“All that is sweet isn’t nectar”, words I once heard from a wise man. In the case of aspartame, the commonly used ingredient in artificial sweetener, savoring your favorite sweet treat could be bad for your health or even life-threatening.
Aspartame, first marketed under the brand of NutraSweet, is a highly controversial chemical substance found in a wide variety of processed food products today. Because aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar but with only 1/32 of the calories, the use of aspartame is widespread especially in the low calorie, diet and sugar-free food categories such as diet sodas, bottled beverages, candy, chewing gum, yogurt, and nutritional bars.
In 1985 the National Cancer Institute in the United States reported an alarming increase of brain tumors and brain cancer over that of previous years. Professor H.A. Roberts, Director of the Palm Beach Institute for Medical Research found this trend particularly disturbing. Roberts also found that other forms of cancer, those occurring outside the brain, remained the same but brain cancer had risen sharply. Why?
Dr. John W. Olney professor of neuropathology and psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis suggested aspartame to be a likely candidate for the rise in brain cancers. In 1983 the US population began ingesting large quantities of aspartame, a chemical substance never before consumed by humans. In 1984 Americans consumed 6,900,000 pounds of aspartame. The amount of consumption doubled to 14,000,000 pounds in 1985 and continued to climb in subsequent years. For Dr. Olney and his research team there was little doubt. There was a direct connection between aspartame consumption and the rise of brain cancer.
In the first six months coinciding to the release of aspartame in food products in the United States, the brain tumor rate had already jumped 10%, diabetes jumped 30% and brain Lymphoma had jumped 60%. Within a few years 80% of all complaints handed in to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA involved foods containing aspartame.
Of course, the rise of cancer and the overall decline in healthy Americans was passed on to more culpable causes like over consumption and lethargic lifestyles. But for some, suspicions that aspartame was the ‘evil doer’ remained at the center of the debate.
So what is aspartame? Can consuming aspartame on a regular basis really do you harm? Urban legend, medical research and many websites claim that aspartame is responsible for multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and methanol toxicity causing blindness, spasms, shooting pains, seizures, headaches, depression, anxiety, memory loss, birth defects, tumors, cancer and death.
Indeed, Dr. Russel L. Blaylock, a certified neurosurgeon says that aspartame toxicity varies according to the toleration of the individual. Some people may notice very little of anything but a majority of people will have one or more symptoms. Dr. Blaylock says that because aspartame is a poison that effects protein synthesis, because it effects how the synapse operate in the brain and because it effects DNA, aspartame can therefore effect numerous organs. Thus aspartame can produce a lot of what looks like unrelated symptoms, but when studying the list submitted to the FDA, most of the symptoms are neurological or connected to the nervous system.
Dr. Ralph S. Walton confers that aspartame has a degenerating effect on our brain functions. Walton says that it has been known for quite sometime that when you intake excessive amounts of aspartame in conjunction with carbohydrates that you will decrease the availability of L-tryptophan in the brain, which is the building block for serotonin, an important ingredient for a healthy brain.
Let’s take a look at the composition of aspartame. Aspartame is a chemical and not a naturally occurring product. Some reports say that aspartame is commonly synthesized from the fecal waste of genetically modified E.Coli (Escherichia Coli) bacteria. Aspartame is composed of 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid and 10% methyl ester. As soon as methyl ester is swallowed, it becomes free methyl alcohol, methanol or wood alcohol. Methanol is a real poison.
Once in the body, the 50% phenylalanine turns into aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine (DKP). DKP is widely accepted as carcinogenic, a cancer-inducing agent. Soon after entering the human body, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde and formic acid. Formaldehyde is the primary chemical used in the embalming process of dead bodies and formic acid is used in the leather and textile processing industry. Even a layperson can understand that these heavy chemicals would tend to be anything but healthy once taken into the body. So why do we consume aspartame?
The answer isn’t entirely the fault of the food industry. Yes, aspartame is 200 times cheaper than using sugar, which offers greater profits, but responsibility also rests on the consumer. For the consumer aspartame is like a medieval indulgence certificate — consume all you want and remain thin and trim. The consumer has succumbed to lust and lost control of the tongue. Add inattention, general ignorance and laziness to that and the American consumer has made the aspartame industry among the most profitable of all time. Now faced with mounting cancer risks some consumers are asking more questions and demanding to know the truth about aspartame. But the battle isn’t over just yet, in fact its just beginning. Health vs Profit Margins.
Aspartame has quite a harrowing and checkered past. No other product in history has undergone such vast testing and re-testing, arduous Federal litigation, and astounding controversy. This story is replete with scientific fraud, corporate payoffs to government officials, and suppression of evidence to name a few. The following is a condensed timeline that chronicles the advent, ups and downs, and eventual official approval of, according to Monsanto, "The most tested product in history."
The G D Searle Pharmaceutical Company research scientist named James Schlatter inadvertently discovered aspartame in 1965. He was working with amino acids in the quest to find new ulcer treatments. He discovered the sweet taste after licking his finger to pick up a piece of paper. In 1967 G D Searle approached the biochemist Dr. Harry Waisman, a respected expert on the toxicity of phenylalanine, requesting him to conduct a study of the effects of aspartame on primates. Dr. Waisman fed a mixture of aspartame and milk to seven monkeys, resulting in the death of one while five others suffered grand mal epileptic seizures.
In 1971 Dr. John Olney informed G D Searle that aspartic acid causes holes in the brains of infant mice. Despite Waisman and Olney’s findings, Searle applied for FDA approval in 1973, omitting the monkey and mice lab findings from their reports.
By 1974 aspartame received its first approval for use in dry foods by the FDA commissioner, despite the commissioner's own scientists finding major discrepancies in the data provided by Searle. Mid-1975 to early 1977 were litigiously challenging years for G D Searle. Those years were fraught with serious investigations into irregularities found in 25 key studies, aspartame being temporarily withdrawn from the market, official findings of fraudulent testing procedures, data manipulation, knowingly misrepresenting product testing, and Grand Jury proceedings. These indictment proceedings against G D Searle were led by US Attorney Samuel Skinner, who was requested to look into allegations of concealment of facts, misrepresentation of findings, and the making of false statements about the safety of aspartame. (Keep the name Skinner in mind.)
The later part of 1977 gave rise to the famous Bressler Report, which concurred with earlier reports of incongruous scientific data, the FDA's exoneration of Searle, and the official investigation getting dropped due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Soon after, senior scientist Jacqueline Verrett testified at a US Senate hearing that her team was pressured into validating data from experiments that were clearly a 'disaster' and it also came to light that assistant US Attorney William Conlon (another name to remember for later), dragged his feet on the aspartame issue giving time for the statute of limitations to run out.
In September 1980 the FDA's own PBOI (Public Board of Inquiry) unanimously voted against aspartame's approval. Enter Donald Rumsfeld, Searle's new CEO, who used his Republican political ties to push through the official approval of aspartame. In January 1981 the newly sworn-in President Ronald Reagan silenced the current FDA commissioner and quickly replaced him. Searle then reapplied for approval the day after Reagan was sworn in and Arthur Hull Hayes, the new FDA commissioner, deadlocked the 3-2 vote for approval by adding one more pro-scientist and then overrode the deadlock of the board to approve Searle's petition. In October 1981 the FDA gave their seal of approval to aspartame. Now that is some serious political wrangling!
It should be noted that Arthur Hull Hayes resigned as the FDA commissioner under a cloud of controversy about his taking unauthorized rides aboard a General Foods jet (General Foods was and remains a major purchaser of aspartame). He then took a position as senior scientific consultant with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Searle and Monsanto. As for Samuel Skinner and William Conlon (remember them?), they went to work for Sidley and Austin, Searle's very own law firm!
In 1984 the plot thickens, as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) put out a report called "Evaluation of Consumer Complaints Related to Aspartame Use", which reviewed 213 of 592 cases and noted that the re-challenge tests showed that sensitive individuals consistently displayed the same adverse symptoms every time they ingested aspartame. The reported symptoms included: aggressive behavior, hyperactivity, memory loss, liver impairment, disorientation, extreme numbness, loss of depth perception, excitability, severe mood swings, cardiac arrest, seizures, and suicidal tendencies. Even in the face of these alarming case histories, the CDC officially concluded that aspartame was safe for public ingestion.
Three years later in 1987, a US Senate hearing was held to address the issue of aspartame safety and labeling. Searle was in the hot seat again to defend themselves against their awry testing procedures and the 'psychological strategy' they used to ensure FDA approval for aspartame. Shockingly in the course of the trial it became known that aspartame was once on a Pentagon list of potential biochemical warfare weapons.
Nearly a decade later in December 1996, aspartame found itself on US national prime-time television. The well-known news program 60 Minutes aired a segment that showcased the results of a study conducted by Dr. Ralph G. Walton, professor of clinical psychology at Northeastern Ohio Universities. Dr. Walton reviewed 165 separate studies published in the preceding 20 years in peer-reviewed medical journals. Seventy-four of the studies were industry funded, all of which attested to the safety of aspartame. Eighty-four non-industry funded studies cited adverse health effects to aspartame ingestion. The remaining seven studies were conducted by the FDA — six of which found aspartame to be safe for human consumption. This should come as no surprise, as the FDA has a public track record of pro-industry bias. Interestingly, the only studies ever referenced in aspartame's defense are the industry-funded ones and it is these same studies that are given the greatest amount of credibility and importance during approval processes and in official safety reviews.
Aspartame has been widely touted as a safe and even healthy alternative to sugar and has been approved by the US FDA for use in food since 1981. Manufacturers argue that the instability of aspartame is irrelevant since its constituents are all found naturally in food. This is only half the story, they leave out the important fact that in food, amino acids like aspartic acid and phenylalanine are bound to proteins, which means that during digestion and metabolism they are released slowly into the body. In aspartame, these amino acids are in an unbounded form that release large quantities of these chemicals into the system much quicker. Furthermore, the methanol present in natural foods like fruits, for example, is bound to pectin and also has a co-factor, ethanol, to mitigate some of its side effects. Aspartame has no such system of 'checks and balances'. Phenylalanine also affects the ratio of norepinephrine and serotonin that can bring on mood disorders, such as panic attacks.
According to neuroscientist Russell Blaylock, aspartame is an excitotoxin (a chemical transmitter that allows brain cells to communicate). He says that "Even a minute over-concentration of these chemicals causes the brain cells to become so over-excited that they very quickly burn themselves out and die." Aspartame manufacturers claim that it is incapable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, but Dr. Blaylock explains that the blood-brain barrier becomes more porous from exposure to pesticides, hypoglycemia, immune disorders, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's strokes, and medical drugs. So for people with these conditions who ingest aspartame, the level of excitotoxins increases and has detrimental effects on the brain.
The four main claims that the makers of aspartame make to the public in favor of its use are: that it does not contribute to tooth decay, does not have an aftertaste, can extend the sweetness of certain flavors, and that it is desirable for those who need to lose weight due to its low caloric content. This all sounds really good...right? Yet why is it that 80% of the yearly consumer health complaints to the FDA are aspartame related? And if this supposedly benign and government approved substance is so safe, then why has it been directly linked to fibromyalgia, arthritis, Lou Garig's, lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, brain tumors, eye disorders, short term memory loss, grand mal seizures, mental retardation, cardiac arrest, impaired thinking ability, organ failure, and cancer? Not surprisingly, if you type the word ‘aspartame’ into a Google search bar the words ‘side effects’, ‘cancer’, ‘dangers’, and ‘poisoning’ are the first to pop up. Is the FDA really looking out for our health and best interest? Or is something else going on for profit that is being concealed from us?
Perhaps we will never really know for sure what exactly is going on behind the FDA curtain, but it is quite clear that just because something is officially approved as safe for human consumption does not necessarily mean that it is truly safe. The mountain of evidence that points to aspartame being an extremely questionable and likely lethal substance cannot be ignored. Since we cannot put our faith in the FDA to protect our health, we the people need to take matters into our own hands and educate ourselves as to what we are choosing to put into our bodies. Otherwise, as consumers we are nothing more than upgraded lab-rats for the food industry. Aspartame is no longer just an American problem as its use is now worldwide. It is of utmost importance that we ask questions, read labels and know where our information is coming from. Choose wisely.
Note: The editors highly recommend that our readers watch the compelling documentary “ Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World” available at the following url: