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Aspartame: This Artificial Sweetener Produces Cancer in Rats

Story at-a-glance -

  • The artificial sweetener aspartame (Nutrasweet) was found to induce cancer in both mice and rats
  • Past studies have also concluded aspartame is carcinogenic, and its toxic effects increase if exposure begins in the womb
  • There are over 900 published studies on the health hazards of aspartame

By Dr. Mercola

Aspartame, also known as Nutrasweet, is an artificial sweetener used in more than 6,000 products. Experiments conducted on rats have already shown that it is capable of inducing cancer in multiple body regions, and its carcinogenic effects are increased when exposure begins in the womb.

A new study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which treated six groups of mice with aspartame from before their birth until their deaths, also found that this toxic artificial sweetener induces cancers of the liver and lungs in male mice. 

So if you're one of the millions who are still consuming this toxin -- it's a prominent artificial sweetener in diet sodas and thousands of other sugar-free foods and beverages -- be aware that doing so could be putting your health at risk. This is exactly why Victoria Innes-Brown, who was concerned for family members who were consuming large amounts of aspartame, particularly diet sodas, took the next step to prove to them just how toxic aspartame may actually be in an article we previously posted.

Private Study Finds Aspartame Leads to Huge Tumors...

Over a 2.5-year period, Innes-Brown performed a set of meticulous and detailed animal experiments, documenting the horrific effects of using aspartame liquid comparable to diet soda. She has done us all a great favor by publishing the findings of her private experiments, as she provides visual documentation of the detrimental health effects of aspartame.

Victoria first raised a total of 108 rats. Sixty of them, 30 males and 30 females, were used as the experimental group. The remaining 48 rats, 24 males and 24 females, were used as controls. Since she's not a food manufacturer, she wasn't able to purchase pure aspartame, which is typically what researchers would use for their studies. Instead, she put NutraSweet, in a daily dose comparable to 14 cans of diet soda per day for the females, and 13 cans for the males, directly into the water of the aspartame group.

Although that sounds like an awful lot, this amount is within the acceptable daily intake (ADI), which was set at 50 mg per kilogram by the FDA. It's also within the range of what some people actually consume daily.

After feeding the rats NutraSweet daily for 30 months, a whopping 67 percent of the female rats developed tumors the size of golf balls or larger! Some of the tumors were the size of the palm of her hand. Twenty-one percent of the males on aspartame developed tumors.

You can view the photos for yourself here

A Long History of Carcinogenicity

This may be the first that you're hearing about aspartame's cancer-causing potential, but it's been well known in the research community for some time. Now well-known aspartame researcher Dr. Soffritti with The Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center of the European Ramazzini Foundation, performed two controlled aspartame safety studies on rats, so far, in which the rats are observed over the course of their natural lifetime.

In the first study, they found that after being fed the human equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day, the rats developed high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers. At the highest dose level, 25 percent of the female rats developed lymphomas and leukemias compared with just 8.7 percent of the controls.

His findings, which raised a firestorm of controversy and denial across the world, were published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2006. The researchers determined that the carcinogenic effect of aspartame was as low as 400 parts per million (ppm), concluding that:

"The results of this mega-experiment indicate that APM [aspartame] is a multipotential carcinogenic agent, even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, much less than the current acceptable daily intake. On the basis of these results, a reevaluation of the present guidelines on the use and consumption of APM is urgent and cannot be delayed."

In 2007, the Ramanizzi Foundation published a follow-up study again flagging the link between cancer and aspartame, and highlighting the troubling discovery that when the exposure begins in the womb, aspartame's carcinogenic effect is further increased. This can serve as a powerful motivational tool for those who are currently addicted to aspartame and would like to stop consuming it, particularly if you're a woman who is pregnant.

Cancer is Not the Only Concern …

Aspartame is metabolized inside your body into wood alcohol, methanol, which is a poison, and formaldehyde, which is used to embalm tissue. Since it is not eliminated from your body through the normal waste filtering done by your liver and kidneys it can increase your risk of cancer.

If this isn't enough to give you a bad taste in your mouth, aspartame is composed of three ingredients -- two amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid) and a methyl ester bond. In typical proteins like meat, fish or eggs, phenylalanine and aspartic acid comprise 4-5 percent each of the total amino acid profile. This is how nature intends the human body to encounter these two amino acids and there is nothing wrong with these substances if they occur naturally in a proper balance with other amino acids.

