Does this common sweetener cause cancer, weight gain and make your urine glow in the dark… even if there’s just a little bit of truth to the claims, you need to know. So what’s the truth about aspartame, the whole truth about aspartame and nothing but the truth about aspartame? Read on, to find out!
The Truth About Aspartame and Cancer
A common claim in alternative health circles is that aspartame causes cancer. But is there any truth to this and where does the idea that aspartame causes cancer come from?
Like so much else regrettable, the answer lies in the 1980s.
The 1980s were the era of diet coke, Jane Fonda’s workout and low-cal sweetener. They were also the decade when diagnosis of brain cancers seemed to rise.
This caused speculation that aspartame – the sugar substitute 200 times sweeter than sucrose – was to blame.
But there was little reputable research to support this speculation.
Then studies published by the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences in 2006 and 2007 found that rats who had been fed aspartame as a regular part of their diet, developed more blood cancers than rats that had not been fed aspartame.
The researchers recommended that research into the safety of aspartame for human consumption should be carried out urgently.
The Truth About Aspartame Research
A massive study of half a million people was carried out by the US National Cancer Institute, looking at people who drank drinks sweetened with aspartame versus those who didn’t.
This study found that the people who consumed aspartame were no more likely to develop blood cancers or brain cancer, than those who didn’t.
In 2013 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out a review of the research published so far looking at the link between aspartame and cancers in humans. It found that aspartame was safe for human consumption – even for children and pregnant women.
If you’re the type of person who is convinced that doctors are hiding the truth about cancer, then this is unlikely to change your mind. Whatever the real truth about aspartame may be, you know it already.
In which case, no amount of research will convince you otherwise. But if believe that most scientists are working in good faith, then the weight of research overwhelmingly suggests that the truth about aspartame is that it’s fine for humans to consume within the recommended limits.
So If That’s The Truth About Aspartame… How Do You Explain The Italian Cancer Rats?
A working group of food scientists from the EFSA’s snappily named Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), believe that the blood cancers the rats developed may have been caused by respiratory disease.
They think that this was unrelated to the rats’ diet.
Rats in laboratories often develop infectious diseases. Humans tend to pick up bugs when they’re cramped into shared living spaces. Lab rats are no different. The rats used in research live in conditions in which pathogens can easily circulate. They’re kept indoors, in cages, often around other rats. It’s easy to see how disease can spread in those circumstances.
The rats in the study were fed with varying doses of aspartame. But the amount of aspartame each rat received didn’t seem to effect the likelihood that the rats would develop tumors.
If the aspartame was causing the cancers, you would usually expect that the more aspartame the rats were exposed to the higher the chance of their developing a tumor.
As this was not the case, it seems that other factors were at play.
The AFC scientists also looked at changes to the kidneys of rats who had been fed aspartame. But they concluded that any kidney damage was probably specific to rats.
And as of yet, no-one has demonstrated a relationship between aspartame and human kidney health.
Why Can Human Kidneys Handle Aspartame If Rat Kidneys Can’t?
Animal studies are an important way for scientists to find out more about the way different substances effect the living organisms. But they can’t tell us everything.
Clearly, rats are not just scaled down humans. Their organ structures are very similar to human organs, but modern-day rats and humans last shared a common ancestor in the late-cretaceous era… 75 million years ago.
Any pet owner who has watched their dog eat literal shit off the sidewalk can tell you that substances that are poisonous to humans are not always poisonous to other animals
Similarly substances that are perfectly safe for humans to consume, can be deadly for other species.
It’s why you can eat blue cheese on a poppy seed bagel, but your pet rat can’t.
Humans and rats have spent 75 million years on different evolutionary pathways, eating different diets and occupying different ecological niches.
Studies on animals in the controlled confines of the lab can only be the first step in understanding the complexity of human health in our very much uncontrolled day-to-day environments.
But What’s The Truth About Aspartame And Brain Cancers?
The link between aspartame and brain cancer was investigated very seriously in the 1980s and 1990s.
Diagnosis of brain cancers did rise. And aspartame was a shiny new factor that hadn’t been a feature of human diets before the 1980s.
However, when researchers began to dig more deeply into the relationship they found that aspartame most likely wasn’t the culprit.
Diagnosis of brain cancers had started to rise from the mid-1970s onwards. This was before aspartame sweeteners became approved for commercial use in the USA and Europe.
And while diagnosis of brain cancers was on the rise, incidence of brain cancers may have been the same as before.
Better diagnostic technologies, like MRI scanners, made it possible to identify brain tumors at an earlier stage. The fact that people were living longer in generally, also made it more likely that people would live long enough to develop these cancers in the first place.
Cancer is primarily a disease of old age. Although younger people do develop cancer, most cancers effect older age groups.
If you live long enough, you’re very likely to develop cancer… because aging sucks.
But based on the past three decades of research, there does not seem to be a link between aspartame and brain cancer in humans.
The truth about aspartame has been pretty much established. The link between the Jane Fonda workout and brain cancer, on the other hand, is yet to be investigated.