Aspartame – Real Concerns
Aspartame is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular artificial sweeteners. And next month, it is expected that the World Health Organization (WHO) will label aspartame as a possible human carcinogen. Yes, this is the artificial sweetener found in so many popular products, from Diet Coke to many sugarless gums and various other low-calorie foods. Concerns regarding its potential carcinogenic effects have been discussed for years. Though the overwhelming consensus from leading health and regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is that aspartame is safe for consumption, some studies have suggested potential links between aspartame and cancer.
One study that suggested the potential carcinogenic effects of aspartame was carried out by the European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF) in Italy. They conducted a series of long-term bioassays on rodents, which reported an increase in various forms of cancer, including leukemias, lymphomas, and malignant tumors in rats exposed to aspartame throughout their lives, starting from prenatal life. They reported a dose-related increase in these types of cancer, suggesting a potential risk to humans.
However, these studies received criticism due to their methodology, including the fact that rodents were exposed to aspartame until their natural death, potentially exaggerating the incidence of tumors. Also, a difference in rat physiology may not accurately reflect the potential impact on human health.
In contrast to these findings, several large epidemiological studies have examined the relationship between aspartame and cancer in humans, with mixed results. Some studies suggested a potential association between aspartame and increased risk of hematopoietic cancers (such as lymphomas and leukemias) and brain tumors. However, these studies were observational in nature, and therefore, cannot establish a direct cause-effect relationship. Furthermore, other factors such as diet, lifestyle, and environmental exposures might have influenced these outcomes.
It’s also worth noting that in vitro experiments, where cells are exposed to aspartame, showed potential DNA-damaging effects. It is suggested that the metabolite methanol, produced when aspartame is broken down in the body, could be converted into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. However, it is unclear whether the levels of methanol produced from aspartame consumption are significant enough to cause harm.
Moreover, most studies in humans have not found any consistent evidence that aspartame increases the risk of cancer. The National Cancer Institute conducted a study involving over half a million people and found no increased risk of lymphomas, leukemias, or brain tumors in those who consumed aspartame.
My conclusion, based on these and other studies, is that aspartame needs to be off the table. I’m certain that the WHO labored long and hard before making the decision to issue this warning. And I side with them.