But in aspartame the ratio of these two amino acids is 50 percent phenylalanine and 40 percent aspartic acid (with 10 percent methyl ester bond, aka wood alcohol). In other words, on a percentage basis this is a massive quantity of two unnaturally isolated amino acids that are simply not found in this ratio in nature, bonded together by a known poison.

The result of this chemical cocktail is a sweet tasting neurotoxin.

As a result of its unnatural structure, your body processes the amino acids found in aspartame very differently from a steak or a piece of fish. The amino acids in aspartame literally attack your cells, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to attack your brain cells, creating a toxic cellular overstimulation, called excitotoxicity. MSG is also an excitotoxin, and works synergistically with aspartame to create even more damage to your brain cells.

There are over 900 published studies on the health hazards of aspartame.

You can find out more in my comprehensive book, Sweet Deception, as well as in the outstanding book by H.J. Roberts, Aspartame Disease – An Ignored Epidemic.  To add insult to injury, if you're drinking aspartame-sweetened sodas because you think they'll keep you thin -- surprise!  This is not true at all …

In fact, according to research, aspartame actually contributes to weight gain as opposed to weight loss … The assumption is that because aspartame doesn't contain the calories sugar does, you lose weight, but the exact opposite appears to be true in the case of aspartame. Studies have found people actually gain more weight consuming aspartame than people consuming regular sugar! Most likely, this is because weight is regulated by insulin and leptin, and aspartame negatively affects both of these hormones.

Regular Soda (i.e. Fructose) Consumption May Also Fuel Cancer...

I believe that artificial sweeteners are worse for you than most sugars. The only exception would be large doses of fructose, which are likely more toxic than artificial sweeteners if consumed over long periods of time.

One feature of cancer cells is aberrant glycosylation, which can be affected by the availability and composition of sugars in your body. Recent studies of human breast tumor cells have indicated that they tend to take up and utilize fructose. A recent study tested the hypothesis that fructose can induce changes in human breast tumor cells that are associated with the spread of the disease. The researchers observed changes in such features as migration, adhesion and invasion.

According to the study in the International Journal of Oncology:

"Fructose accelerated cellular migration and increased invasion ... These data could be of fundamental importance due to the markedly increased consumption of sweeteners containing free fructose in recent years, as they suggest that the presence of fructose in nutritional microenvironment of tumor cells may negatively affect the outcome for some breast cancer patients."

Keep in mind that fructose is present not only in high-fructose corn syrup, but also in agave, honey, fruit juice and virtually all processed foods. As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, although for most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose if you drink beverages other than water and eat processed food.

In light of the fact that no one wants to get cancer, and rising cancer rates are driving related costs through the roof, to the point that they're becoming unsustainable, it makes perfect sense to eliminate as many potential carcinogens from your diet as possible, including both aspartame and excess fructose.

Are There Options for Healthy Sweeteners?

For a thorough review of which sweeteners are the best, and the worst, for your health, be sure to read The 4 Best, and 3 Worst, Sweeteners to Have in Your Kitchen. Needless to say, both aspartame and fructose top the list of the absolute worst sweeteners you can consume.

As for alternatives, there are two that I recommend:

  1. Stevia: I believe this herb is the best sweetener available today. It's a safe, natural plant that's has been around for over 1,500 years and research suggests it may actually have some beneficial properties, as a new study revealed that diabetic rats given stevia had a delayed but significant decrease in blood glucose level, without producing hypoglycemia, while also demonstrating a loss in body weight.

    I prefer to use it in its liquid form in flavors like English Toffee and French Vanilla (it only require a few drops to sweeten a drink). That said, like most choices, especially sweeteners, I recommend using it in moderation, just like sugar.

  2. Pure Glucose (dextrose): Glucose can be used directly by every cell in your body and as such is far safer than the metabolic poison fructose. You can buy pure glucose (dextrose) as a sweetener for about $1 a pound. It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you'll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness, making it slightly more expensive than sucrose—but still well worth it for your health as it has ZERO grams of fructose.

Report Your Aspartame Reactions!

If you've had a bad experience with aspartame, you may be able to influence the withdrawal of this toxin by reporting it to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When it comes to side effects from drugs and vaccines, a mere 1 to 4 percent of all adverse events are reported, which leads me to think that reports of adverse reactions from other FDA-regulated products, such as aspartame, are likely even lower.

In order to truly alert the FDA to a problem with a product they've approved, and prompt regulatory change, 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, to report it to the FDA. Please go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page and find the phone number listed for your state to report your adverse reaction.