- I have used aspartame for years. I've also wholeheartedly
recommended products containing NutraSweet to my clients, as well as promoting
its use in recipes. So, when I was recently contacted by a sports nutrition
company to do some consulting work on the health risks associated with
aspartame ingestion, was understandably reluctant to accept the assignment.
- I questioned their marketing director, What if I don't
think there are any significant health risks associated with aspartame?"
His response was to send me a couple of scientific publications. "Just
read the articles. If, in your medical opinion, aspartame poses no health
risks, then we won't pursue it further."
- The next day I sat down with a pile of literature two
inches thick. After making it through the first 10 pages, I stormed into
my kitchen and fed every item of food containing aspartame to the garbage.
Since that time, I have not had so much as a stick of aspartame sweetened
- Sweet Beginnings
- Scientifically known as 1-aspartyl 1-phenylalanine methyl
ester, consumers recognize aspartame in the forms of Equal, NutraSweet
and Spoonful. Aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent),
aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent).
Those in support of this popular artificial sweetener, state that the two
primary amino acids, which comprise 90 percent of aspartame by weight,
are a harmless and natural part of our diet. They insist that aspartic
acid is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, which is present in the
human central nervous system. This is only a partial truth.
- 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 potential cell death.
- effects of these amino acids, when consumed as isolates,
can be linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and possibly
- The damage caused by excitotoxin food additives is not
usually dramatic. In most instances, the effects are subtle, cumulative
and develop over a prolonged period of time.
- Excitotoxins have also been shown to stimulate the generation
of free radicals (charged oxygen molecules with an unpaired electron).
These 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, cancer, coronary artery
disease and arthritis. It comes as no surprise that joint pain is a major
complaint among aspartame reactors (individuals who have reported adverse
- Potentially more worrisome is the 10 percent of aspartame
that is absorbed into the bloodstream as methanol (wood alcohol). The Environmental
Protection Agency defines safe consumption as no more than 7.8 milligrams
per day of this dangerous substance. A one-liter beverage, sweetened with
aspartame, contains about 56 milligrams of wood alcohol, or eight times
- EPA limit!
- Aspartame's breakdown products, or metabolites, are even
scarier than its components. Phenylalanine decomposes into diketopiperazine
(DKP) a known carcinogen, when exposed to warm temperatures or prolonged
storage. Even if products are consistently kept at cooler temperatures
we are not safe. At cold temperatures, methanol will spontaneously give
rise to a colorless toxin known as formaldehyde. 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.
- Are We All at Risk?
- The blood-brain barrier is a system of specialized capillary
structures that are designed to prevent toxic substances from entering
the brain. There are a number of medical conditions from diabetes, hypertension
and smoking, to simple aging which can render the blood-brain barrier incompetent.
Therefore, aspartame reactions have a tendency to be magnified
- among individuals who fit these profiles.
- Prior to birth and during the first 12 months of life,
the blood-brain barrier is incomplete; thereby allowing dangerous excitotoxins,
such as aspartic acid and phenylalanine, free access to the nervous system.
Additionally, the concentrating effects of the placenta are able to magnify
the levels of phenylalanine in the blood by as much as four-to six-fold
in a fetus. Fetal phenylalanine has the potential to reach levels that
kill cells in tissue culture. It's not much of a stretch to presume these
concentrations harbor the threat of birth defects in the developing infant.
Experimentally, 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 agents contained in breast milk. Despite
this, the American Dietetic Association still recommends aspartame for
pregnant and nursing women.
- Aspartame Disease
- Aspartame disease refers to a constellation of symptoms
attributed to the use of products containing aspartame. Common occurrences
include: headaches, dizziness, and everything from confusion to ringing
in the ears and slurred speech. Since its introduction as a food additive
in 1981, aspartame has accounted for more than 75 percent of all complaints
reported to the FDA's Adverse Reaction Monitoring System. In February 1994,
the US Department of Health and Human Services released this extensive
list of aspartame-induced reactions which encompassed everything from chronic
fatigue syndrome and seizures to infertility and death. By the FDAs own
admission, less than one percent of those who experience a reaction to
a product ever report it. This expands the 10,000 documented accounts to
roughly a million people who have experienced reactions to aspartame. Moreover,
most victims don't have any idea that aspartame may be at the root of their
- Brain Damage and Seizures
- Cerebral disfunction, resulting from aspartame, is believed
to occur through flooding the brain with large amounts of phenylalanine,
disturbances of your endogenous neurotransmitters, methanol-induced cerebral
edema and other additional resulting irregularities Aspartic acid is a
neuroexcitatory toxin present in damaging amounts even at the accepted
daily intake for aspartame.
