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Aspartame – No Laughing Matter

[16 May 2010 | No Comments | 11 views | Author: Dee Braun, DrR, CA, CCT]
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In the March/April 1999 issue of Alaska Wellness, I published three articles on the artificial sweetener aspartame. Specifically, the articles looked at the numerous health problems that may develop from our ingestion of aspartame (the key ingredient in NutraSweet and Equal) and how it is added to so many of our everyday products – nearly 6,000 – in everything from low-calorie drinks and sugar-free snacks to chewing gum, yogurt, cereal, and even children’s vitamins.

The toxic effects of aspartame are varied. It has been connected to mimicking the signs of or worsening the following: chronic fatigue and immune deficiency syndrome, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, panic disorder and more. The toxic effects of aspartame use may include dizziness, ringing in the ears, migraines, confusion, irritability, depression, insomnia, rapid heart beat, chest pains, memory loss, weight gain, hair thinning/loss, abdominal pains, food cravings, hypertension, increased infections and much more. (See links below for further information.)

The following article includes a summary of the history of aspartame as we printed it in our 1999 issue, along with some new research and information. As with the history of many other known toxins (such as MSG and fluoride), it is distressing to see our government’s involvement in allowing such substances to be used by big industries and sold (and, in some cases, even touted as ‘healthy’) to the general public – every one of us! It has been said that aspartame may be one of the most toxic substances in our food supply today and that aspartame related problems may be seriously compromising our health, often without our knowledge.

A Controversial History

Aspartame was discovered accidentally in 1965 by a scientist at the G. D. Searle Company. Because it is nearly 200 times as sweet as sugar and has no calories, it looked to have enormous potential, especially in the diet industry.

Searle began safety testing aspartame in 1967, in hopes of getting FDA approval, but encountered many problems – the animals that were fed aspartame (most usually small monkeys) kept dying. Searle spent tens of thousands of dollars in testing, and applied for FDA approval in 1973. Although several scientists found Searle’s testing “shoddy” and recommended that further testing was necessary, the FDA granted approval for use in dry foods.

Objections from consumer advocacy groups finally sparked the FDA to re-investigate aspartame in 1976, leading to a Grand Jury proceedings against Searle for “concealing material facts and making false statements” in their safety tests.

Now, get this: In 1977, Searle’s law firm offered a job to the U. S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner. Skinner accepted the job and left the government, thus stalling the investigation so long that the statute of limitations ended and the investigation was dropped.

In 1980, a Board of Inquiry asserted that aspartame should not be approved due to the possibility of its causing brain tumors in animals. However, in yet another sneaky government-big business move, the CEO of Searle became part of Ronald Reagan’s transition team. This former head of Searle handpicked Dr. Arthur Hayes, Jr., as the new FDA Commissioner. Over the strong objection of three FDA scientists, Hayes approved the use of aspartame in dry products.

Can the story get any worse? Yes, it can. In 1983, the National Soft Drink Association urged the FDA to delay the approval of aspartame in beverages since it was known to be very unstable in liquid form. (When stored above 85 degrees F., aspartame breaks down into diketopiperazine and formaldehyde, two known toxins.) Other objections were also filed with the FDA regarding aspartame approval. When a controversy regarding taking unauthorized rides on a General Foods jet (General Foods being a major customer of NutraSweet) forced FDA Commissioner Hayes to resign in 1983, he was promptly hired as a consultant to Searle’s public relations firm.

Thus it happened that the first carbonated beverages containing aspartame were sold for public consumption in 1983.

Current Findings

Aspartame is still under investigation and still very controversial. Most recently, scientists at the independent European Ramazzini Foundation for Cancer Research presented new results from their three-year study of the effects of aspartame on nearly 2,000 rats. Their research concluded that aspartame is a “multipotential carcinogen,” causing dose-related cancer of the kidney and tumors in the peripheral nerves, mainly the cranial nerves of the head. Earlier data from the same study linked aspartame to an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma in female rats at doses that were “very close” to the acceptable daily intake for humans.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that though the rats fed aspartame ate less food than those rats in the control group, there was no difference in weight between the two groups.

Although various manufacturers of aspartame have objected to these latest findings, claiming insufficient investigation and biased results, there is no denying that the same type of results with regards to the dangers of aspartame has been found in study after study, in numerous countries around the world.

