Asparatame: An Overview of the FDA Health Concerns

Over 200 times sweeter than sucrose, asparatame has become a marketing extravaganza. Boasting the claim it can decrease the level of obesity through targeting Americans who typically consume more than 10% of their diet in sugar. Although evidence in weight gain or loss is inconclusive, the results in diabetics has shown the theory may be true. However, with asparatame, understanding the FDA position, advantages and disadvantages will make the consumer better educated when selecting food products with asparatame.

Discovered in 1965 by G.D. Searle, asparatame was approved for consumer use in 1974 under limited use by the FDA. Unfortunately, following the 1974 approval, the FDA learned Searle may have hidden testing evidence with regard to the risks of asparatame. In reviewing those prior testing results, the FDA found the studies revealed tumor development in test species which had been later cut out, discovered some test species were later found dead and unreported and studies which exhibited asparatame’s breakdown process may be a catalyst in the creation of uterine tumors. However, following discovery of the discrepancies, in 1981, the FDA continued to approve asparatame for dry foods and, then again in 1983, it was approved for soft drink use.

Unfortunately, through the years of research, asparatame was shown to be attributed no only to the test related health implications but may also be attributed to cancer, hair loss, depression, behavioral disturbances and even dementia.

Asparatame does, however, show some health advantages with use. Such health implications include improved dental hygiene through fewer incidences of dental caries which is especially true in areas where dental caries are more prevalent, and the population, overall, shows some decrease in incidence. Additionally, the threshold for consumption is well beyond what any adult would normally consume. At 1 gram per day, brain activity is shown to be impaired. However, most adults will never even consume more than 10mg in a day. In fact, FDA limits health intake to no more than 40 mg per day which equates to 10 cans of fully sweetened drinks.

In conclusion, the final health implication regarding asparatame is still questionable and open for debate. With some health disadvantages, it is difficult to rule out the use of the product entirely as it may be a life sustaining sugar replacement for other individuals. With study after study continuing to provide contradications, most information we have has been obtained by default. With over 200 million American consuming asparatame products daily, it is difficult to say when or if the product will ever be considered safe or completely pulled from the market. At present, the FDA continues to monitor health implications, both positive and negative, and the asparatame product continues to be used in dry goods, soft drinks and various other products. As consumers, the best defense to our health is education and a continuing diligence to consume the ingredient in very limited moderation.

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