Today, the sweeteners sucrose and saccharin remain as controversial as ever, and the debate over whether or not they represent a cancer hazard to the public continues to rage. And yet, people who have turned to another alternative to saccharin and sugar over the past 20 years have become equally dismayed at a parallel fur-fight over aspartame, decked out in the garb of a light blue sachet, which began adorning restaurants and diners the world over under the brand names Nutrasweet, Canderel, Equal, Spoonful and Equal-Measure.
Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 by James Schlatter, a chemist working for G D Serle Company, who was testing anti-ulcer compounds for his employers. Aspartame’s original approval as a sweetener for public consumption was blocked by neuroscientist Dr John W Olney and consumer attorney James Turner in August 1974 over concerns about both aspartame’s safety and G D Serle’s research practices. However, aspartame duly received its approval for dry goods in 1981 and its go-ahead as a sweetener for carbonated beverages was granted in 1983, despite growing concerns over its neurological effects. In 1985, G D Serle was purchased by pharmaceutical giant Monsanto, and Serle Pharmaceuticals and The NutraSweet Company were created as separate corporate identities.
According to researcher Alex Constantine in his essay entitled “Sweet Poison”, aspartame may account for up to 75% of the adverse food reactions reported to the US FDA, due primarily to its reported ability to affect neurological processes in humans. Dr Olney found that an excess of aspartate and glutamate, two chemicals used by the body as neurotransmitters to transmit information between brain neurons, could kill neurons in the brain by allowing too much calcium to collect in the neuron cells to neutralise acid. This neurological damage led Olney to label aspartate and glutamate ‘excitotoxins’, in that they, according to Olney, ‘excite’ or stimulate the neural cells to death.
Side-effects laid at the door of aspartame poisoning include fits, convulsions, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, memory loss, hormonal problems, hearing loss, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS dementia, brain lesions and neuro-endocrine disorders. Risks to infants, children and pregnant women from aspartame were also underscored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, a research body that traditionally follows FDA policy and adopts a softly-softly approach to chemical problems. The Federation declared:
“It is prudent to avoid the use of dietary supplements of L-glutamic acid by pregnant women, infants and children. The existence of evidence for potential endocrine responses… would also suggest a neuroendocrine link and that… L-glutamic acid should be avoided by women of childbearing age and individuals with affective disorders.”
Aspartame comprises two chief trouble-makers:
Phenylalanine: The amino acid L-phenylalanine, used by the brain, comprises 50% of aspartame. People suffering from the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolise phenylalanine and so an excess of this amino acid builds up in parts of the brain, leading to a decrease of serotonin levels, bringing on emotional disorders and depression.
Methanol: Also known as wood alcohol, the poison methanol is a 10% ingredient of aspartame, which is created when aspartame is heated above 86oF (30oC) in, for example, the preparation of processed foods. Methanol oxidises in the body to produce formic acid and the deadly neurotoxin, formaldehyde, also used as a prime ingredient in many vaccinations. Methanol is considered by America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “…a cumulative poison, due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidised to formaldehyde and formic acid; both of these metabolites are toxic.”
A one-litre carbonated beverage, sweetened with aspartame, contains around 56 mg of methanol. Heavy consumers of soft drinks sweetened with aspartame can ingest up to 250 mg of methanol daily, especially in the summer, amounting to 32 times the EPA warning limit.
Dr Woodrow C Monte, Director of the Food Science and Nutritional Laboratory at Arizona State University, was concerned that human response to methanol was probably much higher than with animals, due to humans lacking key enzymes that assist in the detoxification of methanol in other creatures. Monte stated:
“There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possible mutagenic, teratogenic, or carcinogenic effects of chronic administration of methyl alcohol.”
Monte’s concern about aspartame was so great that he petitioned the FDA through the courts to address these issues. Monte requested that the FDA “…slow down on this soft drink issue long enough to answer some of the important questions. It’s not fair that you are leaving the full burden of proof on the few of us who are concerned and have such limited resources. You must remember that you are the American public’s last defense. Once you allow usage [of aspartame], there is literally nothing I or my colleagues can do to reverse the course. Aspartame will then join saccharin, the sulfiting agents, and God knows how many other questionable compounds enjoined to insult the human constitution with government approval.”
Ironically, shortly after Dr Monte’s impassioned plea, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., the Commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration, approved the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages. Shortly after, he left the FDA to take up a position with G D Serle’s public relations company. In 1993, the FDA further approved aspartame as a food ingredient in numerous process foods that would always be heated above 86oF as part of their preparation.
Dr Joseph Mercola is no lover of aspartame. The well-known nutrition and health researcher itemises another catalogue of woes that have come to punctuate aspartame’s hopeless legacy as a food additive: “In 1991, the National Institutes of Health listed 167 symptoms and reasons to avoid the use of aspartame, but today it is a multi-million dollar business that contributes to the degeneration of the human population, as well as the deliberate suppression of overall intelligence, short-term memory and the added contribution as a carcinogenic environmental co-factor.”
The FDA and Centers for Disease Control continue to receive a stream of complaints from the population about aspartame. It is the only chemical warfare weapon available in mass quantities on the grocery shelf and promoted in the media. It has also been indicated that women with an intolerance for phenylalanine, one of the components of aspartame, may give birth to infants with as much as a 15% drop in intelligence level if they habitually consume products containing this dangerous substance.”