Autism, Anger and Aspartame: Casual Connections or a Smoking Gun?

Aspartame hardly needs an introduction unless one doesn’t read the list of ingredients on about 6,000 sugar-free sweetened products. It is the primary sweetening agent used in a wide variety of products but mainly in diet soft drinks and sugar-free foods. It is also found in medicines, and many other products such as tooth paste.

There is now ample evidence to question why this substance is being allowed to contaminate food, drinks and other products for millions of people worldwide. But alas, new evidence is not easily accepted at the Food and Drug Administration, the bastion of right and wrong for additives used in the food and drink industry. One would think their credo would be to protect and serve the public but in this case it seems the diet-industry is the greatest benefactor of their regulatory powers. Why else is a questionable and potentially dangerous product allowed to be sold and consumed by the entire cross section of the population? Indeed, the purveyors of these products are flooding global markets with their enticing sugar-free concoctions.

The scheme is complex but greed and politics cannot be ignored. From 1965, when aspartame was discovered it was banned by the FDA for a number of years; in 1974 it was approved for use in dry foods. After much controversy for another nine years, soft drinks sweetened with aspartame went on sale in 1983.[1] The chemistry of aspartame didn’t change, politics changed. Sadly, politics overwhelmed science.

Connecting the dots of possible clues in the search for answers to health problems and conditions can be slow and frustrating. In the matter of determining the safety of aspartame junk-science and political interference are pertinent and persistent factors. One such situation is where much credence was presented by industry scientists that showed methanol occurs naturally in fruit thus implying that methanol in aspartame is as safe as a natural product. This is a half-truth; the occurrence of methanol in fruit is always accompanied with ethyl alcohol, the natural antidote.[2] Beyond that, recent discoveries by researchers might challenge the longstanding but weak basis for FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval of a known defective and dangerous product for human consumption, aspartame.

Apathy of the general public is puzzling but plays into the hands of the manufacturers, their advertising teams and hired-gun scientific propaganda specialists. This is an obvious reason that the scheme has continued for so long but outside scientists and independent researchers are now exposing the dangers of the insidious white powder. But first we might recognize what aspartame is and what it does in the human body.
Aspartame is a combination of three ingredients, phenylalanine(50%), aspartic acid (40%) and methanol (10%). The second issue, what it does in the human body after it is ingested, is covered in precise detail by Dr. Morando Soffritti and his research group at the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, at Bologna, Italy.[3]

Following ingestion, aspartame is metabolized into three consistituents, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. After absorption into the systemic circulation, they are then used, metabolized, and/or excreted by the body following the same metabolic pathways as when consumed through the ordinary diet: aspartate is transformed into alanine plus oxaloacetate; phenylalanine is transformed mainly into tyrosine and, to a smaller extent, phenylethylamine and phenyl-pyruvate and methanol is transformed into formaldehyde and then to formic acid.

The seven-year Ramazzini Foundation study directed by Professor Soffritti was one of the most revealing studies about aspartame ever conducted. The diet-drink industry responded with expected criticism of his methods but in spite of the attacks, Dr. Soffritti was honored with the Irving J. Selikoff award at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York for his outstanding contributions in the identification of environmental and industrial carcinogens and for his promotion of independent scientific research.

Now to a comparison; a pathway to a disease can be seen when a mother who consumes too much alcohol during her 9-month pregnancy produces a FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) baby. Using the same pathway, does it not seem that formaldehyde in the placenta could poison the embryo and fetus and thus cause a child to develop learning difficulties or even autism? That probability is not difficult to imagine when considering the wide range of chemical contamination found in the umbilical cords of babies collected at birth. The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit organization) offered some unsettling new research in 2004; it was the first known study dispelling the myth of the placental barrier.[4]

In a study spearheaded by the EWG, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial compounds, pollutants, and other chemicals in 10 newborn babies, with a total of 287 chemicals found in the group. The study found a broad array of pollutants that collectively are known to present potential risks to nearly every organ and system in the body. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied. Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden.

Methanol and formaldehyde are two substances that have dangerous properties, particularly for the embryo and fetus of pregnant women. When ingested into the human body without its natural antidote, methanol is a known agent of medical consequences, highly toxic and it can be fatal. There is no minimum threshold level for alcohol consumption by pregnant women, so advised the U.S. Surgeon General in the Alcohol Advisory of February 21, 2005.[5]

It is known that the methanol component of aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde and formic acid. Raise the red warning flag; formaldehyde is known to cause learning disabilities among other things. Could the dramatic increase of autism and other learning disabilities over the last several decades be attributable to the similar increase in the consumption of aspartame-laced drinks by pregnant women? There is no intelligent accepted safe level for exposure to formaldehyde which is an ingredient of embalming fluid. It is one thing for an adult to knowingly consume something that breaks down into formaldehyde but exposing a fetus to these neurotoxins in the prenatal stage is inexcusable, no matter what the dosage. Investigator Trocho, in the Barcelona study explains the toxic pathway.[6]

The Trocho report (1998) has found that formaldehyde is found in all vital organs of laboratory animals when they are fed aspartame sweetened products. The study clearly shows that aspartame which was labeled with carbon 14 isotope was transformed into formaldehyde in the bodies of the living specimens and that when they were examined later, the radioactive tagged formaldehyde was spread throughout the vital organs of their bodies. This conclusively proves that aspartame does indeed convert to formaldehyde in the bodies of aspartame consumers, and that many of the symptoms reported by victims of aspartame toxicity are indeed those associated with the poisonous and cumulative effects of formaldehyde.

