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Aspartame - Sweet Poison?

A synthetic sweetener linked to an avalanche of health problems

By Larry Cook

You might want to think twice before reaching for that diet six-pack. Check the label-see the word "aspartame?" You probably will, since it is an ingredient in almost all sugar-free products. An artificial sweetener, aspartame is used in over 4,000 products worldwide, including some vitamins. It is marketed as a diet aid, which is ironic considering research has shown that it causes the brain to stop producing serotonin, which results in feeling as though you haven't had enough to eat-even when full!

Virtually all scientific and anecdotal evidence available-except from those studies funded by the groups which would benefit from the sale of aspartame-indicate that this additive is an extremely potent excitotoxin and is responsible for a myriad of health problems, especially in the nervous system.
Excitoxins are substances added to foods and beverages that over-stimulate neurons and cause brain damage in varying degrees. Damage caused by these additives is not usually dramatic and in most instances the effects are subtle, cumulative, and develop over a prolonged period of time. However, more serious and instantaneous symptoms are also possible. In fact, over 75% of ALL the recorded complaints received by the FDA were concerning Aspartame! These included reports of headache, nausea, vertigo, insomnia, loss of control of limbs, blurred vision, blindness, memory loss, slurred speech, mild to severe depression, suicidal tendencies, hyperactivity, gastronomical disorders, seizures, skin lesions, rashes, anxiety attacks, muscle and joint pain, numbness, mood changes, menstrual cramps out of cycle, hearing loss or ringing in the ears, loss or change of taste, and symptoms similar to a heart attack, to name a few.1
Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., author of: Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills, states: "In my book on excitotoxins,2 I explain in detail how these substances damage the nervous system, leading to severe disorders, and what can be done to reduce your risk. It is my opinion that aspartame is a dangerous neurotoxin, as well as a significant carcinogen for many organs, and should be avoided at all cost."3

Excitotoxins have also been shown to stimulate the generation of free radicals, which can have a negative impact on tissues and organs outside the central nervous system. Evidence indicates that free radical production accelerates many degenerative illnesses such as atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease and especially arthritis. Joint pain is a major complaint among those who have reported adverse reactions to aspartame.

In 1991, the National Institutes of Health listed 167 symptoms and reasons not to use aspartame. Studies of the additive in peer reviewed medical literature were surveyed for funding source and study outcome. Of the 166 studies felt to have relevance for questions of human safety, 74 had NutraSweet-related funding and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent (100%) of the industry-funded research attested to aspartame's safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified problems.4

Scientifically known as 1-aspartyl 1-phenylalanine methyl ester, aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent). Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that are normally supplied by the foods we eat; however, they can only be considered natural and harmless when consumed in combination with other amino acids. On their own, they enter the central nervous system in abnormally high concentrations, causing aberrant neuronal firing and probable cell death. The effects of these amino acids, when consumed as isolates, can be linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and possibly seizures. Potentially more worrisome is that 10 percent of aspartame is absorbed into the bloodstream as methanol (wood alcohol). The Environmental Protection Agency defines safe consumption of methanol as no than 7.8 milligrams per day. A one-liter beverage, sweetened with aspartame, contains about 56 milligrams of wood alcohol-eight times the EPA limit!

Aspartame's breakdown products, or metabolites, present an even greater cause for concern than its components. Phenylalanine decomposes into diketopiperazine (DKP), a known carcinogen when exposed to warm temperatures or prolonged storage. And, even at cool or cold temperatures, methanol will spontaneously give rise to formaldehyde (a colorless toxin used as an embalming agent). Independent studies have shown formaldehyde formation resulting from aspartame ingestion to be extremely common. It accumulates within the cells, and reacts with cellular proteins such as enzymes and DNA. This cumulative reaction could spell grave consequences for those who consume aspartame-laden diet drinks and foods on a daily basis.5

Furthermore, it has been determined that infants are four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than adults. During the first year of life, irreversible brain damage can occur through tainted agents in breast milk. Despite this, the American Dietetic Association still recommends aspartame for pregnant and nursing women!
The United States Air Force, though, recognizes its dangers. The May, 1992 issue of their official publication, "Flying Safety," stated: "In pregnancy the effects of aspartame can be passed directly on to the fetus, even in very small doses." Both the U. S. Air Force and Navy have warned pilots about adverse reactions that can come from using aspartame products. Since some people have suffered aspartame related disorders with doses as small as that carried in a single stick of chewing gum, this could mean that a pilot who drinks diet sodas is more susceptible to flicker vertigo, or to flicker-induced epileptic activity. Since 1988, over 600 pilots have complained about aspartame to the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, an organization devoted to exposing the dangers of aspartame to the public.6

Aspartame was originally listed in the U.S. military's Chemical Warfare division; whether it was used as a sweetener to hide the taste of poison, or as a poison itself, is not clear.7 Even the National Soft Drink Association expressed concern over the use of aspartame in soda pop. In 1983, they drafted a 30 page protest that was entered into the congressional record two years later. The draft included these words: "G. D. Searle and Company has not demonstrated to a certainty that the use of aspartame in soft drinks, without quantitative limitations, will not adversely affect human health as a result of the changes such use is likely to cause in brain chemistry and under certain reasonably anticipated conditions of use."8

Approved by the FDA for use in food in 1974, that approval was revoked after it was shown to cause brain tumors in rats. The FDA did not sanction G.D. Searle's aspartame testing procedures between 1967 and 1975. However, after objecting members of the FDA vacated their positions in 1981, new members re-approved aspartame for general consumption. There is convincing evidence that Searle manipulated its tests to get FDA approval9 , and that the new management of the FDA was well aware of this.10

