Aspartame is a highly successful artificial sweetener invented in 1965 that is 200 times sweeter than ordinary sugar. Although it has enjoyed growing success in the U.S., the UK, and other markets over the past 10 years, it has also been the subject of claims that it is linked to various forms of cancer.  

The sweetener is marketed under the brand name NutraSweet and is found in a number of low-calorie or non-calorie drinks and foods. It is also packaged and sold in powder or tablet form as a sweetener for cold or hot beverages or for the use in food or baking recipes.

The manufacturer, NutraSweet AG, has always maintained that the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence does not link the product to malignant brain tumors or any other form of cancer. The company regards efforts to label the sweetener as a health risk as nothing more than “scare-mongering.”

Thus, the company maintains that it welcomes an upcoming three-year study by researchers from King’s College (London) which will examine whether there is any link between the product and an increased risk of developing malignant brain tumors.

Among other things, the researchers will look at whether people with certain genetic make-ups are susceptible to methanol, a component of aspartame, which some research has suggested may attack DNA and cause cells to mutate and cause cancer.

On a different front, however, BBC News is reporting that an Italian study involving rats, published in the European Journal of Clinical Oncology, demonstrated a potential cancer link.

In the study conducted at the Cancer Research Center in Bologna, eight-week-old rats were fed varying amounts of aspartame while the control group remained free of the product.

At the conclusion of the test period, the control rats were cancer-free while many of the female rats that were exposed to the sweetener developed lymphomas and leukemias. As the amount of aspartame increased, so did the risk.

As a result of their findings, the researchers believe their study raises questions concerning the level of aspartame-exposure that should prompt an urgent “re-examination” of the subject. The critical question is: How much aspartame can be consumed (in relation to a person’s weight) without any appreciable health risk?

Thus, further research is needed to determine if, and by how much, exceeding the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of aspartame needs to be before problems arise. Currently, the ADI far exceeds even a substantial diet of sugar-free drinks.

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