Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWM) has reportedly walked back a recent study claiming to link aspartame with an increased risk of leukemia, non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and other blood-related cancers. Published ahead of print in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study analyzed diet data from more than 77,000 women and 47,000 men enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The results apparently suggested “a positive association between diet soda and total aspartame intake and risks of NHL and multiple myeloma in men and leukemia in both men and women,” although “[a] higher consumption of regular sugar-sweetened soda was associated with higher risk of NHL and multiple myeloma in men but not in women.” Eva Schernhammer, et al., “Consumption of artificial sweetener—and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2012.
But BWH has since cast doubt on the strength of the evidence, noting that the hospital’s experts had not fully reviewed the research before submitting it to the press. “Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is[sic] weak, and that BWH Media Relations was premature in promotion of the work,” a BWH spokesperson told reporters who had received an embargoed copy of the study before it was published. Media sources have also cited contacts at the National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center and American Cancer Society (ACS) who found the study’s claims inconsistent at best.
“For instance, the increased risk in [NHL] was found only in men, not women. And regular, sugar-sweetened soda also seemed to lead to a similar increased risk of cancer,” reported NPR’s “The Salt” blog, paraphrasing ACS Strategic Director of Nutritional Epidemiology Marji McCullough. “And statistically, some of the findings teetered on the edge of significance.” See NPR’s The Salt, October 24, 2012; NBC News, October 25, 2012.