The Health Risks of Aspartame in Diet Foods
Coca cola will be launching their new ad campaign defending the safety of Aspartame (Nutrasweet) in its diet soft drinks. Coca cola claims there are over 200 studies supporting the safety of this artificial sweetener, claiming there is no link with cancer, obesity or serious health effects.
The safety of artificial sweeteners has been a long term debate. There are studies that demonstrate a link between the sweeteners and cancer. There are also many studies that show there is no link. When I reviewed the research from Pubmed and Medline, I too was surprised at the lack of scientific research showing a link between Aspartame and cancer.
Thousands of people have reported adverse reactions, yet the FDA says it is safe. 70-80% of health complaints to the FDA involve products containing artificial sweeteners.
So the debate continues. I will outline some of the research that shows the health effects of aspartame, as well as outline some of the clinical health symptoms reported by thousands of people. Some of the clinical symptoms reported include:
- Increased platelet count
These symptoms went away when aspartame was removed from the person’s diet.
Quoting directly from the following website:
Here are just some of the few health effects attributed to aspartame use:
- Damage to the retina or optic nerves is largely due to methyl alcohol exposure. Unlike most animals, humans cannot efficiently metabolize it.
- High concentrations of phenylalanine and aspartic acid occur in the brain after aspartame intake
- Aspartame alters the function of major amino acid-derived neurotransmitters, especially in obese persons and after carbohydrate intake.
- Phenylalanine stimulates the release of insulin and growth hormone.
- The ambiguous signals to the satiety center following aspartame intake may result either in increased food consumption or severe anorexia.
In 2007, Researchers from Italy found Aspartame increased the risk of lymphoma, leukemia and mammary cancers in rats. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Soffritti+et+al+lifespan+exposure+to+low+dose+aspartame+beginning+during+prenatal+life)
That same year, another study was conducted, one of the largest and most comprehensive, that concluded Aspartame was safe. However, this latter study was funded by the same company that manufactures Aspartame.
Since then numerous studies and reviews of studies conclude Aspartame is not linked to cancer. Some of the studies I have found that do find a link are as follows. It is interesting to note that it was very difficult to find studies that conclude a negative health effect of aspartame. It was much easier to find studies showing no correlation.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20886530 Aspartame administered in feed, beginning prenatally through life span, induces cancers of the liver and lung in male Swiss mice.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18495230 Artifical sweetner consumption and urinary tract tumors in Cordoba, Argentina
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17354619 The Effects of Aspartame administration on oncogen and suppressor gene expressions.
- The potential Toxity of Artificial Sweeteners
If you take a purely research based standpoint, the evidence seems to say Aspartame is safe. However, as a Naturopathic Doctor I cannot conclude that is it safe. I do not use artificial sweeteners. It is my opinion that these chemical sweeteners have long term health risks, many we may not have identified yet. What I can say from the research is:
1. Aspartame in the large quantities being consumed today may have some long term health effects that we do not have research for, YET!
2. Susceptible populations should especially be careful ingesting artificial sweeteners. These include:
- Diabetics. There is some research that shows Aspartame may increase blood glucose and affect insulin metabolism. Diabetics often consume many products with aspartame which increases their daily intake of this chemical.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid Aspartame as animal studies do indicate fetal exposure has been linked to cancer and neurological problems.
- Individuals with low seizure threshold should avoid Aspartame as it can increase the risk of having a seizure
- There is numerous clinical patient reports showing a link between aspartame and migraine headaches.
- A study at the University of Texas found people who drink diet soft drinks actually gain weight: a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can of diet soft drink a person consumes each day. Some soft drink studies do suggest that diet drinks stimulate appetite.
Because of the evidence I see, I choose to avoid Aspartame. We are bombarded by chemicals everyday. If we can avoid putting more chemicals into our body, we are moving in the right direction for our health and preventing disease. I enjoy Stevia. It is a natural sweetner made from the leaves of the Stevia plant. My favorite brand of carbonated beverage is Zevia, who uses Stevia as a natural sweetner.
I have always been an advocate of preventative health. Avoid chemicals, choose natural and organic when you can. Avoid artificial sweeteners and focus on nutrient rich, whole foods.
Yours in Health,
Dr Tasreen Alibhai, ND