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Health & Wellness

The Ingredient That’s Worsening Your Depression


We’ve all had enjoyable cheat meals with high calorie burgers, fatty pizza, and sugar packed ice cream. And although we wouldn’t expect to stay healthy if we ate this way frequently, an occasional splurge shouldn’t cause any serious negative effects, right?  What if you knew the food you were eating could cause mental health issues?  One simple ingredient hidden in over 6,000 foods, despite being approved by the FDA,  has been proven to have negative physical and mental effects. From diet soda to sugar free sweets, aspartame is hiding under harmless labels. 

NutraSweet, also known as Equal and now Amino Sweet, are the names more commonly listed for the ingredient Aspartame. Developed in 1965 as a sugar substitute, it has a taste 200 times sweeter than sugar. Since it is synthesized in a lab and not naturally occurring, it’s no surprise to find evidence leading to negative health associations. Most shocking were the findings that individuals who have a history of depression were at a higher risk of aspartame’s negative effects.

In the US 15 million people a year are diagnosed with depression. The majority of these individuals are women, as they experience more hormonal changes during their lifetime than men. Research reveals 1 in 4 women have reported suffering from depression at some point in their life. This means any person with current or previous depression is more likely to experience headaches, insomnia, worsening depression symptoms, and risk for seizures simply by eating or drinking pre packaged foods labeled for weight loss. 

Research reveals 1 in 4 women have reported suffering from depression at some point in their life

Aspartame is found hiding in processed foods with the appealing label of “low fat,” “low carb,” or “diet.” Disguised with terms that are meant to make us feel as if we are making a healthy choice and packaged in a way that makes meal prep easier. So, what’s not to make you feel good about your diet, low fat, low carb, low maintenance meal? For one eating foods containing aspartame actually increases your cravings for sugar, making sticking to that diet or portion control a lot harder. Second, it trains our taste buds to crave the fake sugar and we no longer notice that chemical after taste. Aspartame also increases the risk of diabetes and decreases bone health. And if your wondering why you just can’t seem to lose the weight in your midsection despite switching to diet soda, it’s because individuals drinking diet drinks containing aspartame actually have a waist circumference 3 inches larger than those who do not. In summation, switching to sugar free options to avoid diabetes and lose weight we end up with larger waists, an increased risk for diabetes, and more cravings for the sugar free sweet options that keep us in this hamster wheel. 

Researchers at Case Western were researching the effects of aspartame in participants with a history of depression and those without. Before they could begin conducting their tests, their work was halted by the Institutional Review Board and deemed unethical due to the severity of possible reactions in those with a history of depression. A similar study by researchers at MIT involving NutraSweet was stalled when the company refused to even sell the product to them for fear of negative findings. 

While these products are approved by the FDA, participants ingesting even half of the recommended safe dose reported effects of increase depression symptoms, decreased brain function when trying to concentrate, and increased irritability. 

Making healthy choices is imperative for our physical and mental wellbeing but knowing what products to trust can be overwhelming. Most foods labeled as “diet,” “low carb, “low fat,” or “sugar free” contain aspartame. The most common culprits with this ingredient are processed foods and diet sodas. For aspartame free healthy options, produce, meats, nuts, and dairy will always be foods you don’t have to question. For the rest you can take a quick scan through the ingredient list. Once you rid your diet of foods containing this dangerous additive you will notice how significant its effects were. Remember the food companies are in it for the money, you’re in it for your health. Learning what you’re putting into your body and feeling it’s affects will help you regulate a diet that works for the improvement of you.


Walton, Hudak, Green-Wait  Adverse Reactions to Aspartame: Double blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population.  Biological Psychiatry July 1993

Humphries, Pretorius, Naude  Direct and Indirect Cellular Effects of Aspartame on the Brain. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition April 2008

Lindseth, Coolahan, Petruis, Lindseth. Neurobehavioral Effects of Aspartame Consumption. Researching in Nursing and Health Jun 2014

Whitehouse, Boullata, McCauley. Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweeteners. Office Journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Jun 2008

Maher, Wurtman. Possible Neurological Effects of Aspartame, a Widely Used Food Additive. Environmental Health Perspectives Nov 1987

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