By Gregg Prescott, M.S., BodyMindSoulSpirit.com
Is it a coincidence that the word ‘die’ is in diet? While aspartame can be found in over 6,000 food and beverage products, mainly in low calorie foods and sugar free beverages, its effects on health have been heavily scrutinized.
Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and been approved at least 26 times by the FDA over the past 31 years. While none of the studies were longitudinal, we are now seeing the results of long-term aspartame consumption.
For example, in 1996, Dr. John Olney, a neuroscientist from Washington University School of Medicine, wrote a medical journal on “Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There A Link To Aspartame?” which found that aspartame was the most likely suspect in the increase in malignant brain tumors.
In 1999, a study was done by Dr. Peter Nunn at Kings College in England correlating brain tumors with aspartame consumption.
Interesting Aspartame Statistics
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D. compiled the following statistics:
• In 1984, 6,900,000 lbs of aspartame were consumed in the U.S.
• In 1985, G.D. Searle (NutraSweet) was bought out by Monsanto.
14,400,000 lbs. of aspartame were consumed in the U.S. that 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
• 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.
According to Dr. Connealy, aspartame contains aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methanol (10%):
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.
How did aspartame get approved for public consumption?
In order for aspartame to get approved, many hurdles needed to be cleared, but despite medical practitioners advising against the public consumption of aspartame, Donald Rumsfeld played a huge role in the approval of aspartame. Rumsfeld was a CEO with Searle and had a vested interest in aspartame, especially after all of the failed studies. When Ronald Reagan became president, Rumsfeld was part of Reagan’s transition team and he personally hand-picked the new head of the FDA, who subsequently approved aspartame. Was this a conflict of interest?
Here is a brief history of the aspartame approval process, compiled by James Turner, ESQ. Director of the National Institute of Science, Law, and Public Policy (NISLAPP)
December 1965— While working on an ulcer drug, James Schlatter, a chemist at G.D. Searle, accidentally discovers aspartame, a substance that is 180 times sweeter than sugar yet has no calories.
Spring 1967— Searle begins the safety tests on aspartame that are necessary for applying for FDA approval of food additives.
Fall 1967— Dr. Harold Waisman, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin, conducts aspartame safety tests on infant monkeys on behalf of the Searle Company. Of the seven monkeys that were being fed aspartame mixed with milk, one dies and five others have grand mal seizures.
Spring 1971— Neuroscientist Dr. John Olney (whose pioneering work with monosodium glutamate was responsible for having it removed from baby foods) informs Searle that his studies show that aspartic acid (one of the ingredients of aspartame) caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle’s own researchers confirmed Dr. Olney’s findings in a similar study.
February 1973— After spending tens of millions of dollars conducting safety tests, the G.D. Searle Company applies for FDA approval and submits over 100 studies they claim support aspartame’s safety.
March 5, 1973— One of the first FDA scientists to review the aspartame safety data states that “the information provided (by Searle) is inadequate to permit an evaluation of the potential toxicity of aspartame”. She says in her report that in order to be certain that aspartame is safe, further clinical tests are needed.
May 1974— Attorney, Jim Turner (consumer advocate who was instrumental in getting cyclamate taken off the market) meets with Searle representatives to discuss Dr. Olney’s 1971 study which showed that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of infant mice.
July 26, 1974— The FDA grants aspartame its first approval for restricted use in dry foods.
August 1974— Jim Turner and Dr. John Olney file the first objections against aspartame’s approval.
March 24, 1976— Turner and Olney’s petition triggers an FDA investigation of the laboratory practices of aspartame’s manufacturer, G.D. Searle. The investigation finds Searle’s testing procedures shoddy, full of inaccuracies and “manipulated” test data. The investigators report they “had never seen anything as bad as Searle’s testing.”
January 10, 1977— The FDA formally requests the U.S. Attorney’s office to begin grand jury proceedings to investigate whether indictments should be filed against Searle for knowingly misrepresenting findings and “concealing material facts and making false statements” in aspartame safety tests. This is the first time in the FDA’s history that they request a criminal investigation of a manufacturer.
