Aspartame is the technical name for the brand names NutraSweet,
Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. It was discovered by accident in
1965 when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company, was testing
an anti-ulcer drug.
Aspartame was approved for dry goods in 1981 and for carbonated
beverages in 1983. It was originally approved for dry goods on July 26,
1974, but objections filed by neuroscience researcher Dr. John W. Olney
and consumer attorney James Turner in August 1974, as well as
investigations of G.D. Searle's research practices caused the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) to put approval of aspartame on hold
(December 5, 1974). In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle and made
Searle Pharmaceuticals and The NutraSweet Company separate subsidiaries.
Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to
food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very
serious, including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different
documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame
||Loss of taste
According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame,
the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by
ingesting of aspartame:
||Chronic fatigue syndrome
Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid,
phenylalanine, and methanol. The book Prescription for Nutritional
Healing, by James and Phyllis Balch lists aspartame under the category
of "chemical poison." As you shall see, that is exactly what it is.
What Is Aspartame Made Of?
Aspartic Acid (40 percent of Aspartame)
Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a professor of neurosurgery at the Medical
University of Mississippi, recently published a book thoroughly
detailing the damage that is caused by the ingestion of excessive
aspartic acid from aspartame. Blaylock makes use of almost 500
scientific references to show how excess free excitatory amino acids
such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid (about 99 percent of monosodium
glutamate or MSG is glutamic acid) in our food supply are causing serious
chronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms.
How Aspartate (and Glutamate) Cause Damage
and glutamate act as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the
transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate
or glutamate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx
of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive
amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage
that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are
referred to as "excitotoxins." They "excite" or stimulate the neural
cells to death.
Aspartic acid is an amino acid. Taken in its free form (unbound to
proteins), it significantly raises the blood plasma level of aspartate
and glutamate. The excess aspartate and glutamate in the blood plasma
shortly after ingesting aspartame or products with free glutamic acid
(glutamate precursor) leads to a high level of those neurotransmitters
in certain areas of the brain.
The blood brain barrier (BBB), which normally protects the brain from
excess glutamate and aspartate as well as toxins, 1) is not fully
developed during childhood, 2) does not fully protect all areas of the
brain, 3) is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions, and 4)
allows seepage of excess glutamate and aspartate into the brain even
The excess glutamate and aspartate slowly begin to destroy neurons.
The large majority (75 percent or more) of neural cells in a particular
area of the brain are killed before any clinical symptoms of a chronic
illness are noticed. A few of the many chronic illnesses that have been
shown to be contributed to by long-term exposure to excitatory amino
acid damage include:
|Multiple sclerosis (MS)
The risk to infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and
persons with certain chronic health problems from excitotoxins are
great. Even the Federation of American Societies for Experimental
Biology (FASEB), which usually understates problems and mimics the FDA
party-line, recently stated in a review that:
"It is prudent to avoid the use of dietary supplements of L-glutamic
acid by pregnant women, infants, and children. The existence of evidence
of potential endocrine responses, i.e., elevated cortisol and
prolactin, and differential responses between males and females, would
also suggest a neuroendocrine link and that supplemental L-glutamic acid
should be avoided by women of childbearing age and individuals with
Aspartic acid from aspartame has the same deleterious effects on the body as glutamic acid.
The exact mechanism of acute reactions to excess free glutamate and
aspartate is currently being debated. As reported to the FDA, those
||Fatigue (blocks sufficient glucose entry into brain)
One common complaint of persons suffering from the effect of
aspartame is memory loss. Ironically, in 1987, G.D. Searle