Is aspartame about to be banned? (I hope so)

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener which, once consumed, breaks down into three components ” aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Aspartame has been passed as fit to consume by more than 100 countries around the World, but there is evidence that each of aspartame’s chemical components can have toxic effects on health. See here and here for more about this. It is curious that studies on the safety of aspartame funded by the industry invariably find in favour of aspartame, but independently-funded work almost always finds quite the opposite.

There have not been any long-term safety studies in humans, but there have been some in animals. And perhaps one of the most worrying of these was published in 2006. Performed by the European Ramazzini Foundation in Italy, it discovered that long term ingestion of aspartame in rats increased their risk of several different forms of cancer [1].

This association was found even at levels of aspartame intake lower than the official upper limit for humans. While in Europe intakes of 40 mg of aspartame per Kg of body weight per day are considered safe, an increased risk in cancer was seen in rats consuming just half this amount.

The Ramazzini immediately followed this up with more research, in which rats were exposed to aspartame in pregnancy and after birth. The offspring produced by these pregnancy were found to be at an increased risk of cancer. Exposure during pregnancy was found to heighten risk [2]. Look, aspartame causes cancer in animals, and at not very high doses either.

So, in the light of this sort of evidence, how is it still OK for aspartame to be sold and therefore by men, women, pregnant women, children and developing foetuses? Because our regulatory authorities say it’s OK, that’s why.

But, as some of you may know, organisations like the FDA in the USA don’t always seem to act with impartiality nor do the right thing. See here for a recent blog post which includes details of accusations of corruption, wrongdoing and intimidation in the FDA (made by, err, employees of the FDA).

However, maybe things are about to change. I read on the American on-line newspaper The Huffington Post that the FDA may be set to ban aspartame. According to Professor Sam Epstein, cancer prevention expert and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Under the explicit provisions of the 1958 Delaney Law, which requires an automatic ban on carcinogenic food additives, it is anticipated that Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the newly appointed FDA Commissioner and inspiring public health advocate, will promptly ban the continued use of aspartame. Which can only be a good thing, I reckon.

I notice that in Professor Epstein’s piece that he claims Aspartame is a low calorie [sweetener], which helps people control their weight. We actually don’t know if that’s true, on the basis that there is not one single properly conducted study which shows that aspartame (or any other artificial sweetener) aids weight loss. Mind you, I suppose one way aspartame might bring about effective weight loss is if it were to give people cancer.

References:

1. Soffritti M, et al. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(3):379-85

2. Soffritti M, et al. Life-span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(9):1293-7

26 Responses to Is aspartame about to be banned? (I hope so)

  1. Liz Smith 7 August 2009 at 9:07 am #

    Aspartame had been banned for about 12 years when Mr Rumsfeld who was a big name in the company who made it, persuaded President Reagan (who incidentally owed him a big favour) to pass the use of Aspartame. The complaints against Aspartame are probably the most ever submitted for any drug.

    Its always intrigued me that one of the ingredients turns to formaldahyde at 85f – most bodies run at 98f. There are probably hundreds of anti-Aspartame web sites, each one telling worse stories about it than the last one. Whistle blowers have said repeatedly that the research was not done properly and could have been forged.

    Reading product labels would probably denude the shelves of hundreds of items for a while if this new Commisioner does what someone should have done 20 years ago and banned Aspartame.

  2. Florence 7 August 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    I hate this stuff and I particularly hate the fact that it is sold for use by children. Poorer families, in particular, will choose the low calorie soft drinks because they are so often much cheaper than other drinks. People will also buy this stuff on the basis that it claims it doesn’t cause tooth decay.

  3. Chris 7 August 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    It’s horrible, tastes disgusting, scandalous, and unless you are a zealot it is nigh on impossible to avoid. How can something so alien, be permitted and become so endemic?

  4. Tanya 7 August 2009 at 5:29 pm #

    The quicker the use of aspartame is banned, the better. My daughter reacts badly to it – a normally well-behaved child becomes hyper and has her sleep disrupted. I work in a school and sometimes wonder how much bad behaviour and hyperactivity is caused by all the sugar-free drinks consumed by children these days. Interesting to note that some drinks auch as ‘still’ Fanta in France is aspartame free but here has it added. Does Europe have different rules on its use I wonder?

  5. Sue 7 August 2009 at 9:57 pm #

    If I have anything with Aspartme in, by mistake, I have sevre stomach ache. I have even found it in “lem sip” cold remedy etc. It should definatly be banned.