January 26, 1977— While the grand jury probe is underway, Sidley & Austin, the law firm representing Searle, begins job negotiations with the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner.
March 8, 1977— G. D. Searle hires prominent Washington insider Donald Rumsfeld as the new CEO to try to turn the beleaguered company around. A former Member of Congress and Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration, Rumsfeld brings in several of his Washington cronies as top management.
July 1, 1977— Samuel Skinner leaves the U.S. Attorney’s office and takes a job with Searle’s law firm. (see Jan. 26th)
August 1, 1977— The Bressler Report, compiled by FDA investigators and headed by Jerome Bressler, is released. The report finds that 98 of the 196 animals died during one of Searle’s studies and weren’t autopsied until later dates, in some cases over one year after death. Many other errors and inconsistencies are noted. For example, a rat was reported alive, then dead, then alive, then dead again; a mass, a uterine polyp, and ovarian neoplasms were found in animals but not reported or diagnosed in Searle’s reports.
December 8, 1977— U.S. Attorney Skinner’s withdrawal and resignation stalls the Searle grand jury investigation for so long that the statue of limitations on the aspartame charges runs out. The grand jury investigation is dropped.
June 1, 1979— The FDA established a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) to rule on safety issues surrounding NutraSweet.
September 30, 1980— The Public Board of Inquiry concludes NutraSweet should not be approved pending further investigations of brain tumors in animals. The board states it “has not been presented with proof of reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive.”
January 1981— Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, states in a sales meeting that he is going to make a big push to get aspartame approved within the year. Rumsfeld says he will use his political pull in Washington, rather than scientific means, to make sure it gets approved.
January 21, 1981— Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States. Reagan’s transition team, which includes Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G. D. Searle, hand picks Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. to be the new FDA Commissioner.
March, 1981— An FDA commissioner’s panel is established to review issues raised by the Public Board of Inquiry.
May 19, 1981— Three of six in-house FDA scientists who were responsible for reviewing the brain tumor issues, Dr. Robert Condon, Dr. Satya Dubey, and Dr. Douglas Park, advise against approval of NutraSweet, stating on the record that the Searle tests are unreliable and not adequate to determine the safety of aspartame.
July 15, 1981— In one of his first official acts, Dr. Arthur Hayes Jr., the new FDA commissioner, overrules the Public Board of Inquiry, ignores the recommendations of his own internal FDA team and approves NutraSweet for dry products. Hayes says that aspartame has been shown to be safe for its’ proposed uses and says few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close scrutiny.
October 15, 1982— The FDA announces that Searle has filed a petition that aspartame be approved as a sweetener in carbonated beverages and other liquids.
July 1, 1983— The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) urges the FDA to delay approval of aspartame for carbonated beverages pending further testing because aspartame is very unstable in liquid form. When liquid aspartame is stored in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it breaks down into DKP and formaldehyde, both of which are known toxins.
July 8, 1983— The National Soft Drink Association drafts an objection to the final ruling which permits the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages and syrup bases and requests a hearing on the objections. The association says that Searle has not provided responsible certainty that aspartame and its’ degradation products are safe for use in soft drinks.
August 8, 1983— Consumer Attorney, Jim Turner of the Community Nutrition Institute and Dr. Woodrow Monte, Arizona State University’s Director of Food Science and Nutritional Laboratories, file suit with the FDA objecting to aspartame approval based on unresolved safety issues.
September, 1983— FDA Commissioner Hayes resigns under a cloud of controversy about his taking unauthorized rides aboard a General Foods jet. (General foods is a major customer of NutraSweet) Burson-Marsteller, Searle’s public relation firm (which also represented several of NutraSweet’s major users), immediately hires Hayes as senior scientific consultant.
Fall 1983— The first carbonated beverages containing aspartame are sold for public consumption.
November 1984— Center for Disease Control (CDC) “Evaluation of consumer complaints related to aspartame use.” (summary by B. Mullarkey)
November 3, 1987— U.S. hearing, “NutraSweet: Health and Safety Concerns,” Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, chairman.
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