Is aspartame safe, and what are the health risks?

If you’re obsessed with the cutting edge developments in human health and nutrition like we are, you may have heard that the common artificial sweetener aspartame has recently been declared a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Statements similar to this one made by the WHO often lead to a lot of confusion, leaving consumers frantic with questions about whether our health is at risk. What is aspartame, how is it used, and how high is the risk? And what exactly does ‘possibly carcinogenic’ mean???

As mentioned, aspartame is a common artificial sweetener found in many low-calorie desserts and drinks. According to aspartame has been a part of the food industry since 1981, after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and deemed safe for use in food products. According to the FDA, before the safety of aspartame was approved more than 100 studies on the possible toxic effects of the artificial sweetener were reviewed. These studies were designed to identify the possible toxic effects the aspartame could have on our reproductive and nervous systems, carcinogenicity and metabolism. 

Put simply, The National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute defines a carcinogen “as any substance that causes cancer”. According to concerns about aspartame being carcinogenic have been around for many years. These concerns are believed to stem from research done on rats in the late 2000’s. Unfortunately, the results of this research study had many limitations which made the data difficult to interpret which brought into question the validity of the study. Similarly, studies conducted on people have not been consistent; some studies suggested a possible link, but others have not.

The key words to understand in the statement released by the WHO is ‘possibly carcinogenic’. What this means is: although there is some evidence which suggests it may be carcinogenic, it is far from conclusive. 

To put things into context the flavor of aspartame is believed to be up to 200 times stronger than that of regular cane sugar. This means that when you do consume aspartame it is in a very small dosage, reducing the potential risks of the artificial sweetener. Furthermore, the quantity of aspartame found in foods for sale is regulated by the FDA to ensure the safety of the public. 

In conclusion, as with the recent discussion on whether Erythritol is bad for you, we don’t have a very satisfactory ‘yes or no’ answer as to whether aspartame should be in your diet. We will all have to try to interpret the available data as best as possible, and make our own daily consumption decisions.

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