  6. Deirdre Henderson 8 August 2009 at 10:11 pm #

    I thought they had been speaking of banning this substance for over 30 years. My daughter was born in 1974 which is why I remember some sort of furore then. I have found the follwoing reference.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspartame

  7. Rich Murray 9 August 2009 at 5:19 am #

    formaldehyde in FEMA trailers and other sources (aspartame, dark wines and liquors, tobacco smoke): Murray 2008.01.30: BM Kapur — folic acid protects most people from conversion of methanol into formaldehyde and then formic acid 2009.07.01
    http://rmforall.blogspot.com/2008_01_01_archive.htm
    Wednesday, January 30, 2008
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/message/1508

    The FEMA trailers give about the same amount of formaldehyde
    daily as from a quart of dark wine or liquor, or two quarts
    (6 12-oz cans) of aspartame diet soda, from their over 1 tenth
    gram methanol impurity (one part in 10,000), which the body quickly makes into formaldehyde — enough to be the major cause of “morning after” alcohol hangovers.

    Methanol and formaldehyde also result from many fruits and
    vegetables, tobacco and wood smoke, heater and vehicle exhaust,
    household chemicals and cleaners, cosmetics, and new cars,
    drapes, carpets, furniture, particleboard, mobile homes, buildings,
    leather … so all these sources add up and interact with many other toxic chemicals.

    folic acid prevents neurotoxicity from formic acid, made by body from methanol impurity in alcohol drinks [ also 11 % of aspartame ], BM Kapur, PL Carlen, DC Lehotay, AC Vandenbroucke, Y Adamchik, U. of Toronto, 2007 Dec.,
    Alcoholism Cl. Exp. Res.: Murray 2007.11.27 [ actually, a fairly complete review of recent developments... ]
    http://rmforall.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.htm
    Wednesday, November 27, 2007
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/message/1495

    formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines, the first case series,
    Sharon E Jacob-Soo, Sarah A Stechschulte, UCSD, Dermatitis
    2008 May: Rich Murray 2008.07.18
    http://rmforall.blogspot.com/2008_07_01_archive.htm
    Friday, July 18, 2008
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/message/1553

    Dermatitis. 2008 May-Jun; 19(3): E10-1.
    Formaldehyde, aspartame, and migraines: a possible connection.
    Jacob SE, Stechschulte S.
    Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery,
    University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA.

    Aspartame is a widely used artificial sweetener that has been
    linked to pediatric and adolescent migraines.

    Upon ingestion, aspartame is broken, converted, and oxidized into
    formaldehyde in various tissues.

    We present the first case series of aspartame-associated migraines related to clinically relevant positive reactions to formaldehyde on patch testing. PMID: 18627677

  8. Faz 9 August 2009 at 6:25 am #

    I really hope it does get banned.

  9. John Ivens 9 August 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Rumsfeld rigged the Panel which decided to license it, by the Chaiman’s casting vote, in 1985. The Chairman then got a job as an “adviser” to Monsanto for $250,000 a year, for basically doing nothing. Imagine how much this was worth 24 years ago.
    It appears that part of the deal was for him to keep his mouth shut, because he never spoke to the media after his appointment
    All clinical evidence had stated for years that it was a dangerous cancer-causing chemical, and should never be licensed.
    The company Searle, of which Rumsfeld had already been CEO for 9 years and which had the Rights and Patents for aspartame when he got Reagan’s appointment,was soon taken over by the evil Monsanto, and Rumsfeld made millions of dollars from the deal.

  10. Nancy 10 August 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    I agree that Aspartame should be banned, but what about all the other artificial sweeteners??? Now that we have some really good choices — such as erythritol and stevia — do we need these other products anyway? I have learned to bake using a combination of erythritol and stevia and have made some awesome desserts that are truly healthy! I would love to see more encouragement to switch to the healthier choices of sweeteners.

  11. damaged justice 11 August 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    Nothing should be banned (as in, people get killed if they buy, sell or own it). That is a far greater evil. Everyone gets to go to hell in their own handbasket.

    That said, there is no such thing as a “healthy” sweetener. Even the taste of sweet with no measurable calories or carbohydrate can trigger an insulin response.

  12. Anne 12 August 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    I am prescribed Strontium Ranelate – Protelos – for osteoporosis. One of the ingredients in this medicine is aspartame.

    A couple of years ago I contacted Servier, the pharmaceutical company that make Strontium Ranelate, and asked if they could use another sweetener, or indeed no sweetener, but they replied that they were satisfied with the safety of aspartame. I must say I have no problems with aspartame and I do need the Strontium but would rather they used something else.

    Anne

  13. Teddy 16 August 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    Equal is not sugar free. It contains .83 gms of polydextrose, so 5 packets has almost as much carbs as a teaspoon of sugar. I think it is one of the causes of the obesity epidemic.

    They say it is more sweet than sugar, if so, why do people use so much. Is it a progressive addiction?

  14. Faz 16 August 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    @damaged justice
    “Just Like Sugar” is a Chicory root based sweetener that has a zero insulin response. Alas, it doesn’t take just like sugar, but pretty close nonetheless, plus it’s 100% natural.

    @Anne
    The fact that you don’t feel any obvious reaction to consuming aspartame simply means that you are not acutely sensitive to it – That’s all. It is an excitotoxin and hence toxic to all humans. Toxins should not to be confused with allergies or intolerances.

