It seems every time someone opens up a sugar-free drink there is always that person that says, “you’re going to get cancer” or “do you know how bad that stuff is for you?”
Aspartame is actually made up of two naturally occurring amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine and is a controversial artificial sweetener used in many foods and drinks.
Does Aspartame cause cancer?
There are a few animal studies that claim that aspartame consumption causes cancer, but it is yet to be proven in human studies. A number of studies have shown there is no connection to aspartame consumption in humans and cancer.
One study looked at a correlation between aspartame and brain or blood cancer and showed no link (1) (2).
" The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener." (3)
Does Aspartame hinder weight loss?
Many claim that consuming artificial sweeteners can cause a spike in insulin similar to that of sugar, yet again the only evidence was seen in rats and human studies are yet to show this. One study looked at diabetics and found “Diabetics were found to have no spike in insulin after ingesting nonnutritive sweeteners.”
“We conclude that ingestion of aspartame- or saccharin-sweetened beverages by fasting subjects, with or without diabetes, did not affect blood glucose homeostasis.” (4).
Therefore it has been shown that aspartame does not spike insulin (5).
Another claim is that consuming artificially sweetened foods will increase hunger but yet the evidence is lacking and some studies have shown aspartame to increase satiety. (16)
It has been shown that aspartame can be consumed as an effective weight loss method and a strategy to prevent long term weight gain. (6) (7)
What about other health conditions?
Aspartame has been shown to have no or a weak effect on mental health, seizures, mood, depression, or headaches. (8) (9) (10) (11) (12)
Almost every study has shown no adverse effects to Aspartame, and show there is no link to cancer, weight gain, and other health conditions. The most recent 2015 study showed “acute ingestion of aspartame does not have any detectable psychological or metabolic effects in humans.” (13)
"The safety testing of aspartame has gone well beyond that required to evaluate the safety of a food additive. When all the research on aspartame, including evaluations in both the premarketing and postmarketing periods, is examined as a whole, it is clear that aspartame is safe, and there are no unresolved questions regarding its safety under conditions of intended use." (14)
"Thus, the weight of scientific evidence confirms that, even in amounts many times what people typically consume, aspartame is safe for its intended uses as a sweetener and flavor enhancer." (15)
This article is not meant to encourage or promote aspartame and its consumption but to show there is no weight of evidence to-date to show that aspartame is harmful to humans.
Note from Cliff Harvey, founder of HPN
We condone a whole-food based diet as the foundation for health and performance, and so sodas do not have a typical place in our compendium of foods. There may still be negative effects from excessive consumption of artificially sweetened products but conversely the occasional diet drink is unlikely to cause any issues.
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BUTCHKO, H. (2002). Aspartame: Review of Safety. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 35(2), S1–S93. http://doi.org/10.1006/rtph.2002.1542
Butchko, H. H., & Stargel, W. W. (2001). Aspartame: scientific evaluation in the postmarketing period. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology : RTP, 34(3), 221–33. http://doi.org/10.1006/rtph.2001.1500
Hall, W. L., Millward, D. J., Rogers, P. J., & Morgan, L. M. (2003). Physiological mechanisms mediating aspartame-induced satiety. Physiology & Behavior, 78(4-5), 557–562. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9384(03)00034-9
Horwitz, D. L., McLane, M., & Kobe, P. (1988). Response to single dose of aspartame or saccharin by NIDDM patients. Diabetes Care, 11(3), 230–234. http://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.11.3.230
Lapierre, K. A., Greenblatt, D. J., Goddard, J. E., Harmatz, J. S., & Shader, R. I. (1990). The neuropsychiatric effects of aspartame in normal volunteers. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 30(5), 454–460.
Lim, U., Subar, A. F., Mouw, T., Hartge, P., Morton, L. M., Stolzenberg-Solomon, R., … Schatzkin, A. (2006). Consumption of aspartame-containing beverages and incidence of hematopoietic and brain malignancies. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 15(9), 1654–1659. http://doi.org/10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-06-0203
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Moller, S. E. (1991). Effect of aspartame and protein, administered in phenylalanine-equivalent doses, on plasma neutral amino acids, aspartate, insulin and glucose in man. Pharmacology & Toxicology, 68(5), 408–412.
Pivonka, E. E., & Grunewald, K. K. (1990). Aspartame- or sugar-sweetened beverages: Effects on mood in young women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 90(2), 250–254.
Ryan-Harshman, M., Leiter, L. A., & Anderson, G. H. (1987). Phenylalanine and aspartame fail to alter feeding behavior, mood and arousal in men. Physiology & Behavior, 39(2), 247–253.
Sathyapalan, T., Thatcher, N. J., Hammersley, R., Rigby, A. S., Pechlivanis, A., Gooderham, N. J., … Courts, F. (2015). Aspartame Sensitivity? A Double Blind Randomised Crossover Study. Plos One, 10(3), e0116212. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0116212
Spiers, P. a., Sabounjian, L., Reiner, A., Myers, D. K., Wurtman, J., & Schomer, D. L. (1998). Aspartame: Neuropsychologic and neurophysiologic evaluation of acute and chronic effects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(3), 531–537.
Stokes, A. F., Belger, A., Banich, M. T., & Bernadine, E. (1994). Effects of alcohol and chronic aspartame ingestion upon performance in aviation relevant cognitive tasks. Aviation Space & Environmental Medicine, 65(1), 7–15.
Tordoff, M. G., & Alleva, A. M. (1990). Effect of drinking soda sweetened with aspartame or high-fructose corn syrup on food intake and body weight. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51(6), 963–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2349932