Eating Foods Laced with Aspartame? It Could be Slowly and Silently Harming You

artificial sweetenerAspartame, an artificial sweetener also known as NutraSweet or Equal, is used in more than 6,000 products. Research has shown that aspartame is a carcinogenic agent, and that its effects are increased when exposure starts before birth.

A new study looked at the effect of giving aspartame to mice. They were exposed to aspartame starting before their births (at 12 days of gestation) and lasting until their deaths. At that time, autopsies revealed a significantly increased risk of liver and lung cancer.

According to the study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine:

"The results of the present study confirm that [aspartame] is a carcinogenic agent in multiple sites in rodents, and that this effect is induced in two species, rats (males and females) and mice (males)."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I've been warning readers about the health hazards of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame for over a decade now, and a few dedicated researchers who are still hard at work evaluating its safety keep confirming our worst fears...

As I've discussed before, if it wasn't for the heavy-handed political wrangling that occurred, aspartame probably would never have been approved for use in food in the first place—the science was so poor that G.D. Searle was even accused of scientific fraud.

For more details on the story of how aspartame made it through the FDA approval process despite all the warning signs of potential health hazards, watch the original Mike Wallace's 60-Minutes report on aspartame, as he does a nice job of summarizing an otherwise long story. Unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still to this day refuses to take another hard look at aspartame, and has continuously refuted any and all new studies suggesting it may be harmful. There are so many of these studies, I've created a dedicated page on my website to keep track of them all.

This latest study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine this month, will likely get the same brush-off as all the others, which makes spreading the word all the more important.

Many still assume that if something is FDA approved it "must be safe." But if history has told us anything--especially in light of the overwhelming number of dangerous drug recalls in the past few years--FDA approval doesn't necessarily equate to safety at all.

Aspartame AGAIN Shown to Be Carcinogenic

The latest study by the European Ramazzini Foundation (which is an independent cancer research facility) again confirms—for the third time—the carcinogenic potential of aspartame. In a previous study (which I'll review below), the team demonstrated that aspartame acts as a multipotent carcinogenic agent when fed to rats starting at the age of 8 weeks.

The aim of this study was to better determine the carcinogenic risk by feeding the sweetener to pregnant mice. Male and female mice thus received aspartame at various doses starting as early as 12 days of gestation (in utero) until they died a natural death. All their tissues and organs were then autopsied and microscopically examined.The results? The mice developed malignant cancers of the liver and lung.

The authors concluded:

"Aspartame in our experimental conditions induces in males a significant dose-related increased incidence of hepatocellular carcinomas [malignant liver cancer], and a significant increase at the dose levels of 32,000 ppm and 16,000 ppm. Moreover, the results show a significant dose-related increased incidence of alveolar/bronchiolar carcinomas [lung cancer] in males, and a significant increase at 32,000 ppm.

The results of the present study confirm that aspartame is a carcinogenic agent in multiple sites in rodents, and that this effect is induced in two species, rats (males and females) and mice (males). No carcinogenic effects were observed in female mice."

Previous Cancer Findings by the Ramazzini Foundation

Some people sneer at animal studies, but there are moral and ethical reasons for not doing toxicological studies on humans. Secondly, the human lifespan is so long that doing a controlled lifetime study on people would simply be unpractical.

Therefore, I don't think anyone should take these findings lightly, even though the studies were using "only" mice and rats. As stated earlier, Ramazzini Foundation's latest study (above) confirms their previous findings.In their 2005 study, rats fed the human equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day developed high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers. At the highest dose level, 25 percent of the female rats developed lymphomas-leukemias compared with just 8.7 percent of the controls.

In that study, the carcinogenic effect of aspartame was determined to be as low as 400 parts per million (ppm)—a fraction of the amounts administered in their latest study. The researchers stated that the carcinogenic effect on humans would therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 mg/kg of body weight, which is "much less than the current acceptable daily intake."

Based on the results from the 2005 study, the Ramazzini Foundation called for an urgent reevaluation of the guidelines on the use and consumption of aspartame. Not surprisingly, they drew massive criticism from the industry. But the Ramanizzi Foundation refused to be intimidated. reported the Foundation's rebuttal:

"… Prior long-term carcinogenesis studies on aspartame (4 total) were conducted over 20 years ago by the producers of the artificial sweetener using a small number of animals per sex per group. The results of these studies provided the basis for the current opinion regarding the non-carcinogenicity of aspartame.

In responding to the AFC panel comments, Soffritti noted that "what the panel considers shortcomings of the study are instead distinctive and positive characteristics of our research protocol, research which has provided the scientific basis for changes in international regulations numerous times over the last 30 years."

