Aspartame: Is the Sweet Taste Worth the Harm?
by Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
(NaturalNews) Aspartame, more commonly known as NutraSweet or Equal, is one of the most toxic substances being consumed today. The artificial sweetener, currently used in over 4,000 products worldwide, entertains a sordid past and has been one of the most tested and debated food additives in the history of the FDA. While the manufacturer maintains that aspartame is not a danger to your health, the scientific studies don’t necessarily agree. The FDA has approved the product for mass consumption, in spite of overwhelming evidence that aspartame can have neurotoxic, metabolic, allergenic, fetal and carcinogenic effects. When you question how such a substance has not been banned, one simply needs to look at the billions of dollars generated by the sale of aspartame each year. In light of the staggering number of dollar signs involved, it’s easy to see that the artificial sweetener industry has reached Big Tobacco status. With so much money at stake, the truth suffers almost as much as the health of the consumers, while the shareholders’ wealth continues to grow exponentially.
In 1965, James Schlatter, a chemist for G.D. Searle, was developing an anti-ulcer drug when he accidentally stumbled upon aspartame. Made up of aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methanol (10%), aspartame is 200 times sweeter than natural sugar.
* Aspartic Acid
Aspartate is a neurotransmitter in the brain, facilitating information from one neuron to another. Too much aspartate allows an influx of calcium into the brain cells, triggering an excessive amount of free radicals which kill the cells. Aspartate is referred to as an “excitotoxin” because of the nerve cell damage that it causes. Many chronic illnesses have been attributed to long term excitotoxin exposure, including multiple sclerosis, ALS, memory loss, hormonal problems, hearing loss, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, hypoglycemia, dementia, brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders.
In 1971, Dr. John Olney, neuroscientist and one of the world’s foremost experts on excitotoxins, informed G.D. Searle that his research had revealed that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of mice. Searle did not inform the FDA of these findings until after aspartame’s approval in 1981. This would prove to be one event in a startling pattern of lies and deception.
Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in the brain. Human testing has shown phenylalanine levels in the blood are increased significantly in those who chronically use aspartame. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels of serotonin to decrease, which can lead to depression, schizophrenia and make one more susceptible to seizures.
Studies conducted on rats by G.D. Searle found phenylalanine to be safe for humans. However, Louis J. Elsas, II, M.D., Director of Medical Genetics and Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine told the U.S. Senate in 1987 that, “Normal humans do not metabolize phenylalanine as efficiently as do lower species such as rodents and thus most of the previous studies on aspartame effects on rodents are irrelevant.” Unfortunately, this fell on deaf ears and failed to garner additional testing.
By far, the most controversial ingredient in aspartame is methanol (aka wood alcohol). An EPA assessment of methanol states that it is “considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidated to formaldehyde and formic acid; both of these metabolites are toxic.” This oxidation occurs when methanol reaches 86 degrees F (30 degrees C).
A product broken down from aspartate is a known carcinogen and causes retinal damage, birth defects and interferes with DNA replications.
The EPA recommends a consumption limit of 7.8 mg/day. A 1 Liter aspartame sweetened beverage contains about 56 mg of methanol, seven times the EPA limit.
The most common maladies related to methanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision, obscuration of vision, retinal damage and blindness.
The History of Aspartame
In 1973, G.D. Searle submitted aspartame to the FDA for approval as a sweetening agent. Approval was granted in July of 1974 but pulled in December after objections to its safety were filed by neuroscience researcher, John Olney, and consumer attorney, James Turner. Questions regarding G.D. Searle’s research practices were subsequently raised and an FDA investigation was launched.
It is important to note that of the 164 studies that were conducted, 74 of them had industry related sponsorship and 90 were funded without any industry money. Of the 90 non-industry sponsored studies, 83 (92%) identified one of more problems with aspartame.
In 1976, an FDA task force investigation revealed numerous faults in G.D. Searle’s studies. FDA Toxicologist and Task Force member, Dr. Adrian Gross stated, “They [G.D. Searle] lied and they didn’t submit the real nature of their observations because, had they done that, it is more likely that a great number of these studies would have been rejected for adequacy. What Searle did, they took great pains to camouflage these shortcomings of the study… For instance, animals would develop tumors while they were under study. Well, they would remove these tumors from the animals.” In July 1976 the FDA created another task force, headed by Jerome Bressler, to investigate the discrepancies in three studies in particular.
In 1977, a Grand Jury investigation into Searle’s violation of the law was launched, headed by U.S. Attorney William Conlon. Conlon failed to follow through and the statute of limitations ran out. 15 months later, Conlon accepted a job with the law firm representing G.D. Searle in the investigation.
In August of 1977, the Bressler Report was released, citing a myriad of lies and inconsistencies with Searle’s studies. Senior Scientist on the FDA’s task force, Jacqueline Verrett, testified in front of the U.S. Senate, “It would appear that the safety of aspartame and its breakdown products has still not been satisfactorily determines, since the flaws cited in these three studies were also present in all of the other studies submitted by Searle.” Due to these findings, a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) was launched.
In 1980, the PBOI voted unanimously to reject the use of aspartame until additional studies on its potential to cause brain tumors could be done.
In January of 1981, G.D. Searle reapplied for approval, submitting new studies with its application. In March, a 5 member FDA panel of scientists reviewed the PBOI’s findings. The panel referred to the brain tumor data as “worrisome” and could not recommend approval. In July of 1981, FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. overruled the PBOI and approved aspartame for dry foods use, ignoring the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 348) which states that a food additive should not be approved if tests are inconclusive.
In October 1982, Searle petitioned the FDA for approval to use aspartame in soft drinks and children’s vitamins. The FDA approved the use in soft drinks in 1983. Shortly after approval, Commissioner Hayes left the FDA under charges of improprieties and was hired as a consultant for G.D. Searle’s PR Firm, Burson Marstellar.
In July of 1983, both Woodrow Monte, Director of the Science and Nutrition Laboratory at Arizona State University and James Turner, Esq. filed petitions objecting to the approval of aspartame based on possible serious adverse side effects from chronic intake of aspartame. In November, the FDA denied the petitions “because public interest did not require it.”
In 1984, 6,900,000 lbs of aspartame were consumed in the U.S.
In 1985, G.D. Searle was bought out by Monsanto, creating the NutraSweet Company as a separate subsidiary from G.D. Searle. 14,400,000 lbs. of aspartame were consumed in the U.S. that same year.
15,700,000 lbs of aspartame were consumed in the U.S. in 1986. 17,100,000 lbs were consumed in 1987. NutraSweet stopped providing consumption data to the USDA after 1987.
In 1996, the FDA removed all restrictions on aspartame and authorized its use in all products, including heated and baked goods. This was done in spite of the fact that aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde above 86 degrees F.
Today, aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. How sweet it is? A few of the 90 different documented symptoms include: headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss and joint pain. Which one are you ready for?
For more information on the history of aspartame, please check out (www.dorway.com/enclosur.html) .