Archive for February 12th, 2008

I remember sitting in a restaurant next to my horse judging coach/4-H adviser (who also happened to be my boss and holds a prominent position in the world of science and education) when I was a Junior in High School…and one of my teammates ordered a Diet Coke.  We started discussing diet vs. regular and my coach, in her matter-of-fact, completely non-judgemental but informative way, said, “If you knew what that stuff did to your body, you wouldn’t drink it.”  I think she went on to provide a few more details about some current research (without embarrassing my teammate too much) and then our conversation moved on.  However, my coach’s warning has always stuck with me and I’ve never been inclined to drink diet pop or eat “sugar-free”.  Besides, I like original 🙂

My mom recently gave me cause to revisit this topic when she emailed me this link.  I’m not sure how scientifically sound the research is, but someone did their homework at least!  From that site, I visited several others. 

In his column dated 1/1/06, Dr. Woodrow Monte (a retired Food Sciences Professor) details the poinsonous components of aspartame, including the toxins methanol and formaldehyde.  I highly encourage reading the entire piece–it’s both enlightening and a fairly easy read.

No matter what you believe about the possible dangers of aspartame, several facts are irrefutable.   First, as is often the case with drug research and development, the company behind the discovery, development, and promotion of the product (G.D. Searle & Company) is also responsible for the research to determine it’s safety.  (Conflict of interest, anyone?  In discussion of the aspartame controversy, Wikipedia mentions the possible conflicts of interest during FDA approval.)  Obviously there is a huge conflict of interest because there is a huge amount of money on the line.  According to research compiled by Dr. Ralph Walton reviewing all controlled human and animal studies looking for the effects of aspartame, out of 90 independently-funded studies, 83 of them found one or more problems caused by aspartame.  However, Dr. Walton found that out of the 74 studies funded by the aspartame industry (e.g., Monsanto, G.D. Searle, etc). every single study claimed that no problems were found.

Second, while the FDA has given aspartame the thumbs up, other government agencies aren’t exactly riding the same band wagon.  Did you know that the Air Force put out an alert to pilots in May of 1992 warning against drinking diet pop or even chewing sugarless gum before flying?

Finally, and most compelling (at least for me), the FDA has a list of symptoms attributed to aspartame that have been submitted by over 10,000 aspartame consumers [easier to read version].  Aspartame is out on the market and has been for almost 30 years–thus, we don’t really need to rely on lab rat research.  The “real world” research is being done each time YOU open a Diet Pepsi.  Note that several fall under the same category–i.e. there are multiple types of menstrual/womanly issues that are listed separately (#5, #23, #74, #86), multiple types of seizures that are listed separately, etc.  Oh, and make sure to check out #77 on the list.

A recent (2006) paper published by Dr. Soffritti of the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center/European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences in Bologna, Italy from his 1 Million dollar aspartame research project provided solid evidence that aspartame is a carcinogen.  “Our study shows that APM [aspartame] is a multipotential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw, much less than the current ADI [Acceptable Daily Intake] for humans in Europe (40 mg/kg bw) and in the United States (50 mg/kg bw).”  The results of the study call for “an urgent reexamination of the present guidelines on the use and consumption of APM [aspartame]” in both the US and Europe.

Cancer is the most often debated (and researched) aspartame-related disease, but there are a plethora of others that–whether true or not–are blamed on aspartame.  They include, but aren’t limited to: a multitude of neural disorders, Alzheimer’s and other memory and cognitive disorders, birth defects, joint and back pain, atherosclerosis, arthritis, vision disorders including blindness, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, headaches including migraines, hormone imbalances, MS, Parkinson’s disease, sexual and reproductive disorders, and seizures.  (See the link “Discussion of Aspartame-Related Symptoms” below.)

What do I believe, personally?  I believe there is enough information about aspartame to be cautious, if not completely avoid the stuff.  I believe that any common food additive discovered while developing a pharmaceutical drug (as aspartame was) should be held suspect.  Drugs are meant for those who really need them, not for everyday use because they happen to taste sweet.  Also, I think Dr. Monte brings up some very excellent points.  His first interesting point is that methanol is extremely toxic to humans, and humans alone.  Thus, lab testing on other species is not going to give us accurate information about potential negative repercussions of ingesting a substance containing (or metabolised into) methanol.  The sad part is, scientists already know methanol is extremely toxic to us homo sapiens.  The second point I find fascinating is the recommendation that pregnant women take folic acid during pregnancy and its (possible) connection with aspartame toxicity.  Dr. Monte writes:

     “The incidence of the Neural Tube Birth Defect, spina bifida in the United States was significantly increasing from 1992 to 1995, to the point that the US Food and Drug administration in 1996, mandated that all enriched cereal grain products be fortified with folic acid (a very unusual move since, up to that time folic acid was the only vitamin the FDA limited consumption of). The Center for Disease Control recommended that all child bearing women in the United States increase their Folic Acid intake to 400 micrograms a day, in order to prevent “Neural Tube defects”. As I stated in my 1984 article, folic acid, is primarily used by the body to give some protection from methanol metabolites, and little else. Since Folic Acid fortification has been in effect it has been reported that as much as 50% of the incidence of Neural Tube birth defects have been prevented. How many more would have been prevented by removing what is now the major source of the teratogen methanol in food… Aspartame?”  

Hmm, I find THAT fascinating on so many levels!

For more info:

Discussion of Aspartame-Related Symptoms


Aspartame Net


The Basics

The Truth About Stuff


Aspartame Blog

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