “Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology” found the following: