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Link between aspartame, brain tumors dismissed by FDA, cancer group


Consumer groups remain suspicious of sweetener

November 18, 1996
Web posted at: 7:40 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Several consumer groups Monday renewed their criticism of aspartame, citing a new study suggesting a possible link between the artificial sweetener and brain tumors.

But the Food and Drug Administration said both it and the National Cancer Institute have found "no association between aspartame consumption and human brain tumors."


Aspartame is a low-calorie synthetic sweetener made of two amino acids and methanol. It is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, and is added to many food products.

The Community Nutrition Institute and the Centers for Science in the Public Interest called for more government tests on aspartame, which the FDA has previously defended as safe.

The renewed attention follows a medical study published this month in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.

In the report, Dr. John Olney of Washington University in St. Louis says brain cancer rates in the United States jumped 10 percent shortly after NutraSweet was approved by the FDA for widespread use in 1983.

The reports said while that does not constitute proof aspartame is connected to the rise, the increase is suspicious, especially in light of an earlier study.

"Animal studies were done showing a very high incidence of brain tumors in rats that had been fed aspartame in a two-year feeding period," said Dr. John Olney of Washington University.

But the FDA and NutraSweet counter that brain tumor rates started going up before aspartame was put on the market, after which those rates leveled off.


"The increase in brain tumor incidence started well before aspartame marketing and sales," said Dr. Philip Lavin of the Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Robert Moser, a medical consultant with NutraSweet, said aspartame cannot cause a tumor because it does not reach organs intact.

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Aspartame's defenders also offer a different interpretation of the rat studies, saying there were not any dramatic differences in the number of tumors between rats on aspartame and those that were not.

Correspondent Eugenia Halsey contributed to this report.  

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