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Potential Risk Index®:

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1. Sweetener - Sugar substitutes which provides a sweet taste without raising blood sugar levels
Aspartame (L-alpha-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester) is a low-calorie sweetener used to sweeten a wide variety of low- and reduced-calorie foods and beverages, including low-calorie tabletop sweeteners. Aspartame is composed of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine , as the methyl ester. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are also found naturally in protein containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methyl esters are also found naturally in many foods such as fruits and vegetable and their juices. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into three components (aspartic acid , phenylalanine and methanol), which are then absorbed into the blood and used in normal body processes. Neither aspartame nor its components accumulates in the body. These components are used in the body in the same ways as when they are derived from common foods. [1]
Aspartame is an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. It has E number 951. It is approved to use as food additive in EU.
Recent Findings:
A statistical study involving 37,000 men and 80,000 women found that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs) are both positively associated with cardiovascular disease, where aspartame is defined as the "primary artificial sweetener". However, SSBs has a higher association with cancer mortality compared to ASBs, especially "among women and warrants further confirmation". The study concludes that "ASBs could be used to replace SSBs among habitual SSB consumers but higher consumption of ASBs should be discouraged". [2]
The possible carcinogenicity of aspartame stems from its breakdown. Aspartame breaks down to form methanol which is then further broken down to form formaldehyde. A study involving male rats has shown that it is possible for the aspartame-derived formaldehyde to bind to tissues in vivo. [3] Another study states that although formaldehyde has a profound effect on human cells, the metabolites are not found in concentrations sufficient enough to cause harm and "aspartame at abuse doses is harmless to humans". [4]
The composition of aspartame consists primarily of phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid (40%) and methanol (10%). At 10%, the effects of methanol is far too limited to have any direct or indirect cellular effect on the brain. [5] Methanol also has no effect on astrocytes (a cell of the nervous system) since "the lack of formate accumulation after very large doses of aspartame indicates that the conversion of aspartame to methanol is not sufficient to induce any toxicity from methanol or its metabolites". [6]
Overall, ASBs can replace SSBs to reduce the association with cancer mortality, but higher consumption of either is not recommended. The breakdown of aspartame to methanol and then to formaldehyde is too limited to cause any significant cellular damage.
Fun Facts:
-Used to be made from the waste product of E. Coli bacteria
-Is around 200 times sweeter than sugar
-Breaks down to form phenylalanine, a type of amino acid
Scientific References:
2. Long-Term Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Mortality in US Adults. (Circulation 2019. DOI:10.1161/circulationaha.118.037401)
3. Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. (Life Sci., 63(5), 337–349. DOI:10.1016/s0024-3205(98)00282-3)
4. Cytotoxic effects of methanol, formaldehyde, and formate on dissociated rat thymocytes: A possibility of aspartame toxicity (Cell Biol. Toxicol. (2002) 18:43. DOI:10.1023/A:1014419229301)
5. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain (Eur. J. Clin. Nutr., 62(2008), 451–462)
6. Effects of aspartame metabolites on astrocytes and neurons (Folia Neuropathol 2013; 51 (1): 10-17. DOI: 10.5114/fn.2013.34191)
Regulatory References:
1. EU Approved Food Additive [2018]
- E951
2. Japan’s List of Designated Food Additives under Article 10 of the Food Sanitation Act
- Aspartame (L-a-Aspartyl-L-Phenylalanine Methyl Ester)

Safety and Hazards (UN GHS):

1. Harmful in contact with skin (H312)
2. Harmful if inhaled (H332)
3. Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure (H372)

Potential Health Concerns For:

1. Dermatitis, Allergic Contact (PubMed ID:14996049)
2. Erythema Nodosum (PubMed ID:9324739)
3. Eyelid Diseases (PubMed ID:14996049)
4. Hyperglycemia (PubMed ID:23783067)
5. Hypertension (PubMed ID:18708962)
6. Insulin Resistance (PubMed ID:23783067)
7. Migraine Disorders (PubMed ID:10792367)
8. Neoplasms (PubMed ID:16507461)
9. Neurodegenerative Diseases (PubMed ID:25009784)
10. Neurotoxicity Syndromes (PubMed ID:25009784)
11. Oligospermia (PubMed ID:32951320)
12. Sjogren's Syndrome (PubMed ID:16800424)
13. Thrombocytopenia (PubMed ID:17534100)

Potential Health Benefits For:

1. Anemia, Sickle Cell (PubMed ID:11372003)
2. Arthritis, Rheumatoid (PubMed ID:10777254)
3. Dental Caries (PubMed ID:8955999)
4. Fever (PubMed ID:9630831)
5. Kidney Diseases (PubMed ID:11409539)
6. Osteoarthritis (PubMed ID:9630831)
7. Pain (PubMed ID:9630831)

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