What Is The History Of Aspartame?

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a chemist working for the American company Searle and an initial marketing authorisation (MA) was granted in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974. This MA was suspended a few months later following an appeal against the authorisation on the grounds that the toxic and carcinogenic effects on the brain of this compound and its metabolites had not been properly evaluated during the experimental studies. Following a reassessment of the studies on experimental animals and an examination of new data (including a study of carcinogenicity in the rat), the FDA granted this product a new MA in 1981 (FDA, FR 1981) for use in solid food. This authorisation was extended to soft drinks in 1983 (FDA, FR 1983) and for its use as a general sweetener in 1996. The safety of aspartame has been assessed and recognised by a number of other national and international organisations including the FAO/WHO Committee of Experts on Food Additives (JECFA) and, at EU level, by the Scientific Committee on Food. It was authorised by Directive 94/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on sweeteners for use in foodstuffs (adopted on 30 June 1994) and its use is permitted in more than 90 countries. In France, aspartame has been permitted since 1988. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of aspartame for humans was fixed at 40 mg/kg body weight/day by the JECFA (1980).


In 1996, an article by J.W. Olney suggesting a link between an increased incidence of brain tumours in the United States and the marketing of aspartame relaunched the debate on the risks to human health posed by its consumption. The debate has been covered by the media, notably on the Internet where several thousand websites are devoted to the effects of aspartame. These contain allegations claiming that this additive is responsible for a large number of adverse effects (more than fifty), some of which are very serious, such as: multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus, Gulf War Syndrome, brain tumours, epileptic seizures, complications of diabetes, etc. At the same time, the health authorities in a number of countries have reacted by informing the public on the studies available or underway and on the data based on scientific evidence.

Following a recap of the physical and chemical properties of aspartame, this report will review, firstly, the available toxicological and epidemiological data on the effects of this additive on the nervous system (cancer and seizures) and secondly, the estimates of the consumption of this sweetener by the general population and by specific populations such as children and diabetic adolescents. For these specific populations, there may be a potential risk arising from heavy consumption, low body mass or finally, a special metabolic susceptibility.