For instance, the European Ramazzini Foundation conducts what are known as lifespan mega-experiments, meaning that large groups of rodents are allowed to live out their natural lifespan and are examined for histopathological changes upon spontaneous death. This model is in contrast with most laboratories where rodents are sacrificed at 110 weeks of age (representing about 2/3 of the lifespan).

The Ramazzini study design closely mirrors the human condition in which persons may be exposed to agents in the industrial and general environments from embryonic life until natural death.

"Since 80% of cancer is diagnosed in humans over the age of 55, it is of paramount importance to observe how an agent affects laboratory animals in the last third of their lives", notes Soffritti."

These are valid points, and I believe the Ramanizzi Foundation's findings are further strengthened by the fact that it is an independent, non-profit institution that has been dedicated to cancer prevention for more than 35 years. They have no vested interest in aspartame either way. Their focus is on finding out what might cause cancer, and what doesn't.

Two years later, in 2007, the Ramanizzi Foundation published a follow-up study -- again flagging the link between cancer and aspartame.

This time, their research highlighted the troubling discovery that when the exposure begins in the womb, aspartame's carcinogenic effect is further increased. Again, the evidence was ignored by the FDA. Now we're looking at study number three from this independent research institution. Will these findings be ignored as well? Probably. Which is why you must become an informed consumer. The FDA simply refuses to address and properly investigate this potential health threat for you.

What You Need to Know about the Pro-Aspartame "Safety" Study

One of the most cited pieces of "evidence" allegedly demonstrating the safety of aspartame is the 2006 U.S. National Cancer Institute "study," which involved more than 560,000 people between the ages of 50 to 69. However, what they fail to tell you is that this was NOT a controlled study like the animal studies mentioned above.

In fact, it shouldn't even be called a study, because actual studies are controlled. It was just a SURVEY, based on food and beverage consumption surveys filled out between 1995 and '96. Based on these self-reported rough estimates of what the participants ate and drank, the researchers calculated the amount of aspartame participants had consumed, and compared it with subsequent cancer rates in the five years following.

How anyone can claim this as evidence of aspartame's safety is beyond me. Because aside from being a mere survey (which in no way can determine cause), there are two additional factors that make it exceedingly difficult to give it any credence whatsoever:

  1. In 1995 there were far fewer food products and beverages that contained aspartame, so consumption was likely FAR lower back then compared to today, and
  2. How many people – especially back then – actually read labels to determine whether or not something contained aspartame? After all, the old food surveys the researchers used were NOT specifically collected to ascertain aspartame consumption.

So, if you want to take the scientific route and draw conclusions based on scientific evidence, the 2006 U.S. National Cancer Institute "study" is NOT the way to go...

Aspartame Consumption During Pregnancy

I also want to address the issue of consuming aspartame during pregnancy, since the Ramazzini Foundation's latest study investigated the sweetener's carcinogenic potential when exposure starts in the womb. Here, we DO have additional evidence of detrimental effects on humans, as opposed to animals. Not for cancer, but for complications during pregnancy.

A Danish study published in June of this year--which included more than 59,000 Danish women—found that daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks may increase the risk of preterm delivery by as much as 78 percent! The researchers found that pregnant women who drank:

  • An average of one diet soda per day increased their risk of going into labor before the 37th week by 38 percent
  • Four or more diet sodas a day increased the risk of premature birth by 78 percent

No link was found between sugar-sweetened beverages and preterm delivery. It would seem extraordinarily prudent for ALL pregnant women to avoid any aspartame-containing foods and beverages, and I hope you will strongly warn all your pregnant friends and family members by sharing this information with them.

Not only may you risk preterm delivery (which can be extremely costly both in terms of money and health), aspartame consumption during pregnancy may also increase your child's risk for neurological problems, brain damage, retardation and mood disorders. There are at least 23 real studies to back up this warning, and you can review them all here. In all honesty, if you avoid smoking, alcohol and coffee during pregnancy, why on earth would you consume aspartame?

Have You Experienced a Bad Aspartame Reaction? Report it!

It's an unfortunate fact that only a fraction of all adverse reactions are ever reported. When it comes to side effects from drugs and vaccines, a mere 1 to 10 percent of all adverse events are reported, so it stands to reason that adverse reactions from other FDA-regulated products, such as aspartame, is likely minuscule. 

This is a problem that only you as the consumer can have an impact upon.

In order to alert the FDA to a problem with a product they've approved, they must be notified – by as many people who experience a problem as possible. So I urge you, if you experience side effects from aspartame, report it to the FDA. Please go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number listed for your state, and report your adverse reaction.

There's no telling just how many reports they might need before considering taking another look at the safety of aspartame or reconsidering their stance on the findings from more recent studies, but the only way to press them is by reporting any and all adverse effects.