Question

Artificial Sweeteners

Is aspartame dangerous?

A Answers (3)

  • ARobert Davis, PhD, Health Education, answered
    On the Internet you can find plenty of scary warnings about the artificial sweetener aspartame causing everything from memory loss and depression to brain tumors and birth defects. But decades of research have turned up little hard evidence for such assertions.

    Though Italian researchers have found elevated rates of lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers in rodents ingesting aspartame, most other animal studies have shown no connection between aspartame and cancer. More important, in a cohort study involving nearly 500,000 people, there was no increased risk of blood or brain cancers among aspartame users.

    Likewise, most studies looking at neurological and behavioral issues haven't found adverse effects from aspartame. When a panel of scientists reviewed more than 500 studies, they uncovered no major safety problems. The review was funded by a Japanese manufacturer of aspartame, but the experts were unaware of who the funder was, and the company had no role in selecting the experts.

    The panel's conclusions echo those of both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food, which say that a daily intake of up to 40 or 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight is safe for most people. Translated into plain English, this means a 150-pound adult can safely consume up to about 19 cans of diet soda a day. (Not that anyone says drinking this much is advisable.)

    Still, aspartame may adversely affect certain people. One of the most common complaints is headaches, an effect detected by some (but not all) research. Also, people with a rare inherited condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) can't metabolize phenylalanine, an amino acid in aspartame. To avoid an unsafe buildup, they need to steer clear of the sweetener. (Hence that cryptic warning "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine" on the labels of foods and beverages that contain aspartame.)

    Despite the claims of some aspartame opponents, there's no solid proof that phenylalanine from normal amounts of aspartame poses a danger to the rest of us. The same goes for methanol, which is also produced when our bodies break down aspartame.

    Those who are convinced aspartame is poison or an evil plot may denounce me as an ignoramus or a pawn of industry for not agreeing with them. But at least they won't be able to blame my "confusion" on aspartame-related brain problems. Personally, I can't stand the taste.
  • Aspartame, the artificial sweetener found in NutraSweet, has been extensively studied since it was approved by the FDA in 1974. Despite numerous articles and claims that aspartame may cause cancer and other deleterious effects on the human body, a 2007 review of all the evidence concluded “The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.” This has been supported by numerous medical bodies including the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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  • ASarah LoBisco, Integrative Medicine, answered
    Due to its structure of phenylalanine and aspartic acid amino acids, it has been shown that aspartame can affect the metabolism of amino acids, protein structure and metabolism, resulting in DNA and hormonal imbalances. Furthermore, these chemical signals can affect blood sugar and satiety signaling.

    Here are some findings from studies on the dangers of aspartame:
    • Large amounts of the radioactive-carbon label from oral aspartame intake have been detected in DNA.
    • Drug Chemical Toxicity Journal reported a study linking artificial sweeteners with genetic damage.
    • According to Biological Psychiatry, aspartame may be implicated in mood disorders.
    • Food Chemical Toxicology Journal reported a connection with aspartame to brain function and Alzheimer’s.
    • It is suggested that aspartame reactions may be caused by the compound itself (a connection of three amino acids) or related to the toxic breakdown products (including formaldehyde) they form.
    • According to AAHON, “scientists disagree about the relationships between sweeteners and lymphomas, leukemias, cancers of the bladder and brain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus."
    Various other studies, not listed above, have linked artificial sweeteners to a variety of diseases and pathologies including vague clinical symptoms related to vision, memory, digestion, and muscle and joint pain.
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