Phenylalanine is another matter of concern; phenylalanine is known to block serotonin from being used in the body. Serotonin promotes well-being, making sleep come easy and it also can reduce or prevent impulsive anger.[7] Anger and stress feed on each other and consume tremendous amounts of energy. Emotional stability probably becomes impossible over time with excessive phenylalanine blocking or lowering serotonin levels in the body. The potential for extreme violence becomes possible as shown in following paragraphs. As you will see, the violent changes in personalities of these people were brought on by changes in the diet due to nature, our predicament is man-made.

Professor Michele Ernandes, University of Palermo, has done extensive studies on the effects of serotonin deficient diets.[8] The findings are startling when one realizes that the same results can be correlated with aspartame consumption today.

The Ernandes group found that a low tryptophan /Large Neutral Amino Acids(trp/LNAAs) ratio diet lowers brain serotonin synthesis. Serotonin deficiency involves several behavioral consequences such as tendency towards aggressive behavior, increase of intraspecific competition, increase of magic thought or religious fanaticism. Among cereals utilized for human feeding, maize has a very low “trp/LNAAs” value. Maize was firstly and largely utilized by Native American peoples: This is particularly interesting in the study of the Aztec human sacrifice/cannibalism complex. Historical data reveal that cannibalism occurred in period of the year when maize dependence was greater. This supports the hypothesis that serotonin deficiency among the Aztecs might have accentuated their religious and aggressive behavior patterns on one hand, and secondly, it might have led them, unconsciously, towards anthropology (the eating of human flesh; cannibalism) in order to attenuate it (rising “trp/LNAAs” value by means of human proteins) when it became too strong.

The lingering concerns about aspartame and its metabolites are not unlike the past issues of tobacco smoke pollution in commercial airliners. It took the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) twenty-six years to recognize and then act, on the warnings given by the Surgeon General in 1964. Even then it was public effort that brought about change, not through any visions of agency leaders or their concerns for the protection the non-smoking passengers including children and pregnant women. Chauvinistic customs and traditions dictated that the titans of industry and the stars of Hollywood could light-up anytime they wanted to soothe their jangled nerves, damn the screaming babies in coach. Not unlike the dangers of tobacco smoke, the probability of harmful consequences due to aspartame consumption by children in their formative years defies any logic to allow its use. The wide-ranging effects on adults is no less astounding.

In the case of the serotonin-blocking properties of phenylalanine, the largest percentage of aspartame, it is astonishing that every day millions of people consume a product that is supposed to be pleasurable, satisfying and safe, when in fact it may be contributing multiple health problems. It is preposterous that we have a product on the market that has the unique property and potential of inducing anger, rage and violence? Perhaps there is a bit of the devil in all of us but do we need to drink fifty gallons of toxic pop a year to release him to ravage our bodies and minds?

Feckless industry standards and ineffective agency oversight combined with inexplicable public apathy contribute to human tragedy that is too great not to pursue a simple solution; the elimination of aspartame (that necessarily includes phenylalanine and formaldehyde) in the human diet and other products that may be ingested or used orally.

The New York Times reported on 15 August 2012, Johnson & Johnson will gradually phase out formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals in their products by 2015. Baby products will be reformulated by 2013.[9] Public pressure must be increasing; the Canadians designated formaldehyde a carcinogenic in 1999. On 10 June 2011, formaldehyde was added to the 12th Report on Carcinogens prepared by the National Toxicology Program for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.[10]

Independent research scientists (and scientists at one pharmaceutical giant), medical doctors, and various academies have spoken; now it is up to the people to nudge the regulatory agencies into action to protect those who are unable to look out for themselves, especially children and a fetus in the womb.


[1]. Aspartame/NutraSweet, The History of Aspartame Controversy, Timeline,

[2]. NHF (National Health Federation) presentation at the 40th session of the CCFA in Beijing, China, April 2008, footnote 18.

[3]. Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Esposti DD, Lambertini L, Tibaldi E, Rigano A 2006. First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats. Environ Health Perspect 114:379-385.

[4]. EWG (Environmental Working Group) Body-burden report.

[5]. U.S. Surgeon General, Alcohol Advisory, 2005.

[6]. C. Trocho, Barcelona Study, 1998, Aspartame converts to formaldehyde in bodies of laboratory rats.

[7]. U.S. National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health, Role of Serotonin and Dopamine System Interactions in the Neurobiology of Impulsive Aggression and its Comorbidity with other Clinical Disorders, D. Seo, Christopher J. Patrick & Patrick J. Kennedy, Oct 2008.

[8]. M. Ernandes, Aztec Cannibalism and Maize Consumption: The Serotonin Deficiency Link (Title search: Neurobiology and Aztec Cannibalism).

[9]. Johnson & Johnson to Remove Formaldehyde From Products, by Katie Thomas, 15 August 2012.

[10]. New Substance Added to HHS Report on Carcinogens, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.