Aspartame Not Today, Not Ever
What your parents ate – and breathed in, drank, did and felt – caused subtle chemical changes that affected their genetic material. So you inherited their modified DNA, not the DNA they inherited from your grandparents. That means, for example, that even if your grandparents did not have a problem with lipids, you parent’s lifestyle may have altered that before they sent it on to you.
For that reason among so many others, it is very important to know what you take into your body – especially if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
The two most powerful agents for negative influence on genetic structure are stress and environmental toxins, and one of the most controversial of the latter is aspartame, a non-nutritive artificial sweetener marketed as NutraSweet and Equal.
Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener on earth. At least 5,000 products that people consume routinely throughout their lifetimes and often in large quantity, like Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke – and some Jell-O, yoghurt, chewing gum, cereals, fruit spreads, maple syrup, barbecue sauce, supplements, jams, jellies and ketchup, among the many thousands of other food items containing aspartame – are routinely consumed by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
So what is the problem? Aspartame is approved by the FDA as safe if you consume no more than 50 mg/kg of body weight per day. But food manufacturers are not required to show how much aspartame is in a product so you don’t know how much you’re consuming. Defenders point to the fact that aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar so you don’t need much to sweeten a lot of the food you eat each day. For example, the average can of diet soda contains about 180 milligrams so you would need to consume a lot of aspartame to reach 50 mg/kg.
But does anyone know that 50 mg is safe? The early studies, funded by the industry, did not follow animals throughout a lifetime of consumption. And how does aspartame interact in different human environments? And how many milligrams of aspartame is safe for a developing fetus? And could it be more dangerous at low levels, as BPA has proved to be? And does it in fact cause cancer?
Although scientists don’t yet have definitive answers to all these questions, the link between aspartame and cancers, deleterious side effects and allergies is highly suggestive to some and absolutely convincing to others. So I decided to find out how aspartame acts once inside a body. That way, I thought, readers could decide whether they want to include any at all in the diet.
I turned to Lisa Lefferts, Senior Scientist at the influential, effective Washington D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.
CSPI – Aspartame Causes Cancer
“Three independent studies found that aspartame causes cancer, and therefore in our view it should not be allowed in the food supply,” Ms. Lefferts told me. “Aspartame was approved in the early 1980s, and approval was based on industry-funded studies that do not meet current standards. The independent studies showing it causes cancer are superior to the earlier industry studies since they are more powerful and use more sensitive protocols that test over the animal’s lifetime.
“In fact, because aspartame caused cancer in three studies, two species and many sites in the body, I am confident in saying that aspartame causes cancer in animals, and is possibly or probably carcinogenic in humans.
“While the mechanism is not known, here is one hypothesis. Aspartame is metabolized in the body into two amino acids plus methanol. Methanol eventually becomes formaldehyde in the body – a reactive compound that is a known human carcinogen. One large study in people did not show a connection between aspartame and cancer, but there is almost no way the study could have picked up any cancers, considering the weak design; for example, it studied only older adults.
“We are very concerned about exposure to aspartame starting early in life,” Ms. Lefferts continued. “Also, there is some evidence that aspartame can cause headaches in some people. My advice? Keep away from aspartame – as well as from too much sugar and high fructose corn syrup.”
Aspartame was once owned by Monsanto and Dow, the chemical companies. Now, as NutraSweet, aspartame is the property of J.W. Childs, a Massachusetts private equity firm.
Aspartame in Milk?
Childs’ dazzling earnings from NutraSweet may soon increase by orders of magnitude. In May 2013 the Food and Drug Administration closed the consultation period on the dairy industry’s petition to stop using the term “reduced calorie” on chocolate milk and other dairy products that are artificially sweetened. In that case, people wouldn’t have any idea that the products were lower in calories and that the calorie content was reduced by virtue additives like aspartame. In light of the recent scandal involving some companies selling cartons labeled organic milk but containing milk that was not organic, it seems that supermarket dairy products may end up on the careful parent’s not today, not ever list. More information about how this turns out in later posts.
For more information …
Find comprehensive information about sweeteners and other additives at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Chemical Cuisine. Each entry is labeled to indicate CSPI’s calculation of risk. [Appears] Safe Cut Back Avoid Caution: May pose a risk; try to avoid and Caution: may trigger an acute allergic reaction, intolerance or other problems.
This is a comprehensive list. Warm thanks to Lisa Lefferts and CSPI for their generosity.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest Chemical Cuisine.
- Here is a link to a report of the recent studies showing that lifetime exposure of rats to aspartame — beginning in the womb — increased the incidence of having cancerous tumors by the time they died.
- The American Cancer Institute is unsure that aspartame may cause cancer. They do not comment on other effects.
- Aspartame in milk proposal to the FDA
- How aspartame is metabolized.
- Sugar alcohol – which is not the same as ethanol, the alcohol in alcoholic drinks – is derived from plants. Scientists say it is safer than artificial sweeteners.
- An Open Letter to FDA From 29 Organizations and Experts re: Dairy Products and Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Concerning the petition to allow the dairy industry to add non-nutritive sweeteners to milk and 17 other dairy products without the prominent front-label “nutrient content claims” currently required by FDA regulations — phrases like “reduced sugar” or “reduced calorie.”