Is Aspartame the Source of Your Joint Pain?

Judy, a 55-year old secretary visited her family physician after suddenly developing excruciating joint pain and lower back pain.

Her symptoms, which also included memory loss, severe dizziness and depression, had all appeared within one week’s time.

After undergoing several expensive tests with no answers, her doctor finally asked Judy to keep a food and activity journal to see if it could provide any clues. On a hunch, he asked her to stop drinking a powdered tea mix she had recently purchased to see if that helped. Amazingly, it did.

The pain was completely gone within a week of stopping use of the aspartame-containing product. To confirm the diagnosis, her doctor instructed her to begin adding aspartame back into her diet for a challenge test.

After each of three challenges, says Judy, “my whole body ached from my toes to the neck. I felt as though I had arthritis in my whole body and it hurt to move an arm or even my hand….Since that time, I have not touched anything sweetened with aspartame, and have experienced no unusual aches, joint pain, memory loss or dizziness.”

Judy’s not alone. The artificial sweetener aspartame, consumed by Americans at the rate of about 20 million pounds a year, may well be the cause behind any number of painful and life-altering conditions, including joint pain, headaches, severe drowsiness, extreme irritability, depression, and weight gain.

How Much Is Too Much?

It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of aspartame to cause trouble. In fact, just three or four 12-ounce diet drinks per day contain enough aspartame to harm us.

Don’t drink diet soda? You don’t have to. Aspartame is found in over 6,000 processed foods – from powdered drinks, gelatin, tea, coffee, cocoa, juices, frozen desserts, to chewing gums. It’s even in vitamins (including children’s) and medications.

This means the very source of your chronic pain could be in your kitchen cabinet or refrigerator right now.

Sweet Discovery

The introduction of aspartame as a sweetener started after chemist James Schlatter accidentally tasted the new anti-ulcer drug he was developing in 1965, not realizing he had discovered a goldmine. What he discovered was a product 200 times sweeter than sugar.

By the early 70s, aspartame spread quickly to tables in restaurants, diners, and the homes of Americans under the brand names Nutrasweet, Equal, Equal-Measure and Spoonful. Aspartame gained popularity quickly because it didn’t have the aftertaste that its predecessor, saccharine did.

What is Aspartame… Exactly?

Aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent). It’s classified as an excitotoxic amino acid. What that means for you is it reacts with specialized receptors in your brain in a way that causes the destruction of certain types of brain cells.

Methanol itself is a poison to your body. The EPA defines a safe consumption limit of it as 7.8 milligrams per day. The problem is a small one-liter bottle of your favorite diet beverage sweetened with aspartame contains about 56 milligrams, or eight times the EPA’s own limit, of this poison!

Remember Free Radicals?

If you’ve read much about health related issues at all, you’ve likely heard of free radicals. In a nutshell, these are the unstable organic molecules floating around your body which promote aging and the general breakdown of your body.

They’re implicated in many degenerative illnesses including atherosclerosis, cancer, coronary artery disease and arthritis.

Once you realize excitotoxins like aspartame help generate free radicals, not to mention direct effects such as headaches, mental confusion, and balance problems, the long list of aspartame related illnesses and disorders becomes less surprising. Of course, the effects are subtle, cumulative and develop over a prolonged period of time which is why most people don’t immediately suspect aspartame in conditions like:

  • Birth defects
  • Migraines and severe headaches
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Infections
  • Hives and other allergic reactions
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Specific types of obesity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increasing severity and progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Cancer Risk Higher Than Thought

Independent scientists have long suspected a link between aspartame and cancer. But a few years ago, a massive study conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation in Italy conclusively documented the direct link.

The study fed groups of rats from 8 weeks old until their natural death a feed mix laced with varying concentrations of aspartame. A significant increase in lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers were found in rats that were fed aspartame, particularly those fed daily doses equal to 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Compare this to the 50-milligram level currently deemed acceptable for humans in the United States. A year later, a second study confirmed the results.

Now What?

The best thing to do is stop using any form of aspartame immediately. While discontinuing use of aspartame can lead to the disappearance of many of the above symptoms, patients who develop full-grown tumors, diabetes, and other more serious diseases cannot usually be cured. Omitting aspartame from one’s diet, however, can sometimes potentially lessen the severity and ongoing degeneration associated with certain disorders. Exercising, improving your nutrition, and adding the appropriate supplements to reduce inflammation will also help. In other words, it’s never too late to start doing the right thing for your body.

Aspartame Alternatives

I really shouldn’t have to spell this out for you, but if you’re using any form of aspartame… stop, right now! Like Judy, you may quickly notice an improvement in pain symptoms. Or you may simply reduce the risk of dying of cancer or suffering from horrible degenerative diseases for the rest of your life. Either way, the change is worth it.

