WASHINGTON – A huge federal study in people takes the fizz out of arguments that the diet soda sweetener aspartame might raise the risk of cancer.
No increased risk was seen even among people who gulped down many artificially sweetened drinks a day, said researchers who studied the diets of more than half a million older Americans.
A consumer group praised the study, done by reputable researchers independent of any funding or ties to industry groups.
“It goes a fair way toward allaying concerns about aspartame,” said Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had urged the government to review the sweetener’s safety after a troubling rat study last year.
Findings were reported Tuesday at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Aspartame came on the market 25 years ago and is found in thousands of products – sodas, chewing gum, dairy products and even many medicines. NutraSweet and Equal are popular brands.
Research in the 1970s linked a different sweetener, saccharin, to bladder cancer in lab rats. Although the mechanism by which this occurred does not apply to people and no human risk was ever documented, worries about sugar substitutes in general have persisted.
The new study, by scientists at the National Cancer Institute, involved 340,045 men and 226,945 women, ages 50 to 69, participating in a research project by the National Institutes of Health and AARP.
“It’s very reassuring. It’s a large study with a lot of power,” said Richard Adamson, a senior science consultant to the American Beverage Association, the leading industry group.