Everyone loves to know their favorite sweet treat is sugar free. But what if that sugary dessert was worse than consuming the same sugary treat with sugar?

Many sugar free desserts contain aspartame and its effects on the brain are harmful.

What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute in:

  • Gum
  • Diet soda
  • Sugar free desserts
  • Medicine
  • Vitamins
  • Yogurt
  • Low calorie juice
  • Drink mixes

Aspartame can be up to 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Therefore, it is a common substitute for regular sugar.

Discovery of Aspartame

In December of 1965, Robert H. Maurz  discovered one of the most popular artificial sweeteners, aspartame. Over the years, its popularity has increased due to its low caloric content and low production costs.

Aspartame and US FDA Regulations


Aspartame was first approved by the FDA in 1981 and could only be added to certain foods, such as cereal and gum. Two years later aspartame was permitted to be a sweetener in sodas. Lastly, in 1996 the FDA allowed aspartame to be used as an everyday sweetener.

The FDA suggests that people should not consume more than 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) per day. However, numerous amounts of studies have contested that consuming less than 50 milligrams of aspartame per day damages the brain.

Aspartame’s influence on the Brain

Aspartame and Memory

Studies have shown that aspartame can lead to impaired memory in mice/rats.

A study was conducted by O.M.E Abdel-Salam and his fellow researchers from the National Research Center of Cairo Egypt. They collected 24 swiss mice in order to test whether aspartame is linked to memory loss.

The mice were split into four groups and each group digested a different amount of aspartame ranging from 0 mg/kg to 5.625 mg/kg every day.

After two weeks, the mice were participated in the Morris Water Maze test.The results showed that the rats who consumed aspartame lead to significant spatial memory loss.

Another study was conducted by Ashok Iyaswamy and his team of researchers.

Together they examined 18 Wistar Strain Albino Rats to observe a relationship between aspartame and spatial recognition.

The rats were split into three groups with group one consuming no aspartame, group two consuming methotrexate (used to recreate a folate found in humans), and group three consuming aspartame and methotrexate.

After 90 days, the rats completed a Y maze test and a Morris Water Maze test. They found that those who consumed aspartame decreased spatial memory recognition compared to those who did not consume aspartame.

Rats and Mice

If the test subjects were rodents, how would that apply to us? Rats and mice have similar biological and behavior traits to humans. Moreover, it is easier and cheaper to conduct studies on mice rather than humans.

Aspartame and Stress

Secondly, aspartame influences stress levels by increasing the levels of superoxide dismutase and nitric oxide in the brain.

Adejoke Y. Onaolapo and his researchers observed 60 male Swiss mice over 28 days. The mice were divided into 5 groups each group and consumed a different amounts of aspartame ranging from 0 mg/kg to 160 mg/kg for two weeks.

At the end, the researchers took photographs of the rat’s brain. They discovered increased superoxide dismutase levels with the groups digesting more than 40 mg/kg of aspartame per day. This demonstrates that there is a correlation between aspartame and stress.

Furthermore, Iman M. Mourad and Naveen A. Noor from the Cairo University studied the relationship between aspartame and stress. The study was conducted on 30 male Wistar Albino rats. After separating the rats into three groups, all three groups consumed 40 mg/kg of aspartame every day for 2-6 weeks.

They found that those that consumed aspartame every day after 2 weeks had increased nitric oxide levels.

Aspartame and Mental Health

Aspartame has the ability to increase problems with mental health such as anxiety and depression.

Aspartame and Depression

A study conducted by Glenda Lindseth and her fellow researchers at the University of North Dakota Grand Forks observed the relationship between aspartame and depression.

They gathered 28 college sophomores and gave them a different diet consuming 10 mg/kg or 25 mg/kg of aspartame every day.

Lindseth and her researchers found that those who ate 25 mg/kg of aspartame every day reported feeling significantly more depressed than those who ate 10 mg/kg of aspartame per day.

Aspartame and Anxiety

A study was performed by Mohammed Abu-Tawl Gasem from Dammam University. He tested to see if aspartame, monosodium glutamate, or a combination of monosodium glutamate and aspartame influences anxiety.

The test subjects were 40 Swiss Webster Mice. They ate a diet consisting of aspartame, monosodium glutamate, or both for a month. Lastly, the mice participated in a series of anxiety related tests.

Results proved that those who consumed aspartame, monosodium glutamate, or a combination of both showed a statistically significant increase in anxiety.

Aspartame not only is harmful for the one who consumes it, but also their offspring.

Lastly Kate S. Collison and her researchers at King Thiam Specialist Hospital and Research Center observed the effects of aspartame consumption on pregnant mice and their offspring. Together they split the mice into four groups.

One group ingested no aspartame, group two ingested CGP 39551,  group three ingested 46 mg/kg of aspartame, and group four ingested both aspartame and CGP39551.

They found that the mothers who digested aspartame during their pregnancy gave birth to offspring with increased anxiety.

Substitutes for aspartame

If aspartame causes negative effects on the body, are there any natural sugars that are safe?

Natural sugars include;

  • Fruit juice
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses

The FDA declares that overall these sugars are safe for human consumption. However, it is not recommended to give honey to infants due to bacteria that is potentially harmful

The world “natural” may be appealing to some people, but, according to Mayo Clinic, the body processes natural sugars the same way it processes sugar.

In the end, too much of either can cause increased weight and triglycerides and a decay in teeth.


To sum it up, try to avoid artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame. Sugar is sugar.

Instead of trying to find a sugar free solution, moderate the amount of sugar or natural sugars you consume every day.

Author Bio:

Maia Swinson is a first year student at Wheaton College. She hopes to pursue a degree in the sciences and work in a health related profession.