Monday, January 2, 2006
Roger Williams, a UK Member of Parliament, has called for emergency action to ban the artificial sweetener Aspartame (aspartamine), questioning its safety. The MP said that there was “compelling and reliable evidence for this carcinogenic substance to be banned from the UK food and drinks market altogether.”
Reservations of some U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists about the safety of Aspartame were overridden when the agency initially approved the food additive in 1981, but many other countries followed the U.S. lead in endorsing the chemical sweetener for general public use. Aspartame has been linked in various studies cited by Mr. Williams to brain tumors, anxiety attacks, neurological impairment and other side effects, particularly in experimental animals; however, several reviews by government agencies have found no credible proof of such risk to humans and no country has banned or limited the substance for human consumption and such non-governmental groups as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association assert that extensive investigation has not shown any serious adverse effects attributable to Aspartame. Nonetheless, organized groups continue to debate the issue vigorously and there are calls for class action law suits. The initiative by MP Roger Williams may now bring the debate into the open political arena of the House of Commons.
New research on combining Aspartame with other common food additives suggests that while each substance alone may be safe enough, some combinations frequently found in commercial products interfere with the development and function of the nervous system in rats. (Lau, et al.) Few, if any, other experiments with combinations have been conducted. On the other hand, surveys of human populations, which consume Aspartame in various combinations with artificial colorings and flavorings, have failed to convincingly show significant harm.
Aspartame is sold under the brand names of Equal, Nutrasweet and Canderel and is an ingredient of thousands of “diet” or “lite” products.