Science Questions

Sun, 21st Nov 2004

Part of the show Cloud-dwelling Bacteria, & Ozone Holes

Question

Barry asked:

Can aspartame, the food sweetner, cause or worsen epilepsy ?

Answer

Aspartame is made when the amino acids phenylalanine and alanine are glued together and a methanol group is added on the side. Aspartame stimulates sweetness receptors on the tongue. But when you eat it, it breaks down releasing the 2 amino acids - alanine and phenylalanine, and the methanol. Methanol is poisonous to the brain, so people are concerned that it might make nervous problems worse. To test this, they looked at epileptics. Half were given a harmless placebo and half were given aspartame. There was no increase in the number of seizures amongst the people given aspartame so it probably doesn't cause, or exacerbate epilepsy. It might pickle your brain though, if you ate it in large enough quantities.

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