Home Journal Excerpts Aspartame Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link To Aspartame?
Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link To Aspartame? PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 01 November 1996 00:00
"Recent epidemiological surveys have identified a pattern of increasing brain tumor rates in several industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada, West Germany, France, Italy, England and Wales."

"Roberts mentioned aspartame as a candidate based on the observation that brain tumor rates rose sharply in the United States over a three-year period (1984-1987) following approval bye the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981 of aspartame for marketing in the United States. Also highly relevant is the fact that in 1980 FDA convened a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) where a panel of scientists, including prominent neuroscientists (Walle J.H. Nauta and Peter W. Lampert), were asked to evaluate evidence from two animal studies potentially linking aspartame to malignant astrocytic brain tumors. The PBOI panel concluded that evidence from one study was "bizarre" and totally unreliable, and evidence from the other study appeared to show that "aspartame may contribute to the development of brain tumors." Therefore, it was recommended that additional research be performed to rule out brain tumor risk and that approval of aspartame be withheld pending the outcome of such studies. The FDA Commissioner who received the PBOI report refereed it to additional expert FDA consultants who concurred with the PBOI panel's recommendations. However, in 1981 a newly appointed FDA Commissioner approved aspartame on the basis of his judgment that brain tumor risk was minimal and further research was not necessary. As a consequence, specific studies recommended by the PBOI panel were never done. However, Shepard and colleagues recently reported that if aspartame is nitrosated in vitro to simulate the nitrosation that is believed to occur in the stomach, that nitrosated product has substantial mutagenic activity."

"Anaplastic astrocytomas rose from a very low incidence in 1975 to a moderately higher level in 1977 and then leveled off until 1984, after which they rose steadily for 8 consecutive years to a level in 1992 more than 3 times higher that in 1984."
"This represents 1310 new brain tumors per year (for the years 1985-1992) in the United States (calculated on the basis of a mean US population of 244 million for those years)."

"Our findings signify that the sharp increase in brain tumor incidence noted by Roberts in the mid-1980s was not a fleeting phenomenon. Rather, it was the initial phase of an upward swing in the brain tumor incidence which evolved into a sustained increase in both the per capita number and malignancy of brain tumors, a phenomenon that has endured for at least 8 years. The observation by Davis et al that a sharp upward trend in deaths from brain tumors was detectable in the mind 1980s in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy suggests the need for an evaluation of the most recent brain tumor data in these countries to determine whether, regarding incidence, temporal profile, tissue diagnosis and degree of malignancy, they parallel the trends detected in our analysis of the United States SEER data."

"Adding substantial strength to the potential complicity of aspartame is the fact that there is evidence on file at FDA documenting an unexplained high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats, and it was recently demonstrated by Shepard et al that if aspartame is nitrosated in vitro to simulated the nitrosation that might be expected to occur in the stomach, the nitrosated product shows a substantial degree of mutagenic activity."

"The study revealing a high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats is one submitted by the FDA in the early 1970s by the manufacturer of aspartame. This study was carefully reviewed by the PBOI panel of judges, including examination of the microscopic slides pertaining to brain tumors by Drs Walle J. H. Nauta and Peter W. Lampert. In this study, Sprague Dawley rats received aspartame in their feed for 2 years from weaning to 104 weeks of age. The most striking finding was that the 320 aspartame-fed rats developed 12 malignant brain tumors and the 120 concurrent control rats had no brain tumors. Absence of brain tumors in the concurrent control group is consistent with a large body of literature documenting that spontaneous brain tumors in laboratory rats are quite rare. … Moreover, they tended to be early of onset and were rapidly growing tumors that caused the animals to die at periodic intervals over both the first and second years of the 2-year study. In addition, they were dose related, with higher doses of aspartame being associated with a higher tumor incidence."

