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Is Aspartame Safe?

Recently, the World Health Organization declared that the artificial sweetener, aspartame, may cause cancer, more specifically liver cancer.  Given the wide usage of aspartame in diet sodas and other zero calorie drinks this created quite the stir.

First, a brief background about aspartame:  The history of aspartame dates back to 1965 when the low-calorie sweetener was accidentally discovered by chemist James Schlatter. After the evaluation of data from required studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved aspartame for use in certain foods in 1981, soft drinks in 1983, and authorized aspartame as a general-purpose sweetener for foods and beverages in 1996. The European Union approved aspartame in 1994 as a food additive. It is currently approved for use in more than 100 countries.

The recent warning from WHO needs to be looked at carefully:  The data about potential association with liver cancer came from only a few studies including not many people.  WHO also issued the caveat that aspartame is safe to use up to the amounts basically contained in 12 cans of diet soda a day.  Does anyone out there drink even close to this amount?

Obesity and the co-morbidities associated with poor weight control are responsible for over 4.8 million deaths yearly worldwide.  Clearly, if the use of aspartame helps control weight, this positive impact is far more beneficial than the weak cancer link noted.

So, in conclusion:  Should the recent WHO warnings stop you from reaching for diet sodas containing aspartame?  Nope.  Should anyone drink more than 2 diet sodas a day?  Nope.  The reason for this has more to do with the sugar cravings artificial sweeteners produce rather than the cancer risk.

The very best drink:  H2O (water for you non-chemists out there).

And here is probably the most popular Diet Coke ad…1995

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