An individual recently mentioned to me that a friend told him that the sugar substitute aspartame was dangerous and caused cancer. He was not given any specific source for this very serious claim. He really wanted to know about the true scientific study information regarding the safety of the sugar substitute aspartame.
Today, let's take another look at the actual scientific evidence regarding aspartame, and also look at the validity and reputation of the sources of this well documented scientific evidence. Further, be advised that all the artificial sweeteners are studied extensively and strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Food and Drug Administration - Approved in 1981, aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame is sold under various trade names such as NutraSweet and Equal, and is one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the Food and Drug Administration has ever approved. In fact, the FDA has thoroughly reviewed more than 100 toxicological and clinical studies. This is worth repeating. More than 100 scientific studies confirm the safety of aspartame! This in-depth review of these many scientific studies confirms over and over again that aspartame is very safe for the general population.
- National Cancer Institute - Aspartame was approved by the FDA after numerous tests showed that it did not cause cancer or other adverse effects in laboratory animals. In 1996, questions regarding aspartame and brain tumors were raised. However, an analysis showed that the overall incidence of brain and central nervous system cancers began to rise in 1973, eight years prior to the approval of aspartame. Further, the NCI carefully examined human data from the National Institute of Health and AARP Diet and Health Study of over half a million retirees. Here is the conclusion from this study of over 500,000 people: The consumption of aspartame containing beverages is not associated with the development of lymphoma, leukemia, or brain cancer.
- European Food Safety Authority - The EFSA is committed to ensuring the Europe's food is safe. This is their assessment concerning the safety of aspartame. The sweetener aspartame and its breakdown products have been a matter of extensive investigation for more than 30 years including experimental animal studies, clinical research, intake and epidemiological studies, and post-marketing surveillance. After all these very thorough safety assessments aspartame has been found to be completely safe and is therefore authorized for human consumption in European countries.
The scientific evidence confirming the safety of aspartame is overwhelming. Now, let's compare the proven safety of sugar substitutes to the monumental health risks of excess dietary sugar. Excess sugar in the diet leads to the following health issues: 1) overweight and obesity, 2) high cholesterol, 3) high blood pressure, and 4) Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. There are many known health risks from diabetes and prediabetes, including increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer's.
Editor's note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of "SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet," has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.