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Aspartame, a Potential Migraine Trigger

Aspartame is found in over 6,000 food products as well as in carbonated/non-carbonated beverages that contain artificial sweeteners, including diet soft drinks, sports drinks, iced tea, fruit drinks, and powdered mixes.

Products containing aspartame have been branded and are advertised as “Nutrasweet” or “Equal.” There are numerous products on the market that have aspartame added to them. Whenever you see the words “sugar-free,” beware!

Read the food label to find out what you’re putting in your body:

  • Sugar free yogurt, ice-cream, jellos, puddings
  • Sugar free gum, hard candies, breath mints
  • Jams, jellies
  • Protein bars or drinks
  • Syrup
  • Diet products
  • Yogurts
  • Children’s vitamins

Try keeping a food and activity journal to see if it is aspartame that triggers your headache. Always read food labels to see if products contain aspartame. Learn more about food additives that may cause sensitivities.

While Aspartame has been FDA approved as being safe for people of all ages, including children, some studies report that consumption of aspartame leads to neurological and behavioral disturbances in sensitive individuals. Some of my clients have reported headaches and dizziness when consuming it. A review of aspartame’s metabolism showed that the human body breaks down aspartame into three compounds: methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. Although methanol further breaks down into formaldehyde and is toxic to the human body, research has established that the consumption of products containing aspartame will not lead to toxic levels of methanol because of the small amounts we normally consume. If something is proven toxic at higher levels, why consume it at all? Studies have shown that Aspartame causes inhibition of brain serotonin and dopamine. Since drugs that raise dopamine levels in the brain have proven effective in reducing headache, it makes sense that consuming Aspartame could result in headaches because of reduced dopamine levels. Abnormalities in serotonin levels have been observed in both tension-type and migraine headache sufferers.

Some individuals are sensitive to food additives, Aspartame being one of them. A rule of thumb is to buy foods that have few added ingredients —make sure you can pronounce them and avoid those that contain artificial ingredients. To read more on artificial ingredients, visit:, and if you believe Aspartame triggers headaches or migraines be sure to avoid it!

References – 1 Direct and Indirect Cellular Effects of Aspartame on the Brain. Humphries, P.; Pretorius, E.; Naudé, H.. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Apr2008, Vol. 62 Issue 4, p451-462, 12p, 6 Diagrams; DOI: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602866- 2 Migraine MLT-Down: An Unusual Presentation of Migraine in Patients with Aspartame-Triggered Headaches. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain: By: Newman, Lawrence C.; Lipton, Richard B. Oct2001, Vol. 41 Issue 9, p899-901, 3p; DOI: – 3 4 5

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ryan
    6 years ago

    “If something is proven toxic at higher levels, why consume it at all?”

    The logic in this article confuses me. There is a toxicity level for water. Fruits and vegetables break down into formaldehyde. Do we eliminate water, fruits and vegetables from our diet?

  • shelbster
    8 years ago

    Beware that Cambia which is a med prescribed for migraine relief has aspartame in it! This is so insane! The very med to treat migraines contains an ingredient such sufferers should avoid! How do you explain this one?

  • Rachel Melton
    8 years ago

    This is why I stick to good old fashioned sugar. I would rather gain a pound than be in agony for hours/days from a migraine caused by a man made sugar replacement that tastes like crap =).

  • Rowan Angel
    8 years ago

    My sister gets migraines from it but I don’t. I get migraines from msg. Funny how those headaches kick in with the things you enjoy the most (Doritos and Chinese food :()

  • Linda Barham Nabors
    8 years ago

    My question is: Why is Aspartame in over 6000 food products? Someone made a lot of money by using this much of this chemical. I feel that it has been pushed on us. I cannot buy a stick of gum on the shelf of a normal grocery store without this poison in it. Yes, to me Aspartame is poison. It throws me into a 4-5 day severe migraine. It is in many foods that are not even labeled sugar-free. I think any food with Aspartame in it should be labeled VERY CLEARLY. I do not trust what the FDA says about many things. Obviously, with this product the are harming people, many which are children.

  • Kathy Sundeen Jacobs
    8 years ago

    what about sweet n low sweetener?

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