Migraine Trigger: Artificial Sweeteners

Migraine Triggers: Artificial Sweeteners


Twelve reasons why artificial sweeteners are a top migraine trigger:

1.  Top Medical Authorities Say So…

Artificial sweeteners are listed as top migraine triggers by numerous medical authorities and migraine sufferers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

2.  FDA Complaints

The most common artificial sweetener, aspartame, had over 10,000 complaints filed with the FDA.

Headaches, migraines, and memory loss are at the top of the list (FDA Docket)

3. Turns Migraines On and Off Like A Key

There are several case studies of patients experiencing migraines from chewing gum with aspartame.

In all cases, migraines stopped after the patients stopped chewing the gum.

Migraines were reproduced by reintroducing the gum (study link).

4.  Splenda Triggers Migraine in Case Study

Sucralose (Splenda) is supposedly a migraine-safe food.

However, a case study found that sucralose produced migraines with aura in a female patient.

That patient had never experienced an aura before.

Withdrawal of sucralose resulted in complete elimination of migraines.

After her health was restored, blind exposure to sucralose triggered migraines once again (study link).

5. Aspartame Triggers Acne and Migraines

A 2008 study found that diet soda with aspartame could trigger both dermatitis (acne) and migraines (study link).

All patients had reactions to formaldehyde patch testing, which may explain why aspartame triggers migraines.

Aspartame can produce toxic formaldehyde. Dermatitis is also linked to migraines.

The odds are seven times higher that a child with migraines will also have acne (study link).

6.  Excitotoxin 

Aspartame is considered an excitotoxin, similar to the migraine trigger glutamate (study link).

It excites brain cells to death.

This process is intimately involved in triggering migraines (study 1, 2, 3).

7.  Oxidative Stress

Aspartame induces oxidative stress and memory impairment in lab rats (study 1, 2, 3).

Oxidative stress is associated with migraines and nearly all migraine triggers.

8. Poor Autonomic Function

Aspartame may decrease the function of the autonomic nervous system (study 1, 2).

Poor autonomic nervous system function is associated with migraines (article link).

9. Low Serotonin and Increased Depression

Diet soda increased the risk of depression in a study with over 260,000 participants (study link).

Aspartame decreases serotonin and low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and migraines (study 1, 2, 3).

Suicidal attempts are 2.5 times higher in migraine sufferers (study 1, 2).

Anti-depressants and medications that boost serotonin are the most popular migraine prevention medications.

10. Increased Obesity and Migraines

Numerous large studies reviewed by researchers at Yale University found that artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of obesity (study link).

Obesity increases migraine risk (study link).

A 2014 study of about 24,000 people by researchers at John Hopkins University found that obese individuals drink more diet soda than adults who have a healthy weight and they also consume significantly more calories from solid food.

Artificial sweeteners have the ability to stimulate hunger and that may explain the growing trend of increased obesity (study link).

The graph below shows that the rise in obesity parallels the use of artificial sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners obesity time line, migraines
Artificial Sweeteners obesity time line, migraines

Figure 1 Photo Credit Yale University

11. A Damaged Gut

A 2014 study published in the journal Nature found that artificial sweeteners may alter the gut biome and induce glucose intolerance (study link, article link).

This is consistent with a 2008 study that found Splenda can damage healthy gut bacteria (study link).

A damaged gut will increase the risk of migraines (article link).

12.  It’s Not Zero Calories

Contrary to what the package says, zero-calorie sweeteners actually do have calories from added dextrose (sugar) or maltodextrin (corn sugar).

Both maltodextrin and sugar can damage the gut and increase symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (study link).

IBS will increase migraine risk (article link).

Industry-Funded Studies Label Artificial Sweeteners as Safe

I must admit the research I’ve provided is controversial. For every negative study, there is a positive study for artificial sweeteners.

An industry-funded Coca-Cola study found that diet soda was better than water for weight loss (NPR link).

The FDA and most published studies (especially industry-funded studies) label artificial sweeteners as safe, but why risk it? It’s your health (study link).

Safe, Maybe, but Not Migraine Safe

As for migraines, there’s more than enough research to show that artificial sweeteners are a top migraine trigger and that we should avoid them.

Artificial sweeteners are associated with insulin problems, diabetes, obesity, inflammation, gut problems, depression, and migraines.

Reduce or Eliminate:

All artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda), and many others.

An alternative to artificial sweeteners is pure stevia. (Truvia is not pure stevia. It contains fermented sugar and only a derivative of stevia.)

This is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Read the disclaimer.

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