Clearly, adding a ton of sugar back into your diet isn’t great for your health, either. But if you must use sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and even turbinado sugar (raw sugar) are all healthier alternatives to aspartame.

Another great alternative is stevia, produced from the leaves of a native South American shrub by the same name. The leaves themselves are at least 30 times sweeter than table sugar. Extracts can be ten times sweeter than the raw leaf, yet still have virtually no effect on blood glucose levels.

So, toss the aspartame-containing products you’ve been using and look for those using natural alternatives. Your body will thank you in the long run.

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Olney JW, et al. Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame? Journal of neuropathology and experimental neurology. 1996 Nov;55(11):1115-23.

Roberts HJ. Aspartame as a cause of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Archives of internal medicine. 1996 May 13;156(9):1027-8.

Soffritti M, et al. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environmental health perspectives. 2006 Mar;114(3):379-85.

Trocho C, et al. Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. Life sciences. 1998;63(5):337-49.

Filed Under: General HealthJesse Cannone
Written By: July 19,2010

11 thoughts on “Is Aspartame the Source of Your Joint Pain?”

  1. I rarely respond to critical comments on our blog posts. I’d much rather invest my time researching the best ways our readers can eliminate their back pain, neck pain, and sciatica without resorting to harmful drugs and surgery. I also spend a lot of time investigating natural ways we all can live healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives.

    So why am I making an exception today? Why respond to a comment calling a well-researched blog post “garbage” with the intent of selling books? (Full disclosure: I do have one book, but any visitor to this website can have it for free.)

    More to the point, why don’t I simply delete these type of comments as some often suggest?

    Because YOU need to see how establishment mindsets pickled by decades of involvement with mainstream academia… seemingly brought into line with the idea that large scale government meddling in our healthcare, food supply, and virtually everything else under the sun is a good idea… leads to strong, seemingly reasoned arguments in opposition to a common sense viewpoint backed by real, non-industry tainted research.

    Yes, Dr. Garst, I agree “everything is toxic” does apply. Even drinking too much water, I concede, can lead to death (in that case, from hyponatremia). But we’re talking gallons compared to milligrams. That’s not really a comparison, is it? Which is why I don’t think the average person needs a scientific discourse on “too much of a good thing” to realize that some substances are far more dangerous than others.

    Yes, there ARE “decades of science” supporting the use of aspartame. Invariably they appear to be industry-sponsored studies to “debunk” studies. Take, for example, the two studies cited in PubMed (the National Institutes of Health database of clinical studies) in response to Sofritti’s studies: Aspartame Not Linked to Cancer (Abegaz, E. 2007) and “Carcinogenicity of Aspartame in Rats Not Proven (Magnuson, B. 2008). Both attempt to instill doubt as to the validity of both original studies. Of course, the astute researcher will immediately recognize the industry hit-job based on the financial backing. Both reviews were financed by Ajinomoto Company Inc., a producer of aspartame.

    Kind of funny how industry-sponsored studies always support the industry isn’t it? Nonetheless, the preponderance of evidence fully supports our position that aspartame is extremely harmful — even when “used as directed” — which itself is an interesting phrase. Don’t we usually see that associated with pharmaceutical drugs? Perhaps that’s because that was the original intent of aspartame as stated in our article.

    Speaking of drugs, there are much safer, more natural ways to fight arthritic pain than aspirin, much less aspartame! Just take a look around our website for numerous alternatives to drugs.

    Finally, I won’t argue against your point that you’re not financially connected with the aspartame industry — for now. But please feel free to carry on what appears to be your self-admitted personal crusade promoting the use of aspartame through your comments on numerous blogs. No doubt you’ll eventually pick up a cushy job with one of these aspartame-producing food industry giants. After all, that’s what many former non-financially-involved FDA officials have found to be quite lucrative.

  2. celine adams says:

    Joint pain is my long term problem, been looking for means to cure it. I read articles about joint pain drugs during my spare time.Thank you for the post, will visit for more next time.. Hope to see more post about this niche.

  3. Patricia Kubitz says:

    About 10 years ago, when I had to relieve the receptionist where I worked, a friend of mine would bring me a large cup of coffee with 2 packets of equal and cream in it. After a while I began to have severe headaches. Stopping the equal stopped the headaches. However, I also developed Rheumatoid Arthritis. I didn’t realize the connection until today. Forget the arguments, my personal experience is enough to convince me to seek out natural foods, medicines, etc. Our government has grown too large and is overinvolved with our lives. The food industry is marketing chemical and preservative additives that are dangerous to our health as being ‘safe’. Unfortunately, the almight $$$ has corrupted to many indviduals. It is nice that someone out there is trying to help provide an honest natural alternative. Why is there a big mystery about the increase in obesity and auto-immune diseases? Garbage in – garbage out!!

