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Harms of sugar substitutes { September 7 2004 }

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Harms, benefits of sugar substitutes questioned
By Carolyn Susman, Cox News Service
September 7, 2004

Aspartame. Nutrasweet. Equal.

A sugar substitute by any other name can still cause controversy.

In these diet-conscious times, artificial sweeteners, which is what the above are, are being consumed in tons. In diet drinks, in sugar-free foods, in granulated form, etc. Aspartame, the generic name for a particular brand of artificial sweetener, has been under attack for years.

The National Cancer Institute Web site,, provides information about the Food and Drug Association's aspartame decision: "Aspartame was approved in 1981 by the FDA after tests showed that it did not cause cancer in laboratory animals, although not all of the laboratory experiments agreed.

"Interest in aspartame was renewed by a 1996 report suggesting that an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992 might be associated with the introduction and use of this sweetener in the United States. However, an analysis of then-current NCI statistics showed that the overall incidence of brain and central nervous system cancers began to rise in 1973, eight years prior to the approval of aspartame.

" . . . These and other data do not point to a clear link, based on animal or human studies, between the use of aspartame and the development of brain tumors. The FDA still considers aspartame safe."

The idea that the FDA has "poisoned" America with aspartame's approval hasn't died. If you search for - instead of, the product's Web site - you get virulent writings against the artificial sweetener, one by Dr. Hyman J. Roberts, a West Palm Beach internist, calling aspartame an "imminent public health threat."

So it started some people buzzing when a recent column called the People's Pharmacy referred to a study published in 1998 in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics that showed that "aspartame worked about as well as aspirin to relieve (arthritis) pain and inflammation" while not irritating the stomach.

Most of us hadn't heard about the health benefits of aspartame, beyond its use as a sugar substitute. And a search of the Web sites - and - failed to turn up this study.

I was surprised that this good news was apparently buried, particularly when there has been so much debate over the sweetener's value.

Yet Joe Graedon, co-author of the People's Pharmacy with his wife, Terry, says their column elicited only about 20 to 30 negative e-mails, a small number compared with their national syndication.

And although he is familiar with all the arguments against aspartame, he says, "If there truly were an epidemic of 'fill in the blank' (diseases caused by aspartame) we should have seen it by now. Of all the risks we face, this stacks up pretty low." Is aspartame useful as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever? Is it harmful? Like so many questions, it comes down to what you feel comfortable believing.

Diabetes center at Harvard

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Harvard Medical School have opened the JDRF Center for Immunological Tolerance in Type 1 Diabetes at Harvard Medical School.

JDRF ( was founded in 1970 by the parents of children with juvenile diabetes - a disease that strikes children suddenly, makes them insulin dependent for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications.

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

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