Is Aspartame Dangerous to your Health?
Aspartame is a synthetic sweetener first synthesized in 1965 for use as a sugar substitute in foods and beverages. Sold initially under the brand name NutraSweet, it has been marketed as AminoSweet since 2009. Today, it’s believed to be used in over in over 6000 different products in 90 countries worldwide.
About 200 times sweeter than table sugar, the amount of aspartame needed for sweetening is so little it has practically no calories at all. Also, aspartame’s sweet taste differs from table sugar in the time of onset and how long it lasts - although it comes closest to sugar's taste profile among all currently approved artificial sweeteners.
Since its initial approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974, aspartame’s safety profile has been the subject of several political and medical controversies, congressional hearings and Internet campaigns.
A 2007 medical reviewed the then current scientific literature on absorption, metabolism, consumption levels all over the world, toxicology, and population studies on aspartame.
This review states that the usage levels of aspartame were well below the acceptable daily intake levels of 50 and 40 mg/kg body weight/day established by the US FDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) respectively.
It goes on to say that the rise in blood levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid following administration of aspartame at doses less than or equal to 50 mg/kg body weight are not greater than those observed after a meal. It claims that toxicity studies with aspartame and its breakdown products carried out in mice, rats, hamsters and dogs have consistently found no adverse effect of aspartame with doses up to at least 4000 mg/kg body weight/day.
Further, it adds that multiple studies have found ‘no credible evidence’ that aspartame is carcinogenic, or any support for the hypothesis that aspartame affects human nervous system function, learning or behavior. This review concludes by stating that “the weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener”.
However, new and compelling evidence from the longest ever human study (spanning 22 years) on aspartame toxicity conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School flatly contradicts this statement.
This study found a clear association between aspartame consumption and an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL) and leukemia - the first ever large-scale observational human study to report an association between aspartame consumption and blood cancers.
The long-term nature of this study is critical because companies hide product toxicity by cleverly only conducting short-term tests. For example, the longest study prior to this one was only four and half months long - which is way too short to uncover any long-term toxicity. So even though aspartame claims to be the most studied food additive without any health concerns ever being discovered, in fact it was never studied thoroughly enough to detect long-term toxicity.
The Brigham and Women's Hospital study looked at over 48,000 men and over 77,000 women over the age of 20. Scarily, it found that men who consumed more than one diet soda per day had an increased risk of developing multiple myeloma and NHL. Interestingly, this association was not found in women. And that’s not all - leukemia was associated with diet soda intake in both sexes.
One possible reason for the gender difference in susceptibility may be that men have a higher activity of the enzyme ADH, which breaks down methanol and converts it to formaldehyde. More formaldehyde circulating in the blood of the male participants would naturally cause more damage.
These findings strongly suggest that consuming aspartame over a long period of time can pose significant health risks. However, it's still unclear as to why the women in this study didn't experience the same increased rates of cancer.
According to at least one expert, there are more adverse reports to the FDA on aspartame than all other food additives combined - and that massive industry and government collusion at the FDA was ultimately responsible for its approval after it failed to be approved for many years.
While there is no evidence linking aspartame intake to toxicity in the short term, its long-term consumption has been linked to blood cancers - therefore, the consumption of aspartame-sweetened foods and beverages is not advisable.