- Formaldehyde, which is derived from methanol, accumulates
in certain areas of the brain which correspond to the neurodegenerative
symptoms of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS (Lou Gerig's Disease). These
conditions are all associated with free radical injury, a known effect
of the excitotoxins phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Although aspartame
is probably not a primary cause of neurodegenerative diseases, it may precipitate
these disorders and certainly exacerbates their symptoms.
- Recent studies have established that aspartame has seizure-promoting
activity in animal models. It is believed that the sweetener can increase
seizure frequency among epileptics and even initiate seizures in susceptible
individuals with no prior history.
- Brain Tumors
- According to the National Cancer Institute, there has
been a 10 percent increase in the incidence of common primary malignant
brain cancer since 1985, and perhaps as early as 1984. This phenomenon
occurred one to two years following the licensing of aspartame for beverages
in July 1983. It includes a disproportionately high rise in alioblastoma,
astrocvtoma and primary lymphoma among young woman known to consume considerable
amounts of aspartame. There has also been an increased occurrence of glioma
among children whose mothers consumed aspartame throughout their pregnancy.
The significance of this escalation is underscored by the high incidence
of brain tumors in rats after the experimental administration of aspartame.
- Vision Impairment
- The individual components of aspartame, as well as their
multiple breakdown products are potentially toxic to the retina and optic
nerves. Methanol poisoning is notorious for causing vision impairment
leading to blindness. Formaldehyde, its primary metabolite, is also known
to cause retinal damage. Aspartame has been linked to visual disturbances
which include blindness in one or both eyes, blurred visibility, eye pain
- Dr. H.J. Roberts of West Palm Beach, FL has treated hundreds
of aspartame reactors. One fourth of his patients experienced decreased
vision or blindness; which, in Dr. Roberts opinion, is "the most
serious complication." According to Dr. Roberts, optic nerve swelling,
retinal degeneration and visual impairment, that is associated with heavy
aspartame use, is identical to the pathology observed in recorded cases
of methanol toxicity from drinking wood alcohol throughout the days of
- If you haven't been frightened off aspartame yet, take
a lesson from the armed services. In the May 1992 edition of their journal,
flying Safety, the United States Air Force warned all pilots to stay off
- some people have suffered aspartame related disorders
with doses as small as that carried in a single stick of chewing gum. This
could mean a pilot who drinks diet sodas is more susceptible to flicker
vertigo, or flicker-induced epileptic activity. It also means that all
pilots are potential victims of sudden memory loss, dizziness during instrument
flight and gradual loss of vision."
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Consumption of significant amounts of aspartame has been
known to cause vocal slurring, loss of equilibrium and other neurological
sequelae. Methanol toxicity secondary to aspartame has been so frequently
misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, that some experts recommend deferring
diagnosis of MS for several months following an abstinence from NutraSweet
and related products. In the cases of methanol toxicity, the neurological
symptoms resolve once aspartame has been eliminated from the system.
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Many diabetics experience difficulties specifically attributed
to ingestion of aspartame products. Effects include the loss of diabetic
control, intensification of hypoglycemia, the occurrence of presumed insulin
reactions (including convulsions) and the precipitation, aggravation or
simulation of impaired vision and neuropathy. In most cases, symptoms improve
once aspartame products are discontinued. Despite overwhelming evidence
that aspartame use can worsen diabetic complications, the American Diabetic
Association continues to promote aspartame use for diabetics.
- Headaches are the most frequently reported adverse reaction
to aspartame products. It is a major complaint in half of all aspartame
reactors. Aspartame products must be considered as a causative agent and/or
aggravating factor in people with unexplained headaches. Similarly, patients
who are subject to migraine and other types of recurrent headaches should
avoid exposure to all products containing aspartame.
