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Aspartame Widely Used

Aspartame is found in the low-calorie sweetener Equal and in many other sugar-free products under the brand name NutraSweet. It is the second best-selling nonsugar sweetener in the world.

Just last June, an Italian research group led by Morando Soffritti, MD, issued a warning that aspartame causes cancer in rats. As it did when the Soffritti group issued its first report, the CSPI petitioned the FDA to investigate aspartame. The FDA has declined to act.

Now the Burdock panel has reviewed every existing animal and human study of aspartame -- including a detailed analysis of the Italian group's findings. It finds many flaws in the Soffritti group's work.

"The [Soffritti] study had numerous methodological and interpretation errors," Magnuson said. "It provided no credible evidence that aspartame is carcinogenic."

Jacobson admits the study had flaws but says it raised nagging questions the panel dismissed, but did not answer.

Over the years, there have been suggestions that aspartame might cause brain tumors, brain damage, birth defects, headaches, and impaired cognitive function. The panel found no convincing evidence linking aspartame to these or other human health issues.

"The panel concludes aspartame is a well-characterized, high-intensity sweetener, thoroughly studied, with a long history of safe use in the food supply," Magnuson said. "We found no effect on cancer or neuronal function. Overall, we thought aspartame could reduce the caloric content of a wide variety of foods."

The panel's 100-page report appears in the September issue of Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

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