A Dangerous Spin On The Cancer Risks Of Sugar-Free Sweeteners

In 1975, a FDA Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on the toxicity of aspartame, revealing suppressed evidence on the toxic and carcinogenic effects of aspartame.
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On January second this year, in a heavily advertised special health-theme issue of

Crystal Light was first marketed in 1982 to "make drinking water more enjoyable," and much less caloric than fruit juices. Aspartame is also widely used as a sweetener, 200 times more than sugar, in tea and coffee, especially by the weight conscious.

Aspartame was synthesized by G.D. Searle in 1965 after its strong sweet taste was first noted. Subsequent toxicology tests by Searle revealed brain damage in mice, and cancer in the liver, testes and thyroid of rats. However, the results of these tests were never published nor reported to the FDA.

Aspartame is the second most widely used artificial sweetener in the world. It is found in more than 6,000 products including carbonated and powdered soft drinks, hot chocolate, chewing gum, candy, desserts, yogurt, and tabletop sweeteners, as well as some pharmaceutical products like vitamins and sugar-free cough drops.

After saccharin, aspartame is the commonest sweetener, consumed by over 200 million people worldwide, and represents about 60 percent of the artificial sweetener market.

Aspartame provides food, soft drinks, candy and chewing gum manufacturers with substantial cost savings compared to sugar, which is 200 times less sweet. Aspartame is a also sweetener without calories, which helps people control their weight.

In 1975, a FDA Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on the toxicity of aspartame. This revealed gross abuse in Searle's claims which trivialized or suppressed evidence on the toxic and carcinogenic effects of aspartame.

In January 1976, then Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Alexander M. Schmidt, testified before Congress that Hazleton Laboratories, under contract to Searle, had been charged with falsifying toxicological data on aspartame.

The FDA convened a Public Board of Inquiry to review concerns about the sweetener's carcinogenic effects in experimental animals. In 1980, the Board concluded that aspartame could "contribute to the development of brain tumors." The FDA then recommended that, pending confirmation of these findings, the sweetener should no longer be used.

Evidence of these toxic effects was subsequently confirmed by leading independent U.S. scientists. Reacting to these concerns in 1976, Senator Kennedy warned that "This extensive nature of the almost unbelievable range of abuses--in several major Searle products is profoundly disturbing."

At invited 1979 testimony before the House Committee on the Judiciary, apart from other examples of corporate crime, I detailed evidence on the Searle's criminal denial of the carcinogenicity of aspartame. This evidence was subsequently posted in the Congressional record.

In 1996, based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, Dr. John Olney, a leading independent U.S. scientist, confirmed that aspartame caused brain cancer when fed to rodents.

A decade later, the prestigious Italian Ramazzini Foundation, based on large scale life-long feeding tests in large numbers of rats, commencing in infancy, confirmed that low levels of aspartame induced brain cancer and cancers at other sites. The Ramazzini study was reported in the November 2005 issue of "Environmental Health Perspectives," the peer-reviewed journal of the United States' National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. "Our study has shown that aspartame is a multi-potential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are also evident at a daily dose less than the current acceptable daily intake for humans," the Ramazzini scientists warned.

Of further significance, these conclusions were endorsed by the Federal National Toxicology Program. Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, Searle and its consultants still attempt to challenge these conclusions, and persist in their reckless claim that aspartame is safe.

In view of the unequivocal scientific evidence of aspartame's carcinogenicity, besides the political gamesmanship that led to its original approval by the FDA, it is anticipated that Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the new FDA Commissioner, will ban all dietary uses of aspartame.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; and a former President of the Rachel Carson Trust. His awards include the 1989 Right Livelihood Award and the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention. Dr. Epstein has authored 270 scientific articles, and 15 books on the causes and prevention of cancer. These include the groundbreaking Politics of Cancer (1979), and most recently Toxic Beauty (2009, BenBella Books) about carcinogens and other toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products.

Samuel S. Epstein, MD
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Chicago, Illinois 60612
Tel. 312-996-2297
Email: epstein@uic.edu
Web: www.preventcancer.com

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