the 200 million global consumers of aspartame, a sweetener, could be at high risk of contracting cancer, claims a recent study. Conducted by researchers from Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center of the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, a non-governmental organisation in Italy, the study shows the sweetener can cause cancer in rats at levels approved for human consumption. This is the first experimental study to link aspartame to cancer and is scheduled for publication in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Review guidelines Doubts over aspartame's safety have persisted over the past three decades despite studies conducted by its producers and other researchers on laboratory animals claiming it did not show any carcinogenic effects. The Italian researchers felt the need to re-examine the claims using the latest research protocols.
They tested the sweetener on 1,800 eight-week-old rats. The animals were divided into groups that received feed containing concentrations of aspartame at dosages simulating human daily intakes of 5,000, 2,500, 500, 100, 20 and 4 milligramme/kilogramme (mg/kg) body weight. The experiment lasted till all the test animals died naturally, which took about three years.
Each rat was examined for microscopic changes in all organs and tissues. The scientists found extensive evidence of malignant cancers including lymphoma, leukaemia and tumours, at multiple organ sites in both males and females. "Our study has shown that aspartame is a multipotential carcinogenic compound whose effects are also evident at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg body weight, notably less than the current acceptable daily intake (adi) for humans,' the scientists say in the study. Aspartame's adi is set at 50 mg/kg body weight in the us and at 40 mg/kg in Europe. The researchers suggest the present guidelines on the use and consumption of the chemical be reviewed.
Business interests Aspartame is the second most widely used artificial sweetener in the world and is being promoted aggressively even in India (see