CDC says aspartame is safe


WASHINGTON -- There is no evidence of serious health problems with the low-calorie sweetener aspartame, but some users may have a 'yet unidentified sensitivity' to it, federal researchers say.

'The only way these possibilities can be thoroughly evaluated would be through focused clinical studies,' the Centers for Disease Control said Thursday in concluding a four-month review of 517 alleged cases of adverse reaction, ranging from headaches to mood changes.


G.D. Searle & Co. of Skokie, Ill., manufacturer of aspartame, and the Food and Drug Administration said the FDA-commissioned study reinforced its contention that the sweetener, sold under the brand name NutraSweet, is safe.

But Searle said it would conduct more tests as the CDC suggested.

Pepsi-Cola U.S.A. announced Thursday it is dropping century-old saccharin and will soon market America's first diet soda sweetened solely by the 'better-tasting' sugar substitute aspartame, which is 200 times as sweet as sugar. Other producers are using a blend of sweeteners.

'Searle intends to work with the FDA and the CDC to develop means to ascertain whether or not unusual sensitivity ... may exist in some small segment of the population.' said Robert Shapiro, president of firm's NutraSweet division.


The Community Nutrition Institute, a consumer group, said the CDC's questions about sensitivity by some persons supports its earlier calls that aspartame be recalled by the FDA pending further studies.

'This confirms our position that the FDA has released a product into the marketplace that may not be safe,' said Rodney Leonard, the group's executive director.

The FDA, which approved aspartame for use in diet drinks last year and as a powdered sweetener in 1981, said it stands behind its seals of approval.

Aspartame, G.D. Searle's most profitable product with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars, has been a smashing success in the marketplace. Most soft drink makers now use it in their diet sodas.

The CDC report concluded: 'This investigation ... identified no specific constellation of symptoms clearly related to aspartame consumption.'

It said 67 percent of the 517 cases reviewed involved complaints of headaches, dizziness and mood alterations; 24 percent of upset stomachs and other gastrointestinal problems; 15 percent of allergic reactions; 6 percent of unusual menstrual patterns and 9 percent to an assortment of other symptoms.

'While some reports are undoubtedly due to the coincidence of symptoms and aspartame consumption and others may be due to the suggestibility of some persons, still others may be attributable to some yet undefined sensitivity of some individuals to aspartame in commonly consumed amounts,' the CDC said.


'In summary, currently available information ... indicates a wide variety of complaints that are generally mild in nature,' CDC said. 'Although it may be that certain individuals have an unusual sensitivity to the product, these data do not provide evidence for the existence of serious, widespread, adverse health consequences attendant to the use of aspartame.'

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