"Aspartame was initially approved in the United States in 1981 for limited use; however, one of these uses was "free flowing" table top use, i.e. pills or powder packets for such beverages as coffee, tea and lemonade. In 1983 approval was extended to much larger markets, including essentially all foods and beverages. Proposing that aspartame could be linked either to onset in 1985 of a sustained increase in the rate of highly malignant brain tumors in aging populations, or to the onset in 1987 of a steady climb in the incidence of various brain tumors that occur predominantly in young to middle-aged people may not be unreasonable in view of the large number of people in either age group who drink considerable amounts of coffee, tea or "diet" soft drinks on a daily basis. The earlier onset of the highly malignant tumors in the older age groups could relate to the fact that they have had more years to accumulate spontaneous mutations for the proposed aspartame-linked mutations to interact with. If exposure of in utero fetuses to aspartame can cause brain tumors on a delayed basis, tumors induced by this mechanism may not become evident for another 20 or 30 years."

"In summary, there are three major criteria that are usually invoked in evaluating the potential of an environmental agent to behave as a human carcinogen: (a) Does the agent have in vitro mutagenic potential? (b) Do experimental animals show an increased incidence of specific types of cancer when exposed to the agent? (c) Do humans show an increased incidence of the same types of cancer when exposed to the agent? Based on the limited evidence available, aspartame appears to meet all there criteria. Therefore, although our analysis does not establish definitive proof of a casual link between aspartame and the recent increase in incidence and shift in malignancy of brain tumors that occurred in the United States several years after aspartame was introduced, it does indicate the need for a reassessment of the carcinogenic potential of this agent which is currently being ingested widely throughout many parts of the world."

Authors Note:
During World War I cigarettes became the smoke of choice. Between 1910 and 1919 cigarette production increases by 633% from under 10 billion/year to nearly 70 billion/year, and cigarette smoking begins to become very common among American men. In 1932 a paper is published in the American Journal of Cancer associating lung cancer with cigarettes. In 1934 the AMA accepts tobacco advertising in their journals, which include statements such as "We advertise KOOL cigarettes simply as a pleasant combination of fine tobaccos made even more pleasant by the cooling sensation of menthol. They won't cure anything. They won't harm anybody. They will prove enjoyable." In the mid 1940s R.J. Reynolds claims in advertisements that "more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes." It by now has become socially acceptable for women to smoke.

In 1950 a study comes out in JAMA showing lung cancer deaths have quintupled and that almost all patients with lung cancer have been long-time cigarette smokers. More studies come out in the 1950s and the tobacco companies counter by claiming there is no real proof that smoking causes cancer. In 1959 the surgeon general states that the position that smoking causes cancer, while an editorial in JAMA states there are still not enough facts to support a position. In 1978 the AMA Education and Research Fund releases Tobacco and Health, a compilation of 844 investigations begun after the 1964 Surgeon General's Report and fully funded by the tobacco industry, most of which were only tangentially related to the smoking and health issue. There are no studies related to smoking and lung cancer.

In the mid-1980s and onward, pushed by idealistic medical students and young doctors, the AMA increasingly has spoken out against tobacco. Because tobacco industry makes billions of dollars each year there are still claims that there is no science linking smoking to lung cancer. In the present day approximately 180,000 people will die each year from lung cancer most of which could be prevented by not smoking.

From history we can see that even after 70 years of science claims are still made that smoking does not contribute to lung cancer. The sad fact is that when billions of dollars are involved in the sales of a product enormous sums of money will be spent to protect that product and to discredit anyone that provides studies to show a health risk with that established product. In the case of aspartame, the early studies showing that there were increased brain tumors in rats were discarded by the FDA and now aspartame is very well accepted into society. History will repeat itself and the industry will spend billions of dollars to promote their product and discredit anyone who suggests otherwise as "fear mongers" or using "junk science". The truth there is no reason to use aspartame at all when there is strong evidence showing there is an increased health risk. Instead, people can consume delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables that are already greatly lacking in western diets.


Olney, John W. MD, Farber, Nuri B., Spitznagel Edward, and Robins Lee N., "Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link To Aspartame?", Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, November 1, 1996, Vol. 55, Num. 11, pp. 1115-1123

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