The most commonly used artificial sweetener is aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet). It is the sweetener in most diet drinks, gum and sugar-free products. Over the next few posts I will break down the main components in aspartame and their possible side effects.
Forty percent of aspartame is aspartic acid.
Ideally, aspartate acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. However, as with other excitotoxins, too much aspartate in the brain can be harmful to some brain cells when they become over stimulated or over saturated. Slow damage of neurons can lead to Parkinson's disease and memory loss as well as many other neurological problems.
The blood brain barrier, which normally protects the brain from excess aspartate as well as toxins,
1) is not fully developed during childhood,
2) does not fully protect all areas of the brain,
3) is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions, and
4) allows seepage of excess glutamate and aspartate into the brain even when intact.
The large majority (75 percent or more) of neural cells in a particular area of the brain are killed before any clinical symptoms of a chronic illness are noticed.
Possible symptoms may include: headaches, migraines, nausea, fatigue, sleep problems, vision problems, depression, and memory loss.
Source: Mark D. Gold, Steven Wm. Fowkes and Ward Dean, M.D.