New research casts doubts on safety of world's most popular artificial sweetener

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The world's most widely used artificial sweetener has not been adequately proven to be safe for human consumption, argues a newly published paper from University of Sussex researchers.

Professor Erik Millstone and Dr. Elisabeth Dawson have forensically detailed serious flaws in the reassurance provided in 2013 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about the safety of —more commonly known as Nutrasweet.

The new study points out the EFSA panel discounted the results of every single one of 73 studies that indicated that aspartame could be harmful while treating 84% of studies providing no prima facie evidence of harm as unproblematically reliable.

Since 1974, studies and scientists have warned of the risks of brain damage, liver and , brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders from consuming Nutrasweet, which is found in thousands of products around the world including diet soft drinks.

Prof Millstone, a University of Sussex expert on food chemical safety policy, is calling for the suspension of authorisation to sell or use aspartame in the EU pending an independent and thorough re-examination of relevant evidence—including key documents that Prof Millstone says were omitted from the dossier the panel reviewed.

He is also advocating a radical overhaul of EU food safety processes including an end to behind closed door discussions.

He said: "Our analysis of the evidence shows that, if the benchmarks the panel used to evaluate the results of reassuring studies had been consistently used to evaluate the results of studies that provided evidence that aspartame maybe unsafe then they would have been obliged to conclude there was sufficient evidence to indicate aspartame is not acceptably safe.

"This research adds weight to the argument that authorisation to sell or use aspartame should be suspended throughout the EU, including in the UK, pending a thorough re-examination of all the evidence by a reconvened EFSA that is able to satisfy critics and the public that they operate in a fully transparent and accountable manner applying a fair and consistent approach to evaluation and decision making."

Among the flaws in the study highlighted by the University of Sussex research, the panel:

  • Breached EFSA guidelines on risk assessment transparency on multiple grounds
  • Adopted a low-hurdle for the acceptability of negative studies—including studies previously dubbed "woefully inadequate" and "worthless" by experts
  • Applied unreachably high hurdles for 'positive' studies indicating adverse effects—even though many of those 73 studies were far more reliable than most of the studies that provided no indication of risk.
  • Demonstrated puzzling anomalies including inconsistent and unacknowledged assumptions

Prof Millstone, who contributed a 30 document dossier to the 2013 proceedings detailing the inadequacy of 15 early pivotal studies which the EFSA failed to pass on to its scientific advisors, said: "It is clear from this research that the EFSA scientists failed to acknowledge numerous inadequacies in the reassuring studies but instead picked up on tiny imperfections in all the studies providing evidence that aspartame maybe unsafe.

"In my opinion, based on this research, the question of whether commercial conflicts of interest may have affected the panel's report can never be adequately ruled out because all meetings all took place behind closed doors."

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London who was not involved in the research, said: "The paper is both important and timely. The global health advice is to reduce sugar intake, yet much of the food industry—especially soft drinks—maintains the sweetness by substituting artificial sweeteners. Millstone and Dawson help expose that strategy for what it is, a continued sweetening of the world's diet. The healthy strategy is surely to tackle the cultural reinforcement of sweetness and to encourage less sweet foods and drinks, full stop. Surely we now argue: reduce both sugar and artificial alternatives."

Explore further

Europe: Diet sweetener aspartame is safe in cola

More information: Erik Paul Millstone et al. EFSA's toxicological assessment of aspartame: was it even-handedly trying to identify possible unreliable positives and unreliable negatives?, Archives of Public Health (2019). DOI: 10.1186/s13690-019-0355-z
Citation: New research casts doubts on safety of world's most popular artificial sweetener (2019, July 23) retrieved 18 October 2019 from
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User comments

Jul 23, 2019
Here is a one person non scientific artificial sweetener test. I was not eating many carbs and decided not to use sugar in my many cups of coffee and tea each day. My blood sugar levels were in the 90s. So I started to use a monk fruit and stevia combo instead of sugar. After 2 weeks of this my blood sugar shot up to 130 and was higher in the morning than during the day. It took over a month for my sugar levels to return to normal after quitting the sweeteners.

Internet research showed that these sweeteners can be turned into glucose by the gut bacteria that they induce to grow. Thus you do not need to eat sugars and starches in order to have high blood sugar ( glucose ) levels.

Jul 23, 2019
The paper does not provide a quantitative meta-analysis and is therefore worthless. Oddly, it complains in the abstract that "The quantitative result indicate that the panel's appraisal of the available studies was asymmetrically more alert to putative false positives than to possible false negatives" which is common practice when comparing against a null hypothesis.

I assume the reason for the above is that it is very easy to find claims that "Professor Erik Millstone ... has been a long-time critic of the additive" on the web.

Jul 24, 2019
Study after study links artificial sweeteners to poorer health and obesity. Can we get rid of them once and for all? No, we don't need a soda tax, either. What we need is much more self control in eating/drinking. Basic, basic science.

Jul 24, 2019
The paper is pointing to flaws in the EU evaluation process. It is not attempting to show aspartame is "bad"

Jul 24, 2019
Here is the whole story and even how the FDA not only found it unsafe but even tried to have the company indicted for fraud:

Jul 24, 2019
Not only that, but many in the FDA who approved it where fired, and some of them ended up working for Monsanto after they left the FDA.

The situation was severe, it ended in totally upending the mandate and the methods of approval for any substance placed in front of the FDA. New laws. Literally.

Yes, that Monsanto. Agent orange. Round up. That fascist nightmare machine.

The person who ran the effort to get it approved by the FDA, after FOURTEEN YEARS of repeated rejection for bad science and toxicity, was none other than: Donald Rumsfeld.

The same guy who stood in front of the podiums and microphones, who was somehow running the defense deportment in 2000..and announced that the pentagon had completely lost track of 2.2 trillion dollars. Sept 10th, 2001.

then the 'plane (no evidence of it) hit the pentagon the very next day and KILLED the accountants who were doing the work on the whole affair.

Do you still trust the FDA, Monsanto, Aspartame, Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon?

Jul 29, 2019
what about non asperatame sweetners

Jul 29, 2019
Here is the movie on it: "Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World: https://www.youtu...yRlpmG7A I have been taking the histories of the sick and dying for almost 30 years. In this movie you hear from the experts. You can go to for more information For more articles on this study go to and search aspartame

Jul 29, 2019
Lots of institutional politics and not much science.

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