Aspartame is an artificial sweetener common in food that has been surrounded by controversial claims that it possess a significant threat and should not be consumed. According to a recent report by the European Food Safety Authority, sufficient evidence does not exist to connect aspartame to the various adverse health effects that are so popularly attributed it.
Aspartame has been used in food under names like Equal and NutraSweet for a quarter of a century and has been shrouded in claims that it contributes to many major maladies for just as long. Accusation of causation have been attributed to aspartame for everything from epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes to migraines, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and the list goes on. These assertions have endured despite its continued use. There have even been accusations of a coverup by the FDA meant to keep the truth about the adverse health effects of aspartame under wraps.
Despite the seemingly terrifying consequences of ingesting the artificial sweetener, it is continued to be used, and based on the report from the European Food this is due to the fact that there is a large amount of reputable evidence that shows no adverse effects have been connected to aspartame in any statistically significant way.
The Evidence Provided by the FDA
David G. Hattan, Ph.D. has worked for the FDA since the 1970’s and is the current acting director of the Division of Health Effects Evaluation. He has had extensive exposure to the literature and circulating claims surrounding aspartame since before the sweetener was approved for consumption by the FDA in 1981. He reports that prior to its approval, there were more than 100 studies conducted that had established the safety of the food additive. There have been numerous follow up studies that continue to uphold these findings in the interim since its approval.
There are also several reviews of the investigative studies available, including one from 2007 that examined more than 500 studies on the potential dangers of the artificial sweetener. The report filled 100 pages with evidence collected from 90 countries, using 6000 products that was then examined by a panel of experts from 10 universities located in multiple countries. The conclusive results were that even with high levels of intake there were no links between aspartame and cancer, neurological damage or any other threats to the health of the general population.
The Potential Dangers the FDA has Deemed More Plausible
Studies have revealed that while the artificial sweetener may not be a threat to most people’s health, aspartame cannot be consumed by everyone. A study from 1985 discusses the overall safety of aspartame consumption save for a very small portion of the population, roughly one in 16,000 people, who have a metabolic disorder known as phenylketonurics (PKU). Individuals with PKU are required to be especially mindful of their ingestion of phenylalanine, which aspartame contains. However, many foods contain phenylalanine, often in much higher concentrations, so this threat is not specific to aspartame. The threat is relevant enough that foods are labeled as containing aspartame to help individuals with PKU identify the presence of phenylalanine.
Other dangers cited include concerns that aspartame contains methanol, aspartic acid and formaldehyde, all of which can be extremely poisonous in high concentrations. They are also found readily in small, safe amounts in many foods. Citrus foods such as tomatoes and many juices contain more methanol than aspartame, though, and these are regularly consumed without any hype or controversy. It is possible that aspartic acid could cause brain damage if too much was consumed, but since the average daily consumption of aspartame stays between four and seven percent of the daily allotted amount, overdose on this substance is not likely and would remain a fringe phenomenon, statistically speaking.
Many in the scientific community accuse those who speak out against aspartame consumption of fear mongering. The anti-artificial sweetener advocates have also been accused of “cherry picking” data from the numerous studies on the topic to suit their agenda. Those with first hand experience on the subject, like Hattan, insist that the body of credible evidence is overwhelmingly in agreement that the artificial sweetener aspartame is not a health threat. Each accusation has not only been tested and refuted, but the tests have been replicated and the findings have been upheld.
By Vanessa Blanchard