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Does Aspartame Cause Migraine Headaches

How Nutrition Response Testing With Healthieru Can Help You Overcome Aspartame Withdrawal

It’s a no-brainer that aspartame is bad for you. And that aspartame withdrawal symptoms can feel even worse.The good news is that you don’t have to conquer your addiction alone. 

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Struggling with an aspartame addiction? Already trying to quit on your own and battling withdrawal symptoms?

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Suffer From Ocular Migraines Our Raleigh Optometrist Shares 5 Triggers To Avoid

What causes ocular migraines? No one quite knows. At least, we don’t understand what exactly causes the brain to suddenly release inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels. However, there are several prevailing “triggers” that many migraine sufferers seem to have in common. If you suffer from chronic ocular migraines, here are some stimuli to avoid.

What Are The Symptoms Of Aspartame Withdrawal And How Do You Overcome Them

“The content below is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding amedicalcondition.”

You’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle. You may already be avoiding most pleasures — sugar, empty carbs, lattes — but what about the substitutions for those treats?

Aspartame is a common sugar substitute, and it may be hiding in many of your foods and drinks. 

If you’re trying to cut out aspartame and worried about aspartame withdrawal, you’ve come to the right place.

We outline all you need to know about this sneaky enemy to your health, what to expect during aspartame withdrawal, and how to not let it beat you.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Migraine Attacks What The Research Says

Sucralose headaches are occasionally reported, making it an addition to some Migraine diet avoidance lists. Aspartame is the more commonly reported food trigger for people with Migraine.

“Artificial sweeteners are frequently reported to trigger migraine attacks,”said Dr. Andrew Charles, President-elect of the American Headache Society, Professor of Neurology, and Director of the Goldberg Migraine Program at UCLA. “The challenge with artificial sweeteners is determining whether it is the sweetener itself that triggers a migraine attack rather than other contributing factors, like inconsistent meals or caloric intake.”

Clinical evidence linking aspartame to Migraine or headache is unclear. One double-blind study conducted by the UK Food Standards Agency in 2015 found no link between aspartame consumption and adverse health effects

A more recent but controversial review article hypothesizes that aspartame raises the levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in the brain, which might have implications for the release of important regulators in our brain like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine

No other artificial sweeteners have been linked to Migraine attacks and the evidence on aspartame is weak. Still, people have reported headaches, dizziness, and nausea as a side effect of consumption.

Migraine food triggers are a personal thing. If you suspect you are sensitive to aspartame or other artificial sweeteners, it is best to avoid them.

  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Avoiding Certain Foods May Help Prevent Attacks And Reduce Symptoms

Does aspartame cause headaches?

Dietary migraine triggers are very common. Some people notice migraines within a few minutes or up to several hours after consuming certain foods or drinks. While you may not have migraines in response to every single one of the known dietary migraine triggers, it is a good idea to become familiar with the most common migraine-inducing foods and to be on the lookout for migraine symptoms after eating them.

Experiencing Ocular Migraines See Our Raleigh Optometrists Today

Seeing lights, lines, zigzags, or stars while experiencing a migraine, while common, can also be an indication of a major neurological issue or eye issue. If you live in Raleigh and are experiencing severe or frequent ocular headaches, be sure to see our Raleigh optometrists as soon as possible. Schedule an appointment here.

Weight Gain Increased Appetite And Obesity Related Problems

Several studies link aspartame to weight gain, increased appetite, diabetes, metabolic derangement and obesity-related diseases. See our fact sheet: Diet Soda Chemical Tied to Weight Gain.

This science linking aspartame to weight gain and obesity-related diseases raises questions about the legality of marketing aspartame-containing products as “diet” or weight loss aids. In 2015, USRTK petitioned the Federal Trade Commission and FDA to investigate the marketing and advertising practices of “diet” products that contain a chemical linked to weight gain. See related newscoverage, response from FTC, and response from FDA.

