Aspartame is an FDA-approved artificial sweetener composed of the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanin. Over 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is commonly used to sweeten beverages and foods. Although some consumers have reported stomach cramps and other side effects in association with using aspartame, scientific research has found no side effects or other negative health consequences consistently linked to aspartame use.
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Digestive Complaints With Aspartame
There have been reports of side effects from taking aspartame, including digestive upsets such as stomach cramps. However, according to MedlinePlus, scientific evidence does not prove the existence of any side effects associated with aspartame use. One year after aspartame was introduced to the market in 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study to evaluate the validity of consumer complaints about aspartame. Of the 517 aspartame complaints investigated by the FDA, 24 percent involved gastrointestinal side effects. However, the CDC concluded that while certain individuals may have an unusual sensitivity to aspartame, there's not evidence for the existence of serious, widespread side effects related to the use of aspartame.
Other Aspartame Health Concerns
Besides stomach cramps, other reported but unproven side effects associated with aspartame use include other digestive symptoms, headache, dizziness and mood changes. More serious claimed adverse health consequences of aspartame use include attention deficit disorder, lupus, birth defects, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Gulf War syndrome and Parkinson's disease. Again, there's insufficient evidence to support any of these claims. Public concerns regarding aspartame and cancer persist, although large-scale studies have not found a link between the two. According to The American Cancer Society, in the largest study of this issue, researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that among 500,000 older adults, those who drank aspartame-containing beverages did not have an increased risk of lymphomas, brain cancer or leukemia compared to the non-aspartame users.
Common Causes and Care for Stomach Cramps
There's a good chance that your stomach cramps are unrelated to aspartame use. A number of health conditions can cause abdominal pain, but most cramp-like symptoms are not serious and are usually caused by gas or bloating, according to MedlinePlus. In such cases, the cramping is often followed by diarrhea. Avoiding greasy and gas-producing foods and drinking plenty of water can help you prevent stomach cramps caused by gas. Food poisoning or viral gastroenteritis -- i.e., the stomach flu -- may also cause stomach cramps. According to MedlinePlus, you should see a doctor for your stomach cramps if they last longer than 24 hours, are becoming more severe or frequent or they are accompanied by a fever of greater than 100°F.
Safe Use of Aspartame
Despite claims of health problems such as stomach cramps associated with aspartame use, the FDA maintains that aspartame is safe to use as long as you ingest no more than the acceptable daily intake, or ADI, of 50 mg/kg of body weight daily. To put this into perspective, a typical-sized adult would have to drink over 20 cans of diet soda to exceed the ADI. The exception to the ADI for aspartame is for people with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria, or PKU, who must avoid aspartame altogether as they cannot metabolize phenylalanin. If you don't have PKU and consistently experience stomach cramps when using aspartame at normal doses, it is a good idea to see a doctor to determine if another condition is causing your stomach cramps and to stop using aspartame in the meantime.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.