    If you Google excitotoxin you should find a very informative video as the second result.

    Faz

  15. Robin 17 August 2009 at 12:48 am #

    Anne,

    Re Strontium Ranelate for osteoporosis, it’s worth Google for the side effects and also for the much more useful alternative (without side effects) of taking extra Vitamin D.

    There is much on this blog about taking Vit D that is very useful – especially where to get the right sort at an affordable price.

    Also go here:

    http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/osteoporosis.html

  16. Faz 17 August 2009 at 2:52 am #

    @Robin
    Very interesting link, thanks!

    Faz

  17. Anne 17 August 2009 at 11:25 am #

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for the link…but I already take vitamin D3 and am replete, I’m currently taking 2,000 IU per day and alas my levels of 25(OH)D are in the too high range, they’re currently at 250 nmol/L ! And I’ve hardly been in the sun ! Previously, last year I was on 4,000 IU per day for only four months during the winter and my 25(OH)D reached 384 nmol/L ! My endocrinologist is following this carefully and I’m often tested. I do not have any sensitivities to vitamin D but I seem to accumulate it exceptionally well. I’ve actually been in touch with Dr Reinhold Vieth and other experts about this so I’m not worried, but it is a mystery.

    Regarding the strontium – I’m very happy with it. Of course I’d like it without aspartame but the alternative is a bisphosphonate which is far, far worse. I have to weight up the risks of the aspartame versus the risks of bone fracture and the answer is simple.

    all the best,
    Anne

  18. Catherine Hunter 17 August 2009 at 11:48 am #

    I completely agree with Tanya (message 4). My son also reacts to aspartame and it has been banned from our house for years. I am also a nutritonal therapist and the number of children I have seen who respond amazingly to removing it from the diet is incredible. My son is a happy, calm boy and my inlaws thought they knew better until they gave him a “low fat” ribena – they now know better. He goes hyper then half an hour later crashes and has a blinding headache. Don’t even get me started on Fruit Shoots – evil in a bottle. . . . .

  19. Teddy 17 August 2009 at 11:03 pm #

    Clarification .89 gms of dextrose, not poly dextrose.

    A teaspoon of sugar has 4.5 gms of sucrose, that is about half fructose, half glucose (dextrose). So 5 packets of equal raises glucose levels MORE than a teaspoon of sugar.

    How do you like that?

    Fructose is not handled by insulin. A cup of strawberries has less glucose 2.63gms than 4 packets of Equal 3.56gms .

    cup of raspberries 2.29 gms of glucose.

    So, if you want sweet tastes and don’t want an insulin reaction. Eat berries.

  20. Steve Nyman 29 August 2009 at 3:46 am #

    You are so right!

  21. ian 2 September 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    My girlfriend is diagnosed with MS and I noticed the symptoms increase when she used Aspartame sweeteners, I asked her to stop using it, she improved greatly we now check all labels and make sure it is avoided
    However occasionally it sneaks in and we know within, 5 minutes, she suffers aches and spasms, her speach slows down and one eye dries-up. We always back track through the diet, and the culprit shows up
    This was discovered not with any science or financial incentive, purely by observation by someone who cares.
    Please if you know someone suffering from anything like MS remove Aspartame from their diet and watch the results, try it without them knowing if you have any doubts, you will be suprised

  22. Robert T 2 September 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    It’s just terrible. I, and many with me, can’t handle Aspartame. No wonder! Thanks for the great article. I agree about honey – it’s a natural product and I really believe it should be used more.

  23. Gina Montagnese 8 November 2009 at 9:33 am #

    My daughter who has type 1 diabetes ended up in intensive care last week and is still in hospital because of aspartame. She had diet sprite and developed severe metablic acidosis with extremely high sugars. Almost died. Aspartame has ruined my life and most of all her health.

  24. melissa 18 March 2010 at 1:29 am #

    If aspertame should be banned because of the cancer causing chemicals…then so should cigarettes! Pretty simple to me is seems!

  25. Jack 29 October 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    I did a little digging on the first aspartame study that you cited. I drink a lot of diet soda so I obviously don’t want to continue drinking it if it’s increasing my chances of cancer. It turns out that, when the study was further evaulated by a team of independent scientists, they had this to say about the study:

    “The increased incidence of lymphomas/leukaemias reported in treated rats was unrelated to aspartame, given the high background incidence of chronic inflammatory changes in the lungs and the lack of a positive dose–response relationship. … The slight increase in incidence of these tumours in rats fed aspartame is considered to be an incidental finding of the ERF study and can therefore be dismissed.”

    And another writer said this:

    ” [I]n view of the problems in the design of the study and some concerns about the microbiological status of the colony, it was not possible to draw conclusions about the potential carcinogenicity of aspartame from the results.”

    I think it’s instinctive to incriminate an artificial chemical in our diets as carcinogenic, simply because it’s carcinogenic, but let’s wait for more solid evidence before we do it with aspartame.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1797853/

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