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

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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.


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

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