It all comes down to aspartame. It is widely used in more than 6.000 foods, starting from sugar-free soft drinks and desserts and ending up with medications, such as cough drops and gummy vitamins to add a touch of sweetness to it. You can recognize aspartame by food additive number E951.
This artificial sweetener is 180–200 times sweeter than sucrose and can have tremendious impact on your brain! You can notice that by learning problems, headaches (including migraines), seizures, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Here I must mention that the safety of aspartame is still being debated due to a lack of consistent data. However, the scientific reports of negative health effects are widespread and continue to grow.
What do we know so far? Aspartame acts as a chemical stressor by elevating cortisol levels and causing the production of excess free radicals. Both high cortisol and too much free radicals make your brain more vulnerable to oxidative stress which you may experience by suffering from headaches, dizziness, confusion/memory loss, mood swings and insomnia. If you have one of the mentioned above health issues, which came from nowhere, you’d better check your food on E951 contents.
So what exactly does aspartame do to your brain? This artificial sweetener consists of phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid (40%), and methanol (10%). When you enjoy f.e. your sugar-free soft drink, aspartame elevates the levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in your brain. These compounds cross the blood–brain barrier by increasing membrane permeability and then reducing the production of neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin), which are responsible for your learning abilities, decision making, your memory and your mood.
In case, you wonder what the acceptable daily intake of aspartame is, it has been fixed at 40 mg/kg body weight/day by European food regulatory authorities and at 50 mg/kg body weight/day by the US FDA for all people. Nevertheless, if you have any unexplained cognitive or behavioural issues, just try to avoid aspartame.