Can aspartame cause muscle pain?

I’m no fan of the artificial sweetener aspartame. Not only is there no good evidence that artificial sweeteners aid weight control, there is also evidence linking aspartame to adverse effects on health. For example, aspartame liberates methanol into the body which can be converted to formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), which has recently been added to the official ‘cancer-causing’ list of chemicals in the US. Animal work shows that aspartame at permitted levels increases the risk of several types of cancer.

I recently came across a piece in a rheumatology journal which describes what appears to be aspartame’s ability to induce fibromyalgia. This condition is characterised by pain and tenderness in the muscles. The paper describes two ‘case studies’ in whom fibromyalgia appears to be caused by ingestion of aspartame.

The first of these concerns a 50-year-old woman who symptoms of fibromyalgia (more than 10 years standing) evaporated on holiday when not consuming aspartame. The symptoms returned when she came home and resumed aspartame use, but resolved again once the aspartame was stopped once more.

I have twice been told by individuals with fibromyalgia that their symptoms have resolved when on holiday. The first thing I think about here is sunshine and vitamin D, because vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle pain, and boosting vitamin D does seem to have the capacity to resolve this symptom. See here and here for some relevant blog posts about this.

It is possible that in this woman’s case, sunlight and other factors had something to do with the resolution of her symptoms while abroad. However, the fact that her symptoms resolved on exclusion of aspartame strongly suggests this substance was the primary cause of her symptoms.

The second case described in the article was a 43-year-old man who had suffered with pain in his neck, forearms, wrists and hands for 3 years. Removing aspartame from his diet resolved his symptoms.

Case studies such as these don’t prove that these individuals’ symptoms were due to aspartame – it is possible that their improvement was due to the placebo response and the recurrence of symptoms due to what is called the ‘nocebo’ response (like the placebo response, but when the response is negative rather than positive). However, observations such as these can be the start of advancement in our understanding of the effect of treatments and, in my view, should not be dismissed.

Certainly, should I see an individual suffering from generalised pain and fibromyalgia in the future, I’ll be making doubly sure I ask about their consumption of aspartame, and will be advising them to stop it as a matter of course. Bearing in mind the fact that there is no good evidence that aspartame has benefits for health, such individuals will have nothing to lose by eliminating it, other than perhaps their ‘unexplained’ symptoms.

References:

1. Ciappuccini R, et al. Aspartame-induced fibromyalgia, an unusual but curable cause of chronic pain. Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology 2010;28(63):S131-133

13 Responses to Can aspartame cause muscle pain?

  1. J. Stanton 27 July 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    “Bearing in mind the fact that there is no good evidence that aspartame has benefits for health, such individuals will have nothing to lose by eliminating it, other than perhaps their ‘unexplained’ symptoms.”

    Replace ‘aspartame’ with ‘just about every ingredient in modern “food”‘ and I believe your statement still holds true.

    JS

  2. Denise Skidmore 28 July 2011 at 12:38 am #

    If the patient has an aspartame allergy, I think it could cause fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in my early teens. In my twenties after having read a lot of theories and odd cures that worked for a small percentage of patients, I came to the conclusion that any chronic stress on the body could cause fibromyalgia, and I needed to find out what my chronic stress was. I fiddled with my metabolism, allergies… I’m in my thirties now, and finally found the last piece was the shape of my feet not agreeing with commercial shoes. I started wearing homemade custom fit shoes, and I’m now making fast improvements in my condition. It’s amazing I lost a couple decades of my life when the solution was so simple.

    I think the best thing a doctor can do with a fibromyalgia patient is to be a hypochondriac on their behalf, and chase down any little symptom that could be a sign of the root chronic stress aggravating the fibromyalgia. Elimination diets, allergy tests, tests for chronic viri, chiropractic evaluations, psychological evaluations, etc should all be on the table.

    I hope someday someone can put together all these scattered studies of cures that work for a small percentage of fibromyalgia patients and can put together a formal protocol to put to scientific test.

  3. kem 28 July 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Artificial sweetenes, why would ya?

  4. Millie from APRIL charity 29 July 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Beware of the inclusion of aspartame in products for children and in in packets of mints too.

  5. s. curry 30 July 2011 at 12:21 am #

    I have had experiance of stomach pain after having anything containing aspartame. I have even found it in cold remedys. I e-mailed the company but did not have a reply.
    Other countries have banned it, why not the UK?

  6. Paul Welch 1 August 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    The link Aspartame-Methanol-Formaldehyde reminded me of a very serious and frightening problem I had 12 months ago after using an Aloe Vera gel on my hands. Within 12 hours they became inflamed, swollen and blistered and started to bleed and weep serum. It took over a month to heal. An ingredient, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, which is a formaldehyde gas producing agent, appeared to be the culprit. Subsequent tests using gel squeezed from an Aloe Barbadensis plant produced no allergic reaction.

  7. Bryan Clarke 9 August 2011 at 7:37 am #

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about three years ago. Interestingly it was about two years after being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. In those two years I was able to get the diabetes under control with exercise and diet. Obviously, a diabetic diet cannot contain sugar so I became a heavier user of artificial sweetener even after 20 years of heavy diet coke consumption. I began to notice my symptoms were most severe shortly after having a diet coke. So along with other treatments, I gave up all soda products and substituted with seltzer water with splashes of juice. I honestly believe that if the aspartame wasn’t causing my fibro, it was certainly aggravating it. For the last couple years, I have asked every fellow fibro sufferer if they consume much asparatame with spotty feedback. This blog was very reassuring that maybe I have been on to something and not just depriving myself of my previously favorite beverage. Today I pretty much limit all beverages to water, coffee (unsweetened), and beer. Any more information or substantive literature to support this hypothesis would be very appreciative.

  8. Bryan Clarke 9 August 2011 at 7:41 am #

    One more comment is that as a diabetic it is extremely fustrating that every product available has either sugar or asparthame… or just tastes like crap! :) I don’t feel the same immediate impacts to Splenda or TruVia products but they are certainly not as plentiful as Asparthame.

  9. Kevin eakins 12 August 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Since aspartame is recognised as an excitotoxin could it be that it is having some effect on the nerves involved delivering the sensation of pain?

  10. SyrenCobb 16 August 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    I know now why I have been having so much pain in my legs and hips going up my back. I was having migraines, halo affect in my vision, blurriness, hearing problems and fatigue. I was miserable especially at night when I was trying to sleep. I could handle it during the day, but when I tried to relax, it got worse. Removing aspartame from my diet has helped tremendously. The FDA should have done a longer test series before allowing it to be used as a sweetner. What were they thinking? A way to reduce the population? Giving the pharmaceuticals a way of making more money to produce pills to counteract the affects of it?
    For me, I will now use Stevia since it is a natural plant that is not dangerous to humans.

  11. LuAnn 12 December 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    Well, all I know is that I developed fms, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and chronic candidiasis I feel that artifical sweetners had much to do with my health decline. It has been 5 years of researching, and I have finally come to the conclusion that my consumption of aspartame, and artifical sweetners since age 9, has caused great harm to my health. After deleteing artifical sweetners, sugar, and totally changing my eating habits, I am doing so much better. I have no doubt that all my symptoms had much to do with what I was consuming, and I very much believe that the average person is in alot of danger if they continue to consume what’s being offered to them in the general consumer market.

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