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Dangerous Aspartame Side Effects in Children

Alex Constantine - May 7, 2014

By Kathleen Jade, N.D.

Mother Earth News, April 7, 2014

After the dangers of refined sugar became widely known in the 1980s, the American food industry began replacing it with artificial sweeteners. As an added psychological bonus, these supposedly harmless molecules also reduced the caloric content of foods, making them popular for use in low-fat, light, and diet products. In addition to aspartame, synthetic chemical sweeteners are also known by the following chemical names: acesulfame potassium, neotame, saccharin, sucralose. Brand names include: NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, Sunett, Sweet One, Sweet & Safe, Splenda.

Foods that May Contain Aspartame

According to NutriSweet, a variety of foods are typically sweetened with aspartame.[1]

Carbonated soft drinks
Gelatin dessert
Hot chocolate
Fruit drinks (10% juice)
Breath mints
Ice cream
Chewing gum

Why Small Children are Vulnerable

While holistic doctors do not recommend aspartame consumption by anyone, children are especially susceptible. One or two packages of yogurt, gelatin, or fruit drinks can contain enough aspartame to put a baby over the FDA’s recommended intake limit of 50 mg/kg of body weight.[2]

Aspartame Side Effects Can Lead to Brain Impairment

The body immediately breaks aspartame into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.[3] Methanol is further broken down into formaldehyde and formate. In adults, these compounds may not reach high enough levels to cause problems.[4] For babies, however, methanol can reach high enough levels to cause oxidative stress to the brain.[5] This is the same effect that is caused by free radicals. Chronic incidents of this stress will cause faster brain aging, and could contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, learning impairment, and depression.[3,6] Considering that babies may be exposed to multiple daily servings of the foods listed above, chronic effects are possible until the child becomes old enough to properly metabolize aspartame. Even then, some may experience long-term health consequences.


Also known as PKU, this is an inherited condition in which babies cannot break down phenylalanine. Aspartame can cause severe problems in children with PKU. This includes seizures, rashes, tremors, delayed mental skills, and impaired intellect.[7] All of these are results of excess phenylalanine in the blood. Considering that 50% of aspartame consists of phenylalanine, the sweetener contributes significantly to this problem. Children with PKU should never be given aspartame, even as they become older.

Blood sugar and insulin resistance

Aspartame side effects are intensified by monosodium glutamate (MSG). Studies demonstrate that aspartame alone increases the blood sugar of newborn mice by 60%, but when combined with MSG, the increase is 130%.[8] The research also concludes that subjects experience reduced insulin tolerance. Cells cannot absorb glucose or produce energy when they fail to respond to insulin. This leads to increased blood sugar, increased appetite, and decreased energy.

How to Avoid Synthetic Sweeteners

Anything that is labeled low sugar, diet, low calorie, light, or low fat is likely to contain an artificial sweetener of some kind. Carbonated beverages, fruit drinks, and yogurt can be especially high in aspartame. The best way to avoid aspartame is to entirely eliminate sweetened foods and drinks from the diet. If sugars are absolutely necessary, healthier choices include coconut sugar, agave nectar, and raw honey.


[1] NutraSweet Property Holdings, Inc. ©2003.

[2] Crit Rev Toxicol. 2007;37(8):629-727.

[3] Pharmacol Res. 2006 Jan;53(1):1-5.

[4] BMJ. Feb 5, 2005; 330(7486): 310.

[5] JBiosci.2012Sep;37(4):679-88.

[6] Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 63-67.

[7]Pubmed Health. PKU; Neonatal phenylketonuria.

[] Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jun 14;9(1):58.