Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in diet soda and over 6,000 other sugar-free or “diet” products. New research1 linking aspartame to cancer in some individuals has sparked a flurry of commentary, including an “apology” from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard University teaching facility, for promoting the results2.
I first found out about the study when ABC News contacted me and requested that I provide them with a comprehensive analysis of this 40-page study within an hour. Fortunately, I have extensively reviewed this topic and was able to provide their requested review.
Funding was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The Harvard hospital originally sent out a press release with the headline: “The truth isn’t sweet when it comes to artificial sweeteners.” Alas, just half an hour before the release of the study, the hospital suddenly got cold feet, issuing the following statement:
“Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is weak, and that BWH Media Relations was premature in the promotion of this work. We apologize for the time you have invested in this story.”
According to Erin McDonough3, senior vice president of communication and public affairs, this was “the first time something like this had ever happened in her 25 years of working in media relations.”
NBC News stated4:
“Not all science deserves publicity. Some is not done well. Some comes to equivocal conclusions and serves solely to alert other researchers of the need for further study. The research… about a potential cancer from aspartame falls squarely in that second category. If such a study does get attention, it can often increase the confusion and anger that many people feel about science in general – and the study of possible risks and benefits of our diet, in particular.”
None of this surprises me. After all, can you imagine the liability the food and beverage industries, not to mention virtually every public health agency in the US, would face were there convincing evidence that aspartame is carcinogenic? They simply cannot afford such evidence to be accepted.
But make no mistake about it, this study is of great importance because it’s the most comprehensive and longest human study — spanning 22 years — that has ever looked at aspartame toxicity. The study evaluates the effect between aspartame intake and cancer, and they found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and leukemia.