- Although psychiatry is far from an exact science, over
the past half century there has been an explosive growth in our understanding
of the human brain and consequently in our ability to diagnose and treat
mental disorders. We have also become much more sophisticated about the
impact of a variety of toxins on psychological processes.
- I am convinced that one such toxin is aspartame.
- Two years after aspartame was introduced onto the market
I first became aware of the negative impact of this artificial sweetener
on the central nervous system. I had been treating a then 54 year old
woman with imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, because of recurrent
major depressive episodes. Previous psychoanalytically based therapy had
proven ineffective, but she responded dramatically to 150mg of imipramine
per day. She had done well for 11 years on this medication, but was then
suddenly hospitalized with a grand-mal seizure and subsequent manic episode.
- One could postulate that she was bipolar, and the antidepressant
had triggered the mania - but she had been on the same medication for a
total of 11 years, and for the previous 5 years at the same 150mg per day
dose. Neither the seizure nor her mania was consistent with what we know
about the clinical course of bipolar disorder or epilepsy. Careful history
revealed that the only change in her life was a recent decision to switch
from the sugar which she had always used to sweeten her iced tea to a newly
marketed product with aspartame.
- Since aspartame can alter the balance of certain neurotransmitters
which we believe are involved in mood disorders and can, in my opinion,
alter the seizure threshold, I advised my patient to avoid all aspartame
products. She did so, and had no further seizures, no further manic or
depressive episodes. I discontinued the lithium carbonate which I had
started when I mistakenly concluded that she had a bipolar disorder, reinstated
her imipramine and she has continued to do well.
- After this case report was published in the medical literature,
many patients with unexplained seizures or treatment resistant psychiatric
problems were referred to me. I became increasingly convinced that aspartame
could both trigger seizure activity and mimic or exacerbate a variety of
psychiatric disorders. I presented a paper based on those patients at
a 1987 MIT sponsored conference on Dietary
- Phenylalanine and Brain Function.
- Industry sponsored criticism was made that my conclusions
regarding aspartame's toxicity could not be accepted as valid because my
case reports were "merely anecdotal" and not based on double
blind research. Unfortunately case reports do not currently have the respect
in the mainstream medical literature which they deserve (historically much
of medical progress has been based on careful observation of individual
- Nevertheless, I was so convinced of aspartame's toxicity,
and the need to have its hazards more widely appreciated in the medical
community, that I did undertake a double blind study. That study -"Adverse
Reactions to Aspartame: Double- Blind Challenge in Patients from a Vulnerable
Population" was published in Biological Psychiatry in 1993. It demonstrated
that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to aspartame
and experienced an accentuation of depression and multiple physical
symptoms. I had expected that the difficulties experienced by patients
receiving aspartame would be fairly subtle (the dose of 30mg/kg/day was
well below the level of 50mg/kg/day which the FDA considered "safe").
I was not prepared for the severity of the reactions, and for obvious
ethical reasons cannot perform any further human studies with aspartame.
- Over the ensuing years I have continued to see the multiple
neurologic and psychiatric consequences of aspartame use. It can lower
the seizure threshold and lead to an incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy, with
subsequent inappropriate prescription of anticonvulsants. It can mimic
or exacerbate symptoms of MS, it can paradoxically produce carbohydrate
craving and weight gain. The world-wide epidemic of obesity and type 2
diabetes obviously has multiple causes, but I am convinced aspartame is
a major factor.
- The explosive increase in our knowledge base in the neurosciences
I referred to earlier is a topic beyond the scope of this brief report,
but to drastically oversimplify, we know that in a variety of psychiatric
- disorders there is a disturbance in the balance of certain
neurotransmitters. Specifically, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and
acetylcholine are all major players.
- Aspartame can affect the levels & balance of all
these transmitters. It impairs the absorption of L-tryptophan, the major
precursor in the synthesis of serotonin.
- The phenylalanine from the dipeptide component of the
aspartame molecule, is a major precursor in the norepinephrine-dopamine
synthetic pathway. Recent research demonstrated that aspartame reduces
acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine - a key
player in the central nervous system, with an important role in cognition
and memory, and with a reciprocal, inhibitory relationship with dopamine.
- We are not sophisticated enough at this point in time
to fully understand all the implications of the neurochemical changes induced
by aspartame, but as a busy clinician I see the profound impact on patients'
lives on a daily basis. It can both produce and aggravate depression, in
certain patients it can trigger manic episodes, it can produce or aggravate
panic attacks. Some of my patients have experienced a complete cessation
of panic attacks and needed no further treatment after they completely
eliminated aspartame from their diet. Certain schizophrenic patients have
experienced fewer auditory hallucinations or needed less antipsychotic
medication after the elimination of aspartame.
- It is essential that there be much greater awareness of
the hazards of this highly toxic substance!
- Ralph G. Walton, M.D.,
- Medical Director, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health
- Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio
- Universities College of Medicine
- Adjunct Professor Of Psychiatry, Lake Erie College of
- Osteopathic Medicine
- Dr. Walton's aspartame study: "Adverse Reactions
- Aspartame: Double-Blind Challenge in Patients from a
- Vulnerable Population:
- Dr. Walton's research on Scientific Peer Reviewed
- Studies and Funding:
- Additional data on aspartame: http://www.mpwhi.com/
- www.dorway.com http://www.wnho.net/
- Aspartame Toxicity Center:
- Betty Martini, D.Hum, Founder
- Mission Possible International
- 9270 River Club Parkway
- Duluth, Georgia 30097
- 770 242-2599
- Note from Betty Martini:
- I've been out of town for a lecture, reason no mail
on lists. This excellent new paper by Dr. Walton was distributed to
an audience particularly concerned with psychiatric and behavioral problems.
Also read Dr. Walton's comments about Abby Cormack of New Zealand who
made world news when she was poisoned by aspartame in Wrigley's gum and
about to be diagnosed as bipolar.
Off aspartame her symptoms disappeared. In New Zealand there were particularly
sad aspartame/bipolar cases where families were wrecked. You can see Dr.
Walton in the aspartame documentary "Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World"
which is still being shown to audiences in NZ. It is alarming that in
NZ they want Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame to be in "all"
schools. The Minister of Health has been provided with "Report for
The first article in these reports is by Dr. Walton.
- As to alternatives for schools there is a new product
just made available this month called Fiber 1, by Just Like Sugar, and
it won't be in plastic. With aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal/Spoonful/Canderel/E951/Benevia,
etc.) triggering psychiatric and behavioral disorders it must be immediately
removed from schools. Good nutrition is so important for children.
Today they are medicated instead of educated.