Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size
A
A
A

Aspartame Safety Study Stirs Emotions

Italian Study Shows Sweetener Promotes Cancer in Rats; FDA Says It's Safe
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 26, 2007 -- Researchers and a scientific watchdog group are calling on regulators to take a new look at the safety of aspartame following a new study concluding that the popular sweetener promotes cancer in rats.

The study, published in a U.S. government journal, found increased rates of malignancies in animals fed aspartame throughout their lifespan. The product, which is the key ingredient in sweeteners including NutraSweet and Equal, is also used to sweeten thousands of food products and is widely used in diet soft drinks.

Aspartame first gained U.S. approval in 1981. Ever since, manufacturers have vigorously defended its safety. On Tuesday, an industry group blasted the study as flawed and warned it would needlessly alarm consumers.

But the Italy-based research team said their study shows that lifetime exposure of rats to aspartame -- beginning in the womb -- increased the incidence of having cancerous tumors by the time they died.

"We believe that a review of the current regulations governing the use of aspartame cannot be delayed," wrote researchers from the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences in Bologna. The study was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest followed the study with a call on the FDA to revisit its original approval of aspartame.

"Because aspartame is so widely consumed, it is urgent that the FDA evaluate whether aspartame still poses a 'reasonable certainty of no harm,' the standard used for gauging the safety of food additives," Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

"But consumers, particularly parents, shouldn't wait for the FDA to act. People shouldn't panic, but they should stop buying beverages and foods containing aspartame," he said.

Previous Study 'Reassuring'

A study published last year by the National Cancer Institute found no correlation between aspartame consumption and cancer growth in nearly 475,000 people. While the study was not designed to find a causal link between aspartame and cancer, Jacobson's group at the time said they were reassured that aspartame is safe for humans at typical amounts most people consume.

On Tuesday, Jacobson said that sense of reassurance was gone thanks to the latest Italian animal study.

"The previous study was reassuring but certainly not definitive," Jacobson tells WebMD. "I think the FDA needs to take a new look at this, and then we'll go from there."

Beth Hubrich, a spokeswoman for the industry group Calorie Control Council, criticizes the study's methods.

"This goes against the overwhelming scientific literature that aspartame is safe," she tells WebMD.

That was echoed by the FDA. Spokesman Michael Herndon says the agency was interested in reviewing the Italian study. But he says the results are "not consistent" with results from a large number of other studies evaluated by the agency.

"Therefore, at this time, FDA finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food," the statement says.

Jacobson argues that most of those studies left "question marks" because they were industry funded.

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
feet on scale
Blog
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
pantry
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens