Link Between Aspartame, Epilepsy Suggested

Associated Press

A new report suggests that NutraSweet might trigger epilepsy in some susceptible people and recommends that doctors question seizure victims about their consumption of the popular artificial sweetener.

In the current issue of the British journal Lancet, Dr. Richard J. Wurtman describes three cases in which persons had their first epileptic seizures after drinking large amounts of soft drinks that contained NutraSweet.

May Affect Brain

Wurtman theorizes that the sweetener, known generically as aspartame, lowers levels of chemicals in the brain that protect against seizures.


Wurtman, in a letter to the journal, said that the three cases “can only suggest an association between aspartame and seizures.” But he added that they are “compatible with evidence that high aspartame doses may produce neurochemical changes that, in laboratory animals, are associated with depressed seizure thresholds.”

Firm Disputes Finding

Spokesmen for G. D. Searle & Co., which makes NutraSweet, said that Wurtman’s findings were not scientifically controlled and the apparent link could well have been due to chance.

“We have every confidence in its safety, and our confidence is based on the research,” Dr. John Heybach, Searle’s director of medical and scientific affairs, said of NutraSweet. “It’s the most extensively researched food additive prior to its approval in history.”


Wurtman, a physician at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed that the apparent association he reported could have been coincidental. But he said doctors should question patients with unexplained seizures about their use of aspartame.

4 Quarts of Soda a Day

In one of the cases, a 42-year-old legal secretary drank four quarts of diet soda and close to a gallon of aspartame-containing lemonade each day. She reported mood changes, headaches, nausea, hallucinations and finally a seizure. She drank no diet drinks while in the hospital, and her headaches disappeared for the first time in months, but they returned when she began consuming diet drinks again at home.