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1. What is aspartame?

  • 1.1 What is the history of aspartame?
  • 1.2 What are the uses and properties of aspartame?
  • 1.3 Why is there concern about aspartame?

1.1 What is the history of aspartame?

Aspartame was discovered as a novel sweetener in 1965. It was first authorized to enter the market in the United States in 1974. This authorization was suspended a few months later on the grounds that the first studies had not properly evaluated if aspartame could be toxic to the brain or cause brain cancer. A new assessment of those studies and the examination of new data, led to a marketing authorization for solid food in 1981 and for soft drinks in 1983. Aspartame was finally authorized as general sweetener in 1996. Up to now, the safety of aspartame has been assessed by a number of national and international organisations. An Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of aspartame for humans has been set at 40 mg/kg body weight per day by an international committee of experts.

A debate on the risks to human health posed by the consumption of aspartame was relaunched, notably on the Internet, following an article published in 1996 which suggested there was a link between brain tumours and aspartame. Allegations claim that aspartame is responsible for a large number of adverse health effects such as multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematous, Gulf War Syndrome, brain tumours, epileptic seizures, complications of diabetes, etc. More...

1.2 What are the uses and properties of aspartame?

Aspartame is marketed as table sweetener (for example, Canderel®, NutraSweet® It is also incorporated in a number of foods stuffs throughout the world, including drinks, desserts and sweets (European code E951). It is a white, odourless powder, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, manufactured by combining phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Its main impurity is diketopiperazine that has no sweetening properties.

Aspartame is stable in the dry state and in frozen products. However, when stored in liquids at more than 30°C, it progressively converts into diketopiperazine, which is partially degraded into methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. These transformations result in the loss of sweetness. Therefore, aspartame can not be used in cooked or sterilized foods. More...

1.3 Why is there concern about aspartame?

Some concerns have been raised about aspartame and its breakdown products (methanol, phenylalanine and aspartic acid). These concerns include epilepsy, brain tumours and effects on the nervous system.

Another concern is related to possible effect of aspartame breakdown products on specific people, including healthy infants, children, adolescents, adults, obese individuals, diabetics, lactating women, and people suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU) disease. More...

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