Beware of Aspartame

Aspartame May Get a Cancer Label 

Aspartame has received plenty of criticism for its negative health effects—which we detail below. But now, it’s in the news again as an advisory committee prepares to assess the chemical’s safety and decide whether or not it should require a cancer warning on the labels of products that contain it.Close up of a pile of granulated sugar and a heaping teaspoon of sugar on a wood surface

Cancer and Proposition 65—The Facts

Proposition 65 was passed into California state law in 1986. Under proposition 65, food manufacturers must add the warning “known by the state of California to cause cancer.” Aspartame is now being reviewed by California’s Carcinogenic Identification Committee (CIC) to see if it falls under proposition 65 jurisdiction as a carcinogen.

Aspartame research has been conducted by the aspartame industry and by independent sources. Not surprisingly, most of the research that highlights aspartame’s safety is industry funded, while the research that points to its adverse health effects, including its cancer-causing properties, is funded by independent sources.

We will have to wait until after the November meeting to see if aspartame gets slammed with the carcinogen label, but until then, here’s what you should know.

Aspartame is Widely Used

When you think of artificial sweeteners, you might think first of diet soda. But Aspartame, which is sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®, isn’t just in diet sodas. According to the Drug Information and Side Effects Database, aspartame lurks in chewing gum, frozen desserts, condiments, ice tea, and vegetable drinks. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are in more than 6000 different processed foodstuffs. Aspartame even makes an appearance in over-the-counter and prescription drugs!

Aspartame has been implicated as the cause of health conditions such as:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • digestive troubles
  • mood fluctuations
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • birth defects
  • diabetes
  • attention deficit disorders
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • lupus
  • multiple sclerosis
  • seizures

The Cancer-Causing Element in Aspartame

Aspartame contains the wood alcohol methanol. Now, when methanol is present in whole foods, such as overly ripe vegetables or fruit, it’s securely attached to pectin and passes through your body without damaging cells. However, the methanol in aspartame is weakly attached to phenylalanine, and very easily unbinds during digestion. Your body then converts the methanol into formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin…the very same that’s used in embalming fluid!

sugar-packets_mediumMany studies examining the link between aspartame and cancer have been animal based. But animals and humans do not process aspartame in the same way. Animals are able to transform poisonous formaldehyde into neutral formic acid, but humans lack this ability. Formaldehyde stays formaldehyde within the human body. Even with these protective mechanisms, low doses of aspartame have still been shown to give rise to cancer in animal models.

The famous Nurse’s Health Study made up of over 120,000 people over 22 years showed a strong link between aspartame and cancer before references to aspartame were eliminated from study results. Data revealed that one can of soda a day increased leukemia risk by 42%, multiple myeloma risk in men by 102%, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk in men by 31%.

Ongoing Controversy

Still, many agencies deny the link between aspartame and cancer. According to the American Cancer Society website, aspartame’s effects on health conditions such as cancer are “rumors” that “circulate on the internet.”

Let’s see what the CIC has to say, because a cancer label on products containing aspartame may be long overdue.