Sweeteners Headaches And The Unpredictability Of Triggers

Vincent Martin, MD, a UC Health physician and co-director of the UC Headache & Facial Pain Center. Photo by UC Academic Health Center Communications Services.

Can artificial sweeteners trigger headaches? Only a few studies have examined the question, but the data indicate that aspartame, which is used to sweeten hundreds of products, can trigger headaches in a small percentage of people.

Vincent Martin, MD, a UC Health physician and co-director of the Headache & Facial Pain Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, has studied headaches and their triggers for decades. The more significant and better known triggers include hormonal changes in women, stress, alcohol and weather change. But Martin says aspartame is a trigger for some, and sucralose, another artificial sweetener, has been identified as a trigger in a small number of case reports.

“Two of the three randomized studies involving aspartame have shown a positive correlation between the sweetener and headache,” he says. “But you really have to ingest large quantities of aspartame to generate headache. It might be two to three liters of diet soda per day. It also requires a prolonged exposure. A headache may not occur with one drink.”

In the case of sucralose, a handful of case reports show a possible link between the sweetener and headaches in individual patients.

The Link Between Artificial Sweeteners And Blood Pressure

Conversely, a recent review of 37 studies on the effects of consuming artificial sweeteners organised by the University of Manitoba, discovered that there was a link between sweeteners and an increased risk of high blood pressure. Dr. Meghan Azad, Assistant Professor at the university, stated:

“Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised. Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products.”

What Happens When You Stop Using Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners canalter your brain chemistry— causing dependency. 

Chemically speaking, aspartame has addictive properties because it affects dopamine in the brain.

Aspartame addiction withdrawal can stop you in your tracks and get in the way of your day-to-day life, causing a multitude of unpleasant symptoms.

Intestinal Dysbiosis Metabolic Derangement And Obesity

Artificial sweeteners can induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota, according to a 2014 study in Nature. The researchers wrote, “our results link NAS consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage … Our findings suggest that NAS may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight.”32

  • See also: “Artificial Sweeteners May Change our Gut Bacteria in Dangerous Ways,” by Ellen Ruppel Shell, Scientific American

A 2016 study in Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism reported, “Aspartame intake significantly influenced the association between body mass index and glucose tolerance… consumption of aspartame is associated with greater obesity-related impairments in glucose tolerance.”33

According to a 2014 rat study in PLOS ONE, “aspartame elevated fasting glucose levels and an insulin tolerance test showed aspartame to impair insulin-stimulated glucose disposal … Fecal analysis of gut bacterial composition showed aspartame to increase total bacteria…”34

Do Artificial Sweeteners Increase Or Decrease Obesity

One of the known risk factors for migraines is obesity. Sweeteners have been marketed as a means of combating obesity; however, a number of studies, including one conducted by Yale University, have shown that sweeteners can increase obesity rather than decrease it.

John Hopkins University studied 24,000 people in 2014 and found that those who were obese drank higher quantities of diet drinks than those who were a healthy weight. The reasons behind this seemingly odd correlation are still being explored, but there is growing evidence that consuming sweeteners does not prevent you from getting fat.

Scroll down for a more in-depth discussion of the link between sweeteners and obesity.

Headache sufferer cradles his throbbing head

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Taxing Sweetness

The introduction of the UK sugar tax has seen a surge in manufacturers replacing sugar in soft drinks with sweeteners.

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Headache Aspartame

Can artificial sweeteners trigger headaches?

While the subject has been explored only through a few studies, early data indicates that aspartame – one of the most common sweeteners on the market today, and can be found in sugar-free products, such as diet beverages, chewing gum and yogurt – can trigger headaches in a small percentage of people.

Some of the most common causes of headaches include stress; alcohol use; weather change; and hormonal changes, especially in women. Still, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose have been identified as causing headaches, in several cases of early research.

Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable nature of headaches, specific triggers can be difficult to pinpoint. An individual may experience several triggers in coordination when developing a headache, and even these can have a lag of 24-48 hours between exposure to the trigger and development of a headache. Even experiencing the same trigger may not always cause a headache. In the case of aspartame, the quantity consumed and whether it was taken with other food or drink may alter the development of a headache.