On Jan. 10, 1977, FDA Chief Counsel Richard Merrill recommended to U.S. Attorney Sam Skinner, "We request that your office convene a Grand Jury investigation into apparent violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the False Reports to the Government Act, by G.D. Searle and Company and three of its responsible officers for their willful and knowing failure to make reports to the Food and Drug Administration, and for concealing material facts and making false statements in reports of animal studies conducted to establish the safety of the drug Aldactone and the food additive Aspartame."
Why was Searle not indicted? Searle's law firm met with Attorney Skinner on January 26. A week later they offered him a job. On April 17 the Justice Department advised Skinner to proceed immediately because of a looming statute of limitations deadline. On July 1 Skinner switched sides to work for Sidney and Austin, Searle's law firm. His successor, Attorney William Conlon, after convening a grand jury, let the Statute of Limitations run out on the aspartame charges. Fifteen months later he, too, went to work for Sidney and Austin. In all, TEN ranking FDA or federal officials involved with the investigation and regulation of aspartame had left government service to work for the substitute sweetener industry.11

In 1980 the FDA created a Public Board of Inquiry to determine whether or not aspartame should be allowed onto the market. The board consisted of Peter J. Lampart, M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pathology at UCLA San Diego, Vernon R. Young, Ph.D., from the University of Nutritional Biochemestry at MIT, and Dr. Walle Nauta, Institute Professor at the Department of Psychology and Brain Science at MIT. They voted unanimously to recommend banning aspartame for human consumption.12 But as surely as you see Nutrasweet for sale today, the board's recommendation was never heeded.
Why? In 1985, St. Louis-based Monsanto Corporation bought C.G. Searle. Monsanto manufactures pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Monsanto also manufactures and markets CelebrexTM, which is promoted as a pain reliever for arthritis. Considering that their other products (pesticides and aspartame) may cause arthritis and significant health-related problems, and that they now market an arthritis drug, it appears they've cornered the market for pain and suffering-profiting from both the cause and the band-aid to cover it.

This is no accident. Concious efforts have been made to ensure that the truths concerning aspartame are not revealed. DORway, one of many websites that exposes the dangers of aspartame, states: "Monsanto and the FDA would like you to believe that the entire media and medical system is pure as the driven snow... and that those of us exposing the dangers of aspartame are 'Toxic Terrorists' (CNN), or that we are weaving a 'WEB of Deceit' (Time). Every last one of them have a VESTED interest in aspartame remaining an unfettered product. Monsanto has a billion dollars in sales annually....the media has tens of billions of dollars invested in advertisements for over 5,000 products, and the medical system... has hundreds of billions in expensive but useless tests that cannot pinpoint patients' problems with certainty... and then there are the many expensive drugs that don't seem to get the job done." Who has the vested interest here, after all?
So, now you know. For vibrant health, avoid aspartame and other synthetic sweeteners. An alternative to aspartame (or sugar for that matter) is the herb stevia, which is completely safe. Unfortunately, the FDA has made it illegal for manufacturers of stevia to state that it's a sugar substitute (they even tried to burn books about stevia-but that's another story). The aspartame industry knows very well that if we all knew of a sugar substitute that was not only calorie free, but completely safe, our choice would be an easy one. But alas, that may not be in their best-or most profitable- interests.

For more information on aspartame go to:


1 The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological and Electromagnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness by Val Valerian, Leading Edge Research Group, pg. 138
2 Excitotoxin: a substance added to foods and beverages that literally stimulates neurons to death, causing brain damage of varying degrees; http://www.whale.to/Hazards/excitotoxins.html
3 Aspartame Kills - website, http://www.aspartame.com/blalockpilot.htm
4 Ralph G. Walton, M.D., Chairman, The Center for Behavioral Medicine, Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine; DORway, http://www.dorway.com/peerrev.html
5 Information for last three paragraphs: "Could There Be Evils Lurking In Aspartame Consumption?"
By Christine Lydon, MD, OXYGEN MAGAZINE October issue; reprinted at Aspartame Kills, http://www.aspartamekills.com/lydon.htm
6 DORway, http://dorway.com/betty/avmags.html
7 Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, http://web2.airmail.net/marystod/extraord.html
8 MonSatano (Mocking Monsanto, maker of aspartame), http://www.tincan.co.uk/seizetheday/main.htm
9 Pages S5507 through S5511 of the Congressional Record dated May 7, l985; DORway, http://www.dorway.com/nsda.html
10 Dr. Marvin Legator, Director of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Texas, who helped pioneer the mutagecity testing at the FDA, is quoted as saying, "All of Searle tests are scientifically irresponsible and disgraceful;" and on April 8th, 1976, Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Senate Subcommittee that oversaw an investigation into Aspartame and other drugs of Searle, stated, "The extensive nature of the almost unbelievable ranges of abuses discovered by the FDA on several major Searle products is profoundly disturbing;" The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological and Electromagnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness by Val Valerian, Leading Edge Research Group, pg. 152-153
11 The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological and Electromagnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness by Val Valerian, Leading Edge Research Group, pg. 138
12 "Aspartame - The Condoned Lethal Sweetener", by Phil Macdonald, The Latest Magazine, reprinted at DORway: http://www.dorway.com/lethal.html
13 The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological and Electromagnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness by Val Valerian, Leading Edge Research Group, pg. 155
14 DORway, http://www.dorway.com/liars.html