The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a cancer research firm of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently published a study on aspartame’s link to cancer. In the study, the cancer agency labeled aspartame as a possible cause of cancer. However, assessments of its health effects revealed limited evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. That said, you might have grounds to join a class action lawsuit against a liable manufacturer or company if you are a regular consumer of products containing aspartame and a doctor diagnoses you with cancer.
A Chicago class action lawyer can carefully assess your situation to determine whether you qualify to join a class action or initiate one as a lead plaintiff. The lawyer can guide you throughout the lawsuit process and ensure you get your share of the settlement or court award.
What Is Aspartame?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener first used in foods and beverages in the 1980s. This tabletop sweetener pairs well with recipes that do not need a lot of heating, as it can break down under heat. It is also present in some toothpaste, chewing gums, and medicines as a flavoring additive.
The low-calorie sweetener has been used to lower people’s intake of sugar-based additives while offering satisfaction and more flavor. Only a small portion of aspartame gives foods and beverages a sweet flavor, as it is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Manufacturers usually combine aspartame with other food components or sweeteners to reduce sour flavors and improve the overall taste in prepared foods, beverages, and tabletop packets.
Authorized Food Additives
The FDA classifies different food ingredients depending on their intended use. As such, there are FDA-approved separate programs for the use of ingredients that are food additives and considered safe.
A food additive is any substance that is expected to affect the characteristics of food or become a food component. The FDA does not consider GRAS (generally recognized as safe) ingredients or food additives.
Aspartame is a direct food additive, as it is added to food and beverage products for a specific purpose. The same applies to xanthan gum used in puddings, bakery fillings, and chocolate milk to add texture. You can identify a direct additive on the ingredient label of a food or beverage product.
The FDA requires food additives to be authorized before their use in ingestible items on the market. As such, manufacturers must seek FDA approvals by filing a food additive petition. During the review process for the product, the FDA will consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture if the product is intended to be used in poultry and meat products.
Manufacturers must give sufficient evidence that the food additive is safe for its intended uses in the petition. They should also list the foods the product will be used in and the proposed use levels. For every FDA approval, the agency issues regulations authorizing the safe use of food additives.
Possible Aspartame Health Risks
Concerns about the health risks associated with aspartame have been around for several years. Some concerns suggest that the artificial sweetener will likely cause cancer. Consuming it might increase the risk of blood-related cancers, such as lymphomas and leukemias.
Most studies on the possible health risks of aspartame, however, have limitations, making their results difficult to interpret. Their results have also shown inconsistency in most types of cancers.
Other serious health problems linked to this artificial sweetener include dementia, stroke, cardiovascular disease, seizures, and Alzheimer’s disease. There have also been reports of migraines, headaches, mood disorders, and intestinal dysbiosis in people who consumed foods with aspartame.
Some previous studies linked aspartame to weight gain, obesity-related diseases, and increased appetite. The WHO even advised consumers not to rely on non-sugar sweeteners like aspartame for weight loss. It based this recommendation on a review of scientific evidence that showed aspartame as a likely cause of type 2 diabetes, rapid weight gain, and cardiovascular diseases.
Aspartame Regulations in the United States
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) constantly monitors the latest scientific studies on sweeteners, aspartame included. Through its scientists, the agency reassesses studies on the safety and exposure of a sweetener each time a GRAS notice or petition for a food additive gets filed. It also keeps up with current consumer exposure levels and published literature on food-ingredients safety.
Besides aspartame, the FDA lists Saccharin, Advantame, Neotame, Sucralose, and Acesulfame potassium as sweeteners that are safe for consumption. However, their use should be limited to the manufacturer’s prescribed conditions of use.
The FDA proposes an acceptable daily intake (ADI) level when regulating sweeteners like aspartame. An ADI is the amount of an edible substance that is safe to ingest daily throughout your lifetime. It usually reflects the findings of toxicological studies, which help determine the highest level of exposure and appropriate food safety threshold.
In What Type of Food Products Is Aspartame Added?
Aspartame is a common ingredient in sugar-free foods and beverages, like diet coke. It is in tabletop sweeteners, drink mixes, sugar-free gum, and certain syrups. Gelatin-based products also use it as a sugar substitute.
You can identify food and beverage products containing aspartame by checking the ingredient list. Most food and beverage manufacturers that use aspartame in their products list it under its name. They may also list it as ‘NutraSweet’ or ‘Phenylalanine.’
Look for the ‘CONTAINS ASPARTAME’ or ‘ASPARTAME’ symbol. The symbols help indicate that the ingestible item contains an artificial sweetener.
Sweeteners Not Allowed in the U.S.
Cyclamates and their salts, including potassium cyclamate, magnesium cyclamate, sodium cyclamate, and calcium cyclamate, are banned as sweeteners in the U.S. Cyclamates first received FDA approval as synthetic sweeteners back in 1958. However, the FDA banned them in 1969 following studies linking them to cancer.
There is currently an Import Alert for whole-leaf and crude stevia extracts. The FDA prohibits use of these extracts as sweeteners in foods and beverages. It only permits the use of purified steviol glycosides extracted from stevia leaves.
It is important not to confuse these banned substances with sweeteners that were once banned but are currently FDA-approved. These sweeteners include Saccharine (reinstated in 1981), Acesulfame potassium (reinstated in 1998), and sucralose (approved for use in 1998). Since the FDA does not approve all artificial sweeteners for use in the nation, talk to your doctor before using any prohibited substance.
How a Class Action Lawsuit Works
A class action is a lawsuit where one or more people (lead plaintiffs) file a lawsuit on behalf of a larger group. The plaintiffs must prove that they suffered damages after using a product from a specific manufacturer and are eligible for compensation. If successful, the class action members share the settlement or court-awarded damages after legal fees get deducted.
Requirements for a Class Action Lawsuit in Illinois
A class action lawsuit usually involves a big group of plaintiffs (often unnamed) with the same legal claims as the named plaintiffs. When they are part of the class action, they can pursue the lawsuit to recover compensation for their damages. Alternatively, they may opt out and file separate lawsuits for any wrongdoings committed by the defendant.
A court must certify the lawsuit by determining that the unnamed and named plaintiffs have the same claims. The named plaintiffs should have a class action lawyer to represent the class and present relevant evidence to the court.
As a class action representative, you can bring a class action in a state or federal court. Federal courts require the case to have a legal dispute or controversy. The case must also meet the objective criteria for defining the plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs should have shared common legal claims.
A lawyer ascertains the number of affected parties is large enough for a class action. The lawyer also ensures that the class members have a common interest in the lawsuit and its possible outcomes.
Benefits of a Class Action Lawsuit
Once a class action is certified, the litigation can proceed more cost-effectively and expeditiously. Class actions also lower the cost of pursuing a legal claim against a large corporation for plaintiffs who cannot pursue the claim independently due to financial constraints. The class members can opt out of any potential settlement if it does not suit them and file a separate lawsuit.
A large group of people impacted by a common cause can join a class action and hold a defendant financially liable for their injuries or damages. The litigation process also takes up fewer resources and fewer judges. The ruling or settlement benefits all members.
The court ensures the payout is reasonable, since class action settlements are rarely shared equally among class members. Plaintiffs with the highest damages and serious injuries get the largest share of the settlement or court award.
Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.