In 1996, Dr. Ralph G. Walton, Chairman at the Center of Behavioral Medicine and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine conducted an analysis of peer-reviewed medical literature regarding aspartame. Specifically, Walton investigated 164 studies, 74 of which had aspartame industry-related sponsorship and 90 which were funded without industry money.

Of the 90 non-industry studies, 83 (or 92%) found one or more problems with aspartame. Of the remaining 7 studies, 6 were conducted by the FDA. (And, given the history of how various government officials were offered jobs by the aspartame industry following approval of the substance, many consider these findings to be not much more than industry-sponsored research.)

Of the 74 industry-sponsored studies, all claimed that no problems were found with aspartame. No big surprise there, and many compare it to tobacco industry research, in which tobacco companies don’t find a link between cigarettes and cancer, though independent studies most certainly do.

As two doctors noted in a 1995 Indian medical journal, “Scientific reasoning and a large body of evidence indicate that this product should not be in the market. However, paradoxically, use of products containing aspartame is on the rise.” The doctors suggest that there are many reasons for this, the main being a lack of awareness of the adverse effects of aspartame, both by the general public and the medical community. In addition, aspartame is obviously well protected by the strong clout of the billion-dollar drug and chemical companies which manufacture and sell it, as well as by those companies who use it as an ingredient in their products. The doctors conclude, “It must be kept in mind that aspartame is not an essential life-saving drug but a food additive meant to pamper our sweet tooth.” It is for this reason that some refer to aspartame as the “Sweet Poison.”

What Can You Do?

There are several excellent websites that focus on the dangers of aspartame, such as www.holisticmed.com. The following information on avoiding aspartame comes from their site, as does the Healthy Sweetener User Guide below.

Avoiding aspartame can sometimes be tricky as it is found in so many products and because its existence is sometimes hidden on food labels. That is, aspartame may be lumped with other ingredients as “inactive ingredients” on a food label. Other times, it is not listed at all, although you may spot it if you see the warning “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine,” which indicates aspartame is used in the product.

Aspartame can be found on the ingredients list in the following products: soft drinks, over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs (commonly listed under “inactive ingredients”), vitamin and herb supplements, yogurt, instant breakfasts, candy, breath mints, cereals, sugar-free chewing gum, cocoa mixes, coffee beverages, instant breakfasts, gelatin desserts, frozen desserts, juice beverages, laxatives, milk drinks, shake mixes, tabletop sweeteners, tea beverages, instant teas and coffees, topping mixes, wine coolers – and the list goes on.

It is important to check labels carefully and compare ingredients against the list of known sweeteners to avoid (below). If you have children, you may want to pay special attention to cereals, candy, gum, etc. Also, be aware that your children may be given aspartame or other artificial sweetener-containing foods or drugs at school without your knowledge. Talk to the school director and to the local PTA to assure that this does not happen.

Many people find it much easier to avoid toxic sweeteners by shopping at health food stores or in the healthy foods section of your grocery. Many health food stores have banned artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) for obvious reasons. But it is still important to check labels as some health food stores are unknowingly selling aspartame, acesulfame-k, and sucralose.

Healthy Sweetener Use Guide

Sweeteners to Avoid

* Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel)
* Neotame
* Sucralose (Splenda)
* Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One)
* Cyclamates
* Saccharin
* Refined sugar*
* High fructose sweeteners*
*These can be used in very small amounts while transitioning to healthier sweeteners.

Sweeteners to Use

* Stevia (Stevia is also safe for diabetics)
* Evaporated cane juice
* Fruit juice
* Rice syrup
* Honey
* Licorice Root (small amounts)
* Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
* Amasake
* Maple Syrup (Without Added Sugar)
* Barley Malt
* Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol*, Sorbitol)
*Use in small amounts. Avoid if you have bowel disease.

Note: Many diabetics can use some amount of healthy caloric sweeteners such as evaporated cane juice. Check with your healthcare practitioner for more information.


* www.alaskawellness.com – This is a link to Alaska Wellness Magazine’s other articles on Aspartame.
* www.dorway.com – Includes many articles and research documents regarding aspartame poisoning, and links to diabetic alternatives to aspartame and support groups.
* www.holisticmed.com Links to case histories and documents on aspartame toxicity as well as recent news articles.
* www.aim4health.com – Features an article by Mary Nash Stoddard, founder of Aspartame Consumer Safety Network Inc.
* www.nutrasweet.com – For the company view, here’s the folks who make and sell aspartame, in the form of NutraSweet.

Healthy Sweetner Use Guide courtesy of www.holisticmed.com.

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