- Dozens of aspartame reactors, with no previous history
of hypertension, experience elevated blood pressure after ingesting products
containing the sweetener Others with known hypertension are not adequately
controlled on their maintenance medication when using even small amounts
of aspartame. The elevation in blood pressure presumably reflects the effects
- phenylalanine and its metabolic products, which include
norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Unintentionally, the United States government, in conjunction
with soda companies, has succeeded in performing a large scale aspartame
experiment on humans. During the Persian Gulf War, truckloads of diet soda
were sent to the troops. The cans sat for up to eight weeks on pallets
in the 120+ degree Arabian sun. Thirsty soldiers drank it up, bottle after
bottle. Is it any surprise that Desert Storm Syndrome symptoms are identical
to aspartame disease? Thousands of troops returned home complaining of
memory loss, vision problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, confusion, dizziness,
joint pain, headaches, equilibrium problems and manic depression. The Chronic
Fatigue Syndrome and Immunologic Disease Society (CFIDS) claim 6000 troops,
to date, have perished as a result of the Desert Storm Syndrome.
- Dieting Without Aspartame?
- In a cruel and ironic twist, aspartame may actually cause
weight gain. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, found in aspartame, stimulate
the release of insulin. Rapid, strong spikes in insulin remove all glucose
from the blood-stream and store it as fat. This can result in hypoglycemia
and sugar cravings. Additionally, it has been demonstrated to inhibit carbohydrate
induced synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which signals that
the body is satiated. Inhibition of serotonin leads to food cravings, increased
carbohydrate consumption and, ultimately, weight gain. In a recent study,
a control group switching to an aspartame-free diet resulted in an average
weight loss of 19 pounds.
- True Lies
- The consumption of aspartame has vastly exceeded expectations
at the time of the original toxicology testing in the early 1970s, by the
Illinois-based and patent owning, Searle & Company. Sold in 1985 to
the St Louis-based Monsanto Corporation; today it sells close to one billion
dollars annually, through its subsidiary NutraSweet. Many would argue that
the current ingestion of aspartame products by over half the adult population
in the United States constitutes an imminent public health hazard. Even
so, the industrial-medical complex fails to warn even high-risk groups
about potential dangers. You may wonder how this stuff was ever approved
by the FDA in the first place.
- For over eight years, the FDA refused to approve aspartame
because it was known to produce seizures and brain tumors in lab animals.
One pivotal study by Searle's researchers, known as the "Waisman Study,"
initially indicated that ingestion of aspartame caused convulsions and
death in primates. However, official conclusions could not be reached because
the study was never completed. Searle blamed -limitations in adequately
skilled laboratory personnel- for their decision to terminate the study.
By Searle's own acknowledgement, his team lacked competent research staff.
- Two FDA investigative task forces presented scathing
reports on the quality of the company's research and in 1976,the FDA's
general counsel requested a federal grand jury investigation of the company.
For reasons unknown, the investigation was never undertaken.
- Initially, even the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA)
rallied against the use of aspartame. An excerpt of a protest submitted
for congressional review in 1983 reads:
- "Searle has not characterized the decomposition
products of aspartame in soft drinks under temperature conditions to which
the beverages are likely to be exposed in the United States. Collectively,
the extensive deficiencies in the stability studies conducted by Searle
to demonstrate that aspartame and its degradation products are safe in
soft drinks intended to be sold in the United States, render those studies
inadequate and unreliable."
- Soon after President Reagan took office, he appointed
Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes as the new FDA commissioner. In 1980, a Public Board
of Inquiry asked to review scientific data on aspartame voted three to
zero to keep it off the market pending further studies on the brain cancer
issue. The board of inquiry was overruled, and in 1981, aspartame was licensed
by the FDA for use as a tabletop sweetener. In July 1983 it was approved
for use in beverages.
- Of approximately 100 independent studies conducted on
aspartame, over 90 percent have demonstrated significant health risks.
This would lead to the question "why hasn't aspartame been banned?"
In 1996, ignoring the fact that aspartame breaks down faster when heated
above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the FDA decided to remove any remaining limitations
on its use. Presently, there are thousands of companies using aspartame
in diet sodas, powdered drinks, gelatin, tea, coffee, cocoa, juices, frozen
desserts and even vitamins and medications. This translates to billions
of dollars worldwide. Unfortunately, this is more than enough to provide
agency officials with lucrative future employment, politicians with campaign
funds, non-profit foundations with endowments, scientists with research
grants and the media with advertising dollars.
- Presently, FDA officials continue to resist proposals
from concerned scientists, physicians and other groups for comprehensive
studies regarding the safety of aspartame.