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Artificial Sweetener Aspartame Deemed Safe

By Nicky Broyd
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Dec. 11, 2013 -- The European Food Safety Authority says the artificial sweetener aspartame is safe at the levels currently used in food and drinks. Aspartame, sold as NutraSweet and Equal, has been used in soft drinks and other low-calorie or sugar-free foods for more than 25 years.

Alicja Mortensen, PhD, of the authority says in a news release that the study is "one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken."

The authority says it reviewed all available scientific research on aspartame. It included both animal and human studies and published and unpublished research.

The study ruled out a potential risk of aspartame causing damage to genes and causing cancer. It says there is no evidence that the sweetener harms the brain, the nervous system, or affects behavior or mental skills in children or adults.

The study makes clear that the breakdown products of aspartame (phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid) are also naturally present in some foods. Aspartame's contribution toward the overall dietary exposure to these substances is low, the study found.

The authority also says the sweetener poses no risk to a developing baby.

In the U.S., the National Cancer Institute has said there is no evidence linking aspartame and cancer.

There is one group of people who cannot safely eat or drink aspartame products. Patients with the inherited medical condition phenylketonuria (PKU) must follow a diet low in phenylalanine because they are unable to metabolize it. All food products containing aspartame are clearly labeled.

SOURCES: European Food Safety Authority: "EFSA completes full risk assessment on aspartame and concludes it is safe at current levels of exposure." Magnuson, B. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2007. National Cancer Institute: "Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer."

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