The safety questions around aspartame were back on the agenda yet again today, with a Coca Cola funded webinar presentation by Dr Bernadene Magnuson.
Dr Magnuson, a Senior Scientific and Regulatory Consultant at Cantox Health Sciences International and University of Toronto Associate Adjunct Professor of Nutritional Sciences, gave an excellent review of the latest research on the safety of aspartame — very similar to the presentation she gave in Wellington 18 months ago, which I attended.
I think most of us are fairly well aware by now that aspartame is safe, given the comprehensive reviews of this sweetener that have taken place by many of the food safety agencies around the world. Not to mention the fact that there is no plausible mechanism by which it could be deemed to be harmful. Aspartame is simply two amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine) bonded together with a methyl group. Upon entering the body the methyl group is cleaved off to form methanol (which is easily broken down by the liver — the body being well equipped to deal with methanol, which is found in many foods including fruits and vegetables) and the two amino acids are absorbed and utilized as any other proteins would be by the body.
Dr Magnuson, during her presentation, reviewed numerous animal studies as well as human epidemiological studies and clinical trials. There is no good evidence to show aspartame is carcinogenic, or has any adverse effects on the central nervous system, as has been claimed by some of those campaigning against this sweetener (take a look at the Sweet Poison website for a list of all the ailments that aspartame is supposed to cause, from blindness to irreversible brain damage and suicidal tendencies)!!
One has to conclude that overall, the metabolism of aspartame is well understood, the safety is well researched, and has been established in numerous studies, and there is no good quality evidence for any adverse effects.
Aspartame is used worldwide in over 90 countries and is an ingredient in over 6000 products. More information about the safety of aspartame can be found in the paper published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in 2007, Aspartame: A Safety Evaluation Based on Current Use Levels, Regulations, and Toxicological and Epidemiological Studies. Dr. Magnuson was the lead author for this expert panel review of aspartame safety.
More general information about aspartame can be found in the Science Media Centre fact sheet on this topic.