Sunday, November 08, 2009

Aspartame And Health

image by srbichara, sxc.hu

Has The Controversy Surrounding This Additive Been Resolved?

In the history of food additives, Aspartame stands out as the one that has weathered the most controversies, right from day one of its approval by the US FDA. Wonder whether the Ramazzini research that implicates the additive for cancer has made any impact at all?

image by miccala, sxc.hu

Aspartame, a food additive that is several times sweeter than sugar, is now found in almost every single food item that we consume: from mints to toffees to ice-creams to cold-drinks to... you name it and it is there. The US FDA catalogs Aspartame as NUTRS (nutritive sweetener), GMP (sufficient for purpose, quantity not greater than required), and REG (for which a petition has been filed and regulation issued). It is specifically slotted under Part 172 of Title 21 of its books as a "food additive permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption". With such clear-cut approval from the government, food processors have no reason to stop using Aspartame to enhance the taste of their stuff for consumers.

image by halifaxsxc, sxc.hu

Research literature too has submitted evidence of how the sweetener helps in indirectly reducing obesity, because after eating / drinking something laced with this additive, your appetite for consuming some more food is somehow reduced. (For example, here is one 1997 paper and here is another 2006 paper that describe how participants in their respective experiments experienced weight-loss after Aspartame diets.) Science too seems to have succumbed to the charms of this sweetener.

image by bvisser, sxc.hu

And yet, the Ramazzini papers continue to niggle. Researchers from 'The European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences' "B. Ramazzini", an Italy-based research institute have taken a contrarian stand against Aspartame with a 2005/2006 paper published in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives". This paper reported how 8-week-old rats were fed a daily diet containing varying concentrations of the additive, allowing them to live their full age, and how their viscera showed leukemias and lymphomas in both the genders, peripheral nerve schwannomas in males, and transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter and dysplasias in females. These conditions they unequivocally linked to a lifetime spent consuming Aspartame. The difference between Ramazzini's and the other research papers I have quoted here is obviously that while the researchers in the other papers were focused on biomarkers for obesity, Ramazzini researchers were specifically looking for biomarkers pertaining to cancer. And for Ramazzini, letting carcinogenesis continue its full course till the natural death of the animal is very important.

Ramazzini Institute logo_*

* 'The European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences' "B. Ramazzini" logo.

No sooner was this report published, than the regulators swung into action. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) came out with a statement on May 3, 2006, followed a few days later by the US FDA (May 8, 2006), categorically trashing the research outcome. Confounding factors have biased the outcome, they said.

image by thoursie, sxc.hu

So did the controversy die down? Researchers of Ramazzini came out with yet another paper that was published in the September 2007 issue of the same journal. While in the earlier experiment, the researchers focused on post-natal lifetimes, in this experiment, the good doctors had begun feeding Aspartame diet to the fetuses while they were still in the wombs of their mothers (in-utero). After birth, the newborn rats were allowed to live their full lifetime. The viscera of the rats showed they were suffering from the very same conditions of cancer as in the post-natal case. Significantly, while the first paper drew instant criticism, including retort from vested interests, this particular paper did not experience any such reaction. (At least, I haven't come across any.)

image by ezran, sxc.hu

Is it because somebody somewhere is trying to replicate the experiments, which, given the entire lifetime of rats to be about 2.5 to 3 years, will take as much time before the results can come out? An important point made by Ramazzini is that chemical carcinogenesis bioassays ought to be conducted for longer durations - such as the lifetime of the rats - in order to be able to better calibrate the investigations.

image by jadegordon, sxc.hu

The point here is: has the last word been said about Aspartame vis-a-vis cancer? I don't wish to be alarmist. But there are people who pop a breath freshener before sitting in their car to drive to work. During the entire day they consume lots of food that has aspartame sprinkled on them. By the time they hit the sack, at least 100 mg equivalent of aspartame must be going into their body from all these sources combined. Every single day. This is definitely higher than the GMP tag put in for individual foods by FDA for aspartame consumption. So are we slowly going the way of the Ramazzini rats? Or is this all a storm in the proverbial tea-cup?

image by jadegordon, sxc.hu

[The way things are these days, sugar has become equated with conditions of diabetes and glycosuria. It is not that people back in the good ol' days didn't have a sweet tooth. They did, and yet, we never heard much about the diabetes condition from the old folks. It is our lifestyle that is the root cause. Here is a metaphysical take on this condition: "Diabetes - Silent Killer? Or Awakener?".]

1 comment:

  1. Remember you are what you eat. If your aim is to have good health just remember what you are taking in

    ReplyDelete