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Aspartame Side Effects - Depression & Aspartame

Updated on January 19, 2012

Does Depression Belong on the List of Aspartame Side Effects?

An examination of the Aspartame side effects you may not be aware of: depression.
An examination of the Aspartame side effects you may not be aware of: depression.

Aspartame Side Effects Lead Many Doctors to Advise Against Using Aspartame in Pregnancy

Back in 1991 when I was pregnant with my first child I recall my obstetrician telling me not to drink any products with the artificial sweetener aspartame in them, better known at the time by the brand-name NutraSweet. I was in fact already familiar with this artificial sweetener since the only soda I drank, Diet Coke, vividly displayed the NutraSweet swirl logo on its cans.

As a card-carrying member of what I call the Snackwell Generation, I was already all to eager to believe the promises made by corporate giants. Those of us in the Snackwell Generation basically believed we could have our low-fat cake and eat as much of it as we desired too -- oh, and without any consequences. For years we ate low-fat foods packed with not many fewer calories than their sugar/corn-syrup counterparts, and we drank zero-calorie sodas pumped with artificial sweeteners and became overweight and depressed.

Concerned about using Aspartame in pregnancy, I did in fact heed the advice of my obstetrician and gave up Diet Coke during both my pregnancies, as I was an otherwise healthy person and didn't want to put a chemical into my body, nor did I want to expose either of my unborn children to this newly-found chemical sweetener. A few years later my pediatrician also put out the warning to make sure the kids did not eat NutraSweet-filled foods and drinks. His advice about Aspartame dangers, I also followed. But as the years passed and the kids entered their teen years, I let aspartame sneak back into my household believing the danger had passed. But had it?

Aspartame Side Effects May Include Depression

I have always considered myself sort of chronically depressed, not clinically, but just an ongoing blah feeling. But thinking back over the span of my life, I didn't always feel that way. Trying to put a timeline to the beginnings of this blue mood led me straight back to Snackwells and Diet Coke.

Could in fact aspartame be linked to depression? I am not a medical professional, a mental health expert, a nutritionist or even a chemist, but I am pretty sure that for me anecdotally the answer to that question is a resounding, "Yes!" What I do know for a fact about the brain is that it produces a neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn affects our moods and our sleep patterns. The SSRI class of anti-depressants are said to work by increasing serotonin. But interestingly, one component of aspartame blocks production of serotonin. Logically one could conclude then that depression and other altered mental states may result. Studies on a sugar-fed group of rats and a second aspartame-fed group of rats, revealed that the aspartame group of rats had lower brain serotonin levels. Other studies have shown that people with pre-existing mood disorders are very sensitive to this artificial sweetener.

What does NutraSweet say about the safety of its product? In the interest of being fair, NutraSweet claims that its product is safe for children; adults; and pregnant and lactating women. They state that it does not affect mood or cause other adverse health effects. See NutraSweet Safety Claims.

Like I said, I am not a medical. mental health, or chemical expert, but I do know myself. And at least anecdotally for me, I believe that aspartame is definitely linked to my chronic, blue mood.

What do you think about artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, and Aspartame side effects?

If you have felt this way too, why not eliminate aspartame from your diet (which includes anything with the brand-names NutraSweet, Equal, or listed as aspartame in the ingredient lists on many sugar-free products, including gum) and see if you just don't feel happier!


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