Is aspartame hazardous to our health? This question has been hotly debated for nearly fifty years.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a thorough review of the artificial sweetener. Their conclusion, after analyzing 154 studies, was that it’s perfectly safe. In some experts’ eyes, this put an end to the matter once and for all.
But what they didn’t count on is the two academics who would dig deeper into the published literature and have come out with a blistering attack on the way the EFSA conducted their investigation into aspartame safety.
Aspartame is known under the brand names of Nutrasweet, Equal and Sugar Twin. You’ll find it frequently in diet soda, sugar-free ice cream, reduced-calorie fruit juice, chewing gum, yogurt, sugarless candy, and many more products.
Of course, all of these products are marketed as better for your health because they don’t contain blood sugar-boosting refined sugars. I’ve always doubted that claim and firmly believe that most man-made chemicals are dangerous and have no place in our food. I’m not alone.
Neurological Problems… a Probable “Medical Disaster”
Before it was approved as a sweetener by the FDA in 1981, independent scientists raised objections, saying aspartame could cause mental disabilities, brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders. Despite the gravity of their claims, their concerns were discounted.
Further research published by Dr. H.J. Roberts linked aspartame to headache, seizures, confusion, depression, and even the probable acceleration of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as brain cancers.
Dr. Roberts wrote in the leading medical journal The Lancet in 1997: “I believe that our society faces a preventable medical disaster if aspartame products are not promptly removed from public use.”
FDA toxicologist Dr. Adrian Gross agreed, testifying before Congress that aspartame causes brain tumors. Other scientists continued to express major concerns about its safety, so a meticulous review of all the available evidence like the one performed by the EFSA was long overdue.
Until recently, some experts trusted the EFSA report, calling it definitive. Then last year, Professor Erik Millstone and Dr. Elisabeth Dawson from the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex in England set about examining the EFSA findings in detail. Their response was scathing and published in Archives of Public Health in July.
Favors Industry Interests Over Consumers
The EFSA looked at 81 positive aspartame studies that considered it safe and 73 negative aspartame studies indicating possible harm. Yet while 84 percent of the positive studies were deemed useful and dependable, every single study that questioned the safety of aspartame – all 73 – were considered unreliable. What a red flag!
Drs. Millstone and Dawson tore into the report, starting with the favorable studies that researchers described as dependable. They pointed to “numerous shortcomings” in those studies. In some, the faults were so bad, other experts regarded them as “worthless” and “woefully inadequate.”
Even more disheartening, among the 73 studies showing aspartame in a negative light, the shortcomings were often fewer and less serious than in the studies showing aspartame in a positive light.
Summing up these findings Drs. Millstone and Dawson said,”Very demanding criteria” were required for studies that found aspartame harmful yet “lax and forgiving criteria” were applied to the reliability of positive studies.
They continued, “This asymmetry favored commercial and industrial interests over the protection of consumers.”
“Not Acceptably Safe”
Dr. Millstone, in a separate statement, said that if consistency had been applied to the way the panel evaluated all the studies “they would have been obliged to conclude there was sufficient evidence to indicate aspartame is not acceptably safe.”
He went on to say that the chemical’s use should be suspended pending a thorough re-examination of all the evidence, which, unlike the EFSA meetings, should be transparent, not held behind closed doors.
The University of Sussex paper was backed up by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University of London, who made a wider point regarding commercial interests.
“The global health advice is to reduce sugar intake, yet much of the food industry – especially soft drinks – maintains the sweetness by substituting artificial sweeteners. Drs. Millstone and Dawson help expose that strategy for what it is, a continued sweetening of the world’s diet.”
Sure Looks Like a Coverup
I have to agree. The EFSA report certainly smells and calls to mind the many coverups I’ve seen in the years I’ve spent investigating natural and alternative health therapies.
The reality is, many researchers and scientific institutions put profit before patients. I’m always grateful to the scientists like Drs. Millstone and Dawson who refuse to tow the company line and set out to uncover the truth for the common good. We need more folks like this in health sciences.
Their research only drives home my recommendation that people eat most of their food and drink in its natural state, with as little processing as possible. Even a little real sugar is better than dangerous chemical sweeteners like aspartame.
If you’re someone who suffers from high blood sugar or diabetes and has to avoid real sugar, consider safer sweeteners like stevia, xylitol or a little all-natural agave.