Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Aspartame: Can a Little Bit Hurt?

How dangerous is aspartame if used in limited quantities?

Answer (Published 9/25/2002)

Updated on 5/9/2006.

As you may know, I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners. I think it best to avoid both aspartame and saccharin. For now, I'm still keeping an eye on a newer one, sucralose (Splenda). A product of British research, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and maintains its sweetness under a wide range of temperatures, making it a useful option for cooking and baking. It tastes better than aspartame and saccharin and, so far, looks safe. (But so did saccharin and aspartame when they were introduced.)

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

Like most artificial sweeteners, aspartame has a peculiar taste. I have seen a number of patients - mostly women - who report headaches from using it, and some women also find that aspartame aggravates PMS. This compound is suspected of being an "excitotoxin," a compound that can damage nerve cells by overstimulating them. I would warn anyone with a neurological disease to avoid it. At the same time, I've seen no scientific support for assertions on the Internet that there is an "aspartame disease" or that it worsens symptoms of multiple sclerosis, lupus, and fibromyalgia. Indeed, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation has published a letter on its Internet site refuting the notion that aspartame provokes or worsens MS.

We do know that people with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), those with advanced liver disease, and pregnant women with high levels of the amino acid phenylalanine in their blood have a problem with aspartame because they do not effectively metabolize phenylalanine, one of aspartame's components. High levels of phenylalanine in body fluids can cause brain damage. For this reason, the FDA requires that all products containing aspartame must include a warning to phenylketonurics that the sweetener contains phenylalanine.

For every one else, although available evidence suggests that occasional use of aspartame presents no great risk, I would however recommend following the precautionary principle. In other words, don't use it.

I think it's wise to consume moderate amounts of sugar rather than any artificial sweeteners. Sugar is safe when used in moderation, and relatively low in calories (about 15 per teaspoon).

Also, keep in mind that no evidence exists to suggest that using artificial sweeteners helps anyone lose weight. So why use them - especially if safety concerns exist?

The only non-caloric sweetener I recommend is stevia, an herb in the chrysanthemum family native to Paraguay that you can buy in whole-leaf or extract form. The extract - stevioside - is a granular white powder that you dissolve in water and dispense with a dropper. Stevia is safe for diabetics and is widely used as a sweetener around the world, especially in Japan and Brazil. A few drops of the liquid provide the sweetness of an entire cup of sugar.


Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here