Federal Study Rejects Aspartame Risk

Aspartame came on the market 25 years ago and is found in thousands of products including soda, chewing gum, dairy products and many medications. Research in the 1970's linked a different sweetener, saccharin, to bladder cancer in lab rats. Although the mechanism studied in this research does not apply to humans, and no human risk was ever documented, worries about sugar substitutes in general have persisted.


These worries were heightened after Italian researchers last year reported results of the largest animal study ever done on aspartame, involving 1,800 lab rats. The study's methodology has been questioned (see my Nutrition Page for October, 2005), and the author's slides were never peer-reviewed, a hallmark characteristic of well-designed, authentic research. The results were also published in a journal owned by the author; this journal is recognized by neither MedLine nor PubMed.


The new study, by scientists at the National Cancer Institute, involved 340,045 men and 226,945 women, ages 50-69, participating in a research project by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. From surveys completed in 1995 and 1996 detailing food and beverage consumption, researchers calculated the amount of aspartame they consumed, especially from sodas or from adding the sweetener to coffee or tea.


A diet containing adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and water has been shown to promote balanced mood and feelings of well-being. A lack of amino acids, from which neuro-transmitters in the brain are made, can lead to feelings of depression and apathy.


Over the next five years, 2,106 developed blood-related cancers such as lymphoma or leukemia, and 376 developed brain tumors. No link was found to aspartame consumption for their cancers in general or for specific types, according to Unhee Lim, who reported the study's findings. The dietary information was collected before the cancers developed, removing the possibility of "memory bias", a faulty recollection influenced by knowing you have a disease.


One potential hazard of aspartame use is that thinking calories "saved" from using a sugar substitute justify "spending" more on unhealthy foods.


Sources: www.cancer.gov/cancertopicsfactsheet/Risk/artificialsweeteners