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My well-meaning mom keeps sending me stuff like this:

Aspartame has been found to “eat” tiny holes in our cellular membrane. When this happens, things like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), cancer, mood disorders and many other serious issues will show up.

One of my clients LOVED her diet Coke. She drank 6 cans a day. As an adult, she developed MS; which became so severe she was bound to a wheelchair. Once I explained to her just what aspartame was doing to her cells she decided to kick her addiction to soda. Guess what? Her body started to heal. She is no longer in a wheelchair. She still has symptoms, but her diagnosis went from “extreme MS” to “moderate!”

The anecdote doesn't prove anything, as even if we assume it to be factual, there could be any number of more probable reasons why her MS improved (e.g. medication, changes in activity, diet, season, whatever.) Ignoring the supposed link between holes in cellular membranes and every disease known to man, has aspartame really been found to do anything of the sort, or is this just a fictional claim? I've not been able to find any studies that could have been the claimed findings.

Other instances of similar claims specify that Aspartame "eats holes in brain tissue":

Early tests of aspartame showed it produced microscopic holes and tumors in the brains of experimental mice, epileptic seizures in monkeys, and was converted by animals into dangerous substances, including formaldehyde. In 1974, however, in spite of the information in its files, the FDA approved aspartame as a dry-foods additive. The approval to market was short lived. source

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    "things like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), cancer, mood disorders and many other serious issues". Of course the fact that those are complex pathologies that are unrelated to each other seems not to be an issue to whoever write these things. – nico Mar 26 '13 at 16:51
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    @nico But they are not unrelated they are all bad ;). – Stefan Mar 26 '13 at 17:47
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There is no compelling scientific evidence that normal use of Aspartame as a sweetener in foods causes problems of the kinds suggested.

Allegations against Aspartame have been made since the 1970s. Scientific investigations of the evidence in total do not support claims that Aspartame is demonstrably harmful in the way suggested.


2013 EU

. In this re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame, EFSA’s scientific experts have drawn upon all available information on aspartame and its breakdown products and, following a detailed and methodical analysis, have concluded in this draft opinion that they pose no toxicity concern for consumers at current levels of exposure.

From European Food Safety Authority: Aspartame: EFSA consults on its first full risk assessment


2002 EU

The metabolism of aspartame and its metabolic breakdown products in animals, healthy individuals and in PKU subjects has been comprehensively reviewed by Lajtha et al. (1994). Aspartame is metabolised by gut esterases and peptidases to three common dietary components - two amino acids (aspartic acid and Phe) and methanol.

(my emphasis)

...

Conclusion

The Committee concluded that on the basis of its review of all the data in animals and humans available to date, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a need to revise the outcome of the earlier risk assessment or the ADI previously established for aspartame.

From Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food: Update on the Safety of Aspartame (expressed on 4 December 2002)


1987 USA

GAO found that the: (1) firm that developed aspartame submitted nearly 170 studies supporting its safety; and (2) studies that CFSAN considered crucial for approval met FDA requirements. GAO also found that CFSAN: (1) adequately followed its food additive approval process by reviewing all of the manufacturer's aspartame studies, holding a public board of inquiry to discuss safety issues, and forming an advisory panel; (2) had an outside group of pathologists review the crucial studies; and (3) used the studies to establish a safe level for long-term consumption before approving aspartame for marketing.

From US Government Accountability Office - Food Additive Approval Process Followed for Aspartame

The report contains information about notable dissenting opinions. It appears that from these, various well-known hoaxes and conspiracy theories have been constructed.

  • but, but, but, IT'S A CONSPIRACY!!!!! BIG FOOD wants you to think it is good and therefore pays for fake research. Or so the conspiracy theorists like the people spreading idiot claims like those OP lists would respond to any evidence that those claims are false. – jwenting Mar 27 '13 at 7:09
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    @jwenting: the burden of proof is theirs in that case. I would be happy to listen (listen, not necessarily believe) to them if they only proposed a plausible biological mechanism. And digging holes in cells is not a plausible mechanism. Of course the answer to this type of request is "but I am not a biologist!". To which I reply: "then do not speak of things you don't know anything about". – nico Mar 27 '13 at 7:38
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    @nico but then of course you're part of the conspiracy, because if you weren't you'd realise the TRUTH >;-) That's how conspiracy theorists think, and this thing is just another conspiracy theory. – jwenting Mar 27 '13 at 7:42

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