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article imageAspartame and the safety of sweeteners

By Tim Sandle     Jun 18, 2015 in Health
Aspartame is one of the world’s most widely used sweeteners and it has been used for decades. Nonetheless, the safety of the chemical is called into question from time-time. A new video sets out the case.
Recently PepsiCo announced the artificial sweetener aspartame is being taken out of Diet Pepsi products in the U.S. This will be from August 2015. The reason for the measure, the company stated, is due to consumer concerns rather than any hard scientific evidence. Notably a similar move is not happening with the caramel-colored soda in other parts of the world, including Europe.
To explore the safety risks of the chemical, the American Chemical Society has put together a video as part of its ‘Reactions’ series. The video seeks to provide an answer to the question: “Is aspartame safe?”
The video is shown below:
Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute. Chemically the substance is a methyl ester of aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide. The outcome is that it tastes sweet but it isn’t sugar. However, the contribution to calorie intake is relatively much lower. Part of the reason for this is the concentration of "sweetness." Aspartame is some 200 times as sweet as sucrose (everyday sugar), therefore a much lower quantity is needed to give an equivalent ‘sweet’ taste.
Debates about the chemical have been running for years, both for and against. The concrete risk is that one of the breakdown products is phenylalanine, which is a risk to the low number of people with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU).
Part of the debate on risks is not over whether aspartame in itself is harmful, but with how much needs to be consumed for ill-health effects to occur. The primary ill-health focus is cancer. This is the case with many substances that are consumed. The argument of those who are in favor of the chemical is that the level that would need to be consumed to cause harm is far in excess of what any ordinary person would be exposed to. This tallies with most (but not all) scientific evidence that the substance is ‘safe’.
The main report about cancer risks was issued in 1996. This report, titled “Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspartame?”, indicated a link between aspartame and an increase in the number of diagnosed brain tumors. The report evidenced experiments in rodents. However, the report has not been supported by other studies. According to the U.K. National Health Service: “the study had very little scientific basis and later studies showed that aspartame was in fact safe to consume.”
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