Aspartame Is Safe

Have you heard that the artificial sweetener Aspartame will cause a number of medical maladies, up to and including brain tumors? By now, it’s basically common knowledge.  Except, similar to the idea that vaccinations cause autism or that french fries cause cancer, it has long since been debunked has been found to be supported by faulty arguments.

In a nutshell, Aspartame is recognized as safe for consumption up to 50mg/kg of body weight (about 7.4 pounds for a 150lb person), except by those with a pre-existing genetic condition known as Phenylketonuria.  Phenylketonuria exists in about 1 in 15,000 people in the United States, or roughly 20,000 people in the US.  However, to look at the safety controversy, one needs to look at the history of Aspartame and, as with so many food controversies, the misinformation that started it all.

Aspartame was approved in 1974 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for consumption.  From the get-go, concerned citizens (read idiots) clamored about supposed irregularities in the approval process.  From corruption, to regulatory capture, to bribery, accusations were thrown around like so much bio-degradable rice substitute at a bird-friendly wedding.  An investigation by the United States Government Accountability Office deemed the regulatory process adequate.  For those who feel this does not mean anything, due to the obvious corruption of some non-specific sort in U.S. government, over 90 countries world-wide have studied and found aspartame to be safe.

To throw gasoline on the fire, in the early days of the internet, a hoax document purportedly demonstrating the adverse effects of aspartame propagated across the internet.  Like so many hoaxes and chain e-mails received today, it would seem that many who received it bothered not to investigate the claims and instead forwarded the warning to friends.  A remote amount of critical thinking and investigation twenty years ago might very well have put the claims to rest.  Sadly, such methods of deduction have not been a strong-point since at least the 1950s. For those of you who might still see the email circulating, the Multiple Sclerosis Association has never sued the FDA for collusion with Monsanto.

Which begs an off-topic question: Why does every evil thing out there eventually get linked to Monsanto? Are they really even all that relevant any more? Why not DOW or General Electric, just to spice things up a bit? Anyhow, back on topic…

So what do we have to say to the over 100 regulatory agencies worldwide that have studied and approved Aspartame? We might cite the study by Ralph G. Walton which analyzed all the research he could find about Aspartame and concluded that while industry-funded studies found no ill-effects, 84 out of 92 independent studies did find negative side-effects.  This was seized upon by 60 Minutes, the most trusted source in news prior to FOX News, and caused a shit-storm large enough to drown the country in raw sewage.  Which is basically what it did.

It turns out that Dr. Walton had ignored 50 additional independent studies which found no ill-health effects and a great many of his studies were not actually studies, but rather op-eds, book chapters, and case studies.  Dr. Walton would have done just as well if he had pulled his numbers out of a hat.  We can only hope that he lost his credentials for being an idiot.

So, there you have it.  Aspartame is safe.  The hysteria was due to misinformation, a lack of critical thinking, and outright lies seized upon by news agencies with little adherence to fact-checking.  Maybe it’s time we started examining the various food scares we currently experience with a heavier weight of scrutiny, and we can avoid the lost revenues and wasted time we lost to concern over Aspartame.

As a side note, while Sucralose is generally regarded as much sweeter than aspartame (about 3 times), it costs 10 times as much.  So remember, the next time you don’t think and join the anti-whatever-food movement, you’re going to end up paying more at the supermarket.  Sadly, I might have to as well…which kind of makes me hate you.

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