Aspartame is a common sugar-free sweetener that has been in the United States since the early 1980s. It’s found in over 6,000 products, including Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Crystal Light and Kool-Aid. It is also sold under brand names such as NutraSweet and Equal.
Controversy still surrounds the use of aspartame, and available evidence does suggest some links, but do not suggest long-term negative effects. The precise mechanisms of the link between aspartame and Alzheimer’s are not completely understood, and future research is needed to investigate these mechanisms and any underlying associations.
A 2017 study published in the journal Stroke concluded that “higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease-dementia.”
The risk of developing dementia or having a stroke is nearly three times more likely if someone consumes just one can of an artificially sweetened drink daily.
Additionally, a report in the 2018 Current Diabetes Review, says aspartame may also act as a chemical stressor in the body, which increases levels of the hormone cortisol that promotes weight gain and also produces free radicals that cause oxidative stress in the body — all high-risk factors for a healthy heart and lifestyle.
The researchers also cautioned that there were inconsistencies in the findings and more clinical studies were needed to support the dangers of aspartame.
In another 2017 report published in Nutritional Neuroscience, aspartame was found to be linked to various behavioral and cognitive problems, including learning difficulties, seizures, headaches and migraines, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Aspartame also acts as chemical stressor that can increase cortisol, causing weight gain, blood vessel damage and plaque buildup, which is also hard on the heart.
Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “The Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” notes the findings in his research that stroke and Alzheimer’s share a similar mechanism in terms of their cause. A stroke and Alzheimer’s disease are primarily inflammatory disorders. When consumed, artificial sweeteners induce changes in the gut bacteria which cause a more inflammatory environment in our bodies, he said.
Aspartame is known to overstimulate the neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain. Excessive amounts can damage neurons and cause cell death, which are associated with memory issues and dementia.
Alternative options to sweetening foods and beverages include honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juice or stevia. Like aspartame, however, these natural options should be consumed in limited quantities.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at email@example.com.