  4. Jim Wellman says:

    Dr. Garst:”…behalf of the hundreds of thousands of scientists that know this claim is a ridiculous falsehood…”

    How do you, a scientist make this kind of statement? What, have you actually read papers from each of these scientist that “proves” how they feel about this or any/every other issue. This statement tells me that you have chosen a side of an issue and therefore you are going to use any means you can to support your stand, up to and including gross exageration. This seems to be typical in today’s governmental and scientific circles. Everyheard of “global warming? Oh, excuse me! Or is that “climate change?” Please note: not very many years ago, I believe we were strongly being told that the next ice age was upon us.

    ” Is it any wonder why the FDA, the EFSA and all other relevant regulatory agencies have dismissed all the Soffritti et al papers time and time again.?” (Question mark added by me)

    Seriously sir, do you really think any of these regulatory agencies have a good enough track record over the past few decades to use them as an authoritarian reference?

    All I know, sir is that this drug in me equals severe headaches,and joint aches and overall feelings of “I’m not ever going to feel good again!” Without it, I feel pretty darn good for 66 + years

    1. LC says:

      Thanks for your information. I agree.

      I’m 29. I’m in great shape and haven’t had back spasms for years (I also haven’t had aspartame in years).

      Tonight, I had several packets of Crystal Light with aspartame. Lo and behold, my back is spasming for the first time in years.

      In essence, add my personal experience to the evidence against aspartame safety.

  5. Lowell Koppenhaver says:

    I have been using Acai berry optimum for 11 days now and my appetite has decreased and my energy level has improved. I have lost 6 pounds since starting Acai berry. It is important for people to realize that it is a supplement, so you have to change your diet and you have to exercise. So far so good!!

  6. Lorraine says:

    If I hadnt given away the drinks and foods containing Aspartame and improved my eating habits I wouldnt be here today. I have been prescribed two very dangerous drugs that have since been banned. Thank goodness I only took one for a week. I gave it away because I thought that it would kill me and I was only 45 years old at the time. It more than trippled your chances of having a heart attack. I now keep away from all Doctors as most only give out pills and never look for the real problems which is usually diet related. My Grandfather lived to 102, was healthy and active right up to his passing. He didnt believe in Doctors and their pills. He had an amazing vegetable garden(the whole back yard) and fruit trees in his yard when he was 100. He said that it kept him active and healthy.

  7. Gerard says:

    I 57 and had been drinking diet Dr Pepper for years. A couple of years ago I started experiencing pain in my joints especially my knees. Some days it was painful just to walk especially walking down stairs. I thought I had developed arthritis.

    I would drink 3 12oz cans a day at work. A guy I work told me about the side effects of drinking so much a day, and one of them was joint pain.

    Just this last Christmas I got some kind of food poisoning that laid me up for a couple of days. I had to quit drinking because my stomach could not handle it with how sick I was feeling. So I quit drinking it.
    Within 2 weeks the pain in my joints, especially my knees is almost nonexistent. I am now a believer that this stuff is the cause. I don’t care if scientific studies say it doesn’t cause these effects, my experience says differently.



  9. Jason Jackson says:

    Hi all. I’m not a doctor, just your average joe. But if you set me up on a blind test over a period of a few days on each kind of artificial and natural sweeteners, I can tell you which were the aspartame by the shooting pains in my right arm. Full disclosure, yes I smoke about a half a pack of cigarettes a day. More on days that I enjoy a few stiff Jack and waters. Yes I know smoking is bad for me. Yes I understand it could be any combination of things that we introduce into this chemistry set know as our bodies. But for me, aspartame is one of those elements in the combination. I don’t need a white paper, study, journal, or book to tell me this, but feel free to include it in them.

    In my experience, most people tend to only go with the probable, and not even consider acknowledging the possible.

  10. Mr G says:

    I have just started drinking diet drinks again after a long period of time drinking regular sugary drinks. (i know they are all bad and killing me, im just an addict) the one thing i have noticed is chronic back pain when i drink diet sodas. It happened last time i tried to give up sugar i just thought i had hurt my back but twice is no coincidence. it feels like my back has been injured around the middle. i have now been clean from the soda for a couple of weeks now and my back has really started improving again. i would never have linked the two. my advise would be to try to go cold turkey for a month and see if things improve.


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