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Why are cancer researchers studying aspartame?

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) initiated this research because an earlier study showed that female rats fed the artificial sweetener aspartame developed more lymphomas and leukemia than rats that received no aspartame in their feed (Soffritti et al. 2005; Soffritti et al. 2006). The risk of cancer in that study grew with the increased amount of aspartame given to the rats. Some of the dosages may have been relevant to human intake (as low as 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, which would be equivalent to a 165-pound person consuming about eight cans of diet soda).

Other questions regarding the safety of aspartame were raised by a 1996 report (Olney et al. 1996) suggesting that an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992 might be associated with the introduction and use of this sweetener in the United States. However, this report was later criticized by the scientific community for committing "ecological fallacy" (Ross 1998). Ecological fallacy refers to making a wrong conclusion about cause and effect in one person based on collection of data from a group of people; i.e., relating two things that happen at the same time, such as aspartame use and an increase in the number of brain cancer cases seen in a population, without examining whether individuals who consume aspartame also develop brain cancer.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.