Essentially, if you notice that you tend to develop a headache roughly half of the time after exposure to a certain stimulus, it could be a possible trigger.

Food Additives That Trigger Headaches And Migraines

Do your headaches seem to come out of nowhere sometimes?

You may be surprised to learn that chemicals hidden in the foods you eat may be causing your painful symptoms.

Read below to discover 9 food additives that are known to trigger headaches and migraines, plus tips to determine what your own personal triggers may be.


  • 4 How Can I Figure Out My Food Additive Triggers?
  • The #11 Special At Your Favorite Chinese Restaurant

    Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer used to prepare many foods but the MSG content in foods like our favorite take-out may be higher enough to trigger a headache. To be fair, MSG isn’t just in Chinese foods. MSG can be found in everything from frozen foods, to canned soups, and snacks foods. The higher the MSG content, the riskier it could be in terms of acting as a headache trigger. People with migraine may have an exacerbation of headaches after ingesting MSG, because of its effects on cranial blood vessels, according to the Delhi Psychiatric Journal.

    A Migraine Trigger: Aspartame Artificial Sweetener

    When my Mom first started getting migraines over four decades ago, doctors called them everything under the sun, but they did not call them migraines. She was told it was a tension headache. Then, it was just stress at work. It took decades but she finally found a neurologist who diagnosed her correctly. That was only the start. So little is known about the true cause of migraines. Probably because there are so many triggers and medical conditions that influence why someone suffers from them. It’s complicated.

    The doctor suggested that we start our migraine trigger investigation with food. We had to keep a food log of what she ate. Then chart her migraines. The goal was to identify food that might trigger a migraine. Grocery shopping took on a whole new meaning for us when we realized that some of the more significant triggers for my mom’s migraines were additives but especially artificial sweeteners. She could tolerate sucralose and a few others but aspartame was a definite trigger for a violent three day migraine. So although some food did give her bad headaches, it was the additives and aspartame that were the main culprits for migraines.

    Is Aspartame A Trigger For Every Migraine Sufferer

    Not necessarily. Causes between individuals vary widely. There are many people who can have aspartame and not feel any effect and then there are those sufferers like my Mom who cannot tolerate it at all. This article serves to highlight that this is just one of many causes. My mom is also sensitive to MSG and soy.

    Dr. Brian Grosberg of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Unit in New York admits that, quote, “It’s possible it can be a trigger of some people’s headaches, but it is not something that is generalizable to other people.”

    Decades Of Studies Raise Concerns About Aspartame

    Since aspartame was first approved in 1974, both FDA scientists and independent scientists have raised concerns about possible health effects and shortcomings in the science submitted to the FDA by the manufacturer, G.D. Searle. .

    In 1987, UPI published a series of investigative articles by Gregory Gordon reporting on these concerns, including early studies linking aspartame to health problems, the poor quality of industry-funded research that led to its approval, and the revolving-door relationships between FDA officials and the food industry. Gordon’s series is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand the history of aspartame/NutraSweet:

    • These stories, follow ups and response from NutraSweet Company posted here

    The Claim: Artificial Sweeteners Cause Migraines

    • June 6, 2006

    THE FACTS Artificial sweeteners have been linked in anecdotal reports to a variety of health problems for more than 30 years. But one of the more mysterious reported side effects is also among the most commonly mentioned, headaches.

    Migraine sufferers are often known to steer clear of sweeteners, if only to be on the safe side, and there is no shortage of medical Web sites spreading the claim. But according to various studies, the anecdotal evidence does not exactly hold up.

    Since the 1980’s, about a half dozen studies have examined the link, and a majority have discounted it. Most of those studies looked specifically at aspartame, found in diet soda and consumed by millions.

    One study, published in the journal Neurology in 1994, for several weeks followed 32 people who complained of regular headaches brought on by sweeteners. On some days, they were exposed to sweeteners and on others, to a placebo. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the subjects were slightly more likely to report headaches on days that they consumed artificial sweetener. But the study, while intriguing, was also small and did not include a control group.

    Further, the International Headache Society recently concluded that no link existed, said Dr. Brian Grosberg of the Montefiore Medical Center Headache Unit in New York. Migraine triggers, he added, tend to vary enormously from person to person.

    Weird Things That Could Be Triggering Migraines

    No one wants to get a migraine, ever. If you suffer from chronic migraines, you probably cringe at the thought of having one but at least have some tools to combat them. But if you get sporadic migraines ? or just experienced one for the first time ? the crippling pain can come with a serious side of confusion about why exactly you got one in the first place.

    There’s still a lot that experts don’t understand about migraines, but there are a few things they do know. For starters, migraines can cause severe pain or a pulsing feeling, usually on just one side of the head, according to the Mayo Clinic. And unfortunately, migraines usually come along with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people may even experience something called an “aura,” which can be flashes of light, blind spots or tingling on one side of your face or in your arm or leg.

    Doctors think there are several different mechanisms behind why you might get a migraine, although “it’s not completely understood,” said Dr. Katherine S. Carroll, a neurologist and migraine expert at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

    It’s believed that there’s a wave of electricity that spread across a person’s cortex , leading to the release of inflammatory mediators, Carroll said. These irritate the nerves in the brain, including the trigeminal nerve , creating the migraine’s pain.

    Sweeteners In Fruit Juice Drinks And Hard Candy

    Migraine Prevention Tips │ Excedrin®

    Unfortunately, many fruit juice drinks, unless listed as 100% pure juice, now contain sweeteners instead of sugar, making them useless for low-blood-sugar sufferers. The same can apply to some forms of hard candy.

    The BBC Two programme “Trust me, I’m a Doctor” ran a study where volunteers consumed the sweetener saccharin for seven days at the recommended safe levels. At the end of the study, several of the volunteers had blood sugar levels that were higher than what’s considered healthy.

    Table 1: Three Main Rcts Of Aspartame Challenge


    Main resultsNo difference in between aspartame or placebo in incidence of headaches or other symptoms. No difference in headache intensity, onset time, or durationMean of 3.6 headaches on aspartame, 1.5 on placebo33% of days with headache on aspartame, 24% on placebo, with more pronounced difference in those very sure that headaches were associated with aspartame. No difference in intensity or duration of headache

    Althoughthere is some consistency in design and dose of aspartame used, there are anumber of possible confounding factors that make interpretation difficult. Themain ones are the type of headache and the duration of exposure. It may be thatmigraine headaches are more likely to be associated with aspartame ingestion,and it might be that longer exposure is more likely to be a trigger.

    Theproblem is that the two longer duration studies have high withdrawal rates, butnot obviously more on aspartame than placebo. High withdrawal rates make interpretation of the resultsfrom completers problematical.

    Inthe one trial with no withdrawals , meticulously done, there was no acutetriggering of headache with aspartame . Neither were any othersymptoms more associated with aspartame individually, or collectively.

    How Can I Figure Out My Food Additive Triggers

    Finding which foods or food additives trigger your headaches can be a nightmare. This is because there are so many potential triggers!

    In fact…

    You may find that even certain foods help with headaches.

    Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do that can help you find relief from painful symptoms.

    • Keep a food diary. Write down or take pictures of everything you eat and drink. Also include a record of your headache or migraine symptoms and when they occur. This can help you see connections between what you’re eating and your symptoms.
    • Avoid highly processed foods. Avoiding processed foods can be a huge help – this will allow you to get rid of the source of most food additives in your diet. You’ll also be eating healthier, which will improve your health overall!
    • See a headache or migraine specialist. If you can’t figure out your triggers on your own, don’t hesitate to find a specialist. The United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties, or UCNS, is an organization that certifies doctors to be Headache Specialists. There is also a CAQ Certification in Headache Medicine that is popular with Naturopaths. Look for either of these certifications when making an appointment with a headache specialist.

    Aspartames Effects On Diabetes And Weight Loss

    When it comes to diabetes and weight loss, one of the first steps many people take is to cut empty calories from their diets. This often includes sugar.

    Aspartame has both pros and cons when considering diabetes and obesity. First, the Mayo Clinic states that, in general, artificial sweeteners may be beneficial for those with diabetes. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean that aspartame is the best sweetener of choice — you should ask your doctor first.

    Sweeteners may also help weight loss efforts, but this is usually only the case if you consume a lot of sugar-containing products before trying to lose weight. Switching from sugary products to those containing artificial sweeteners may also reduce the risk of cavities and tooth decay.

    According to a 2014 PLoS One study , rats that were fed aspartame had lower body masses overall. One caveat to the results was that these same rats also had more gut bacteria as well as increased blood sugar. This increase in blood glucose was also linked to insulin resistance.

    The research is far from conclusive about how aspartame and other nonnutritive sweeteners affect these diseases and others.

    Are Artificial Sweeteners Linked To Migraines

    The short answer is yes, while the long answer is a little more complicated.

    While a small study published in Neurology in 1994 did conclude that some people may be “susceptible” to headaches caused by aspartame and a 2006 case report published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain investigated a patient who’s migraines were “constantly” triggered by sucralose, these studies are small, making it pretty hard to say there’s a definitive connection between headaches, or migraines, and artificial sugar consumption.

    However, both the Mayo Clinic and American Migraine Foundation list artificial sweeteners, specifically aspartame, as a possible migraine trigger, so if you already suffer from migraines, it’s probably best to stay away from them whenever possible.

    Neurotoxicity Brain Damage And Mood Disorders

    Aspartame has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems including learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, wrote the researchers of a 2017 study in Nutritional Neuroscience. “Aspartame consumption needs to be approached with caution due to the possible effects on neurobehavioral health.”16

    “Oral aspartame significantly altered behavior, anti-oxidant status and morphology of the hippocampus in mice; also, it may probably trigger hippocampal adult neurogenesis,” reported a 2016 study in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.17 

    “Previously, it has been reported that consumption of aspartame could cause neurological and behavioural disturbances in sensitive individuals. Headaches, insomnia and seizures are also some of the neurological effects that have been encountered,” according to a 2008 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “e propose that excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders … and also in compromised learning and emotional functioning.”18 

    “eurological symptoms, including learning and memory processes, may be related to the high or toxic concentrations of the sweetener metabolites,” states a 2006 study in Pharmacological Research.19

    Aspartame “could impair memory retention and damage hypothalamic neurons in adult mice,” according to a 2000 mice study published in Toxicology Letters.20

    Does Aspartame Trigger Migraine No Says Fda

    There is an ongoing controversy as to whether aspartame is responsible for causing headaches in people who ingest it. The FDA calls aspartame the most researched food additive ever approved.

    While there have been multiple reports of users experiencing sudden and severe onset of migraine headaches after using of aspartame, studies done by various institutions would seem to indicate the link is not causal. The FDA says they have received the results of over 100 clinical trials and doxological studies, and upon review they have concluded that aspartame is safe for ingestion by the human population.

    Following concerns in the late 1970s about saccharin, an artificial sweetener marketed as Sweet ‘n Low, the industry sought an alternative product. Saccharin remains on the anticipated carcinogens list, as it has been proven to cause cancer in animals; despite this it remains a highly popular sweetener.

    Aspartame, marketed under such brand names as Equal and NutraSweet, was approved by the FDA in 1981, and is present in many diet drinks, foods and gum as well as being marketed heavily as a tabletop sweetener.

    Aspartame is frequently used by dieters wishing to reduce sugar consumption. As a very low calorie product it has found favor with calorie counters world-wide.

    There has been frequent criticism of the study due to its short term and below optimum conditions. Researchers counter by claiming that all the CDC guidelines had been complied with, so the results were valid.


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