You often hear talk about how artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are bad for you. That they cause cancer, birth deformities, holes in your brain and other horror stories. But is any of that true?
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is a sugar substitute or ‘artificial sweetener’ synthesized from aspartic acid. It’s usually sold under the brand names ‘Nutrasweet’ and ‘Equal’.
Over the last 30 years, it has become a permanent ingredient in diet sodas, sugar-free chewing gum, and other sugar free products. Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a chemist working for G.D. Searle & Co, while he was working on an antiulcer drug. Licking his finger (which had become contaminated with aspartame) to turn a page in a book, Schlatter had accidentally discovered its sweet taste.
Off To A Bad Start
In 1970, there were only two artificial sweeteners on the market. They were both eventually banned after being linked to health problems. This happened just as GD Searle company was trying to release its new artificial sweetener, but it wasn’t without controversy itself. Reportedly, the first tests on animals went horribly. Opponents of aspartame claimed that monkeys had died, baby mice got holes in their brains, and deformities occurred. The company pumped millions of dollars into these studies and improving its new product until they felt they had enough safety evidence.
Critics also accused GD Searle of manipulating the data which led to the FDA asking the US Attorney to start a criminal investigation against the company in 1976. In December 1977, the case was dropped for lack of evidence. As the years passed, aspartame was approved for more and more products.
So is it bad for you?
While aspartame can adversely effect some people — people who are unable to metabolize the amino acid ‘phenylalanine’ — it has been rigorously tested more than 200 times. Each of which have found it to be safe for consumption. While there has been a couple recent studies that suggest a possible link between artificial sweeteners and obesity, a direct link between additives and weight gain has yet to be found.
In 2005, the National Cancer Institute released the results of a large federal study involving more than a 500,000 adults 50 to 69 years old. Based on that research, the Institute concluded that there is “no evidence” any artificial sweetener on the market in the U.S. is “related to cancer risk in humans.” In addition, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the consumer group that has questioned the safety of aspartame for almost 30 years, praised this study, saying it “significantly allays concerns” about cancer.
So there you have it. Though, with anything you put into your body, everything in moderation. Large amounts of anything is not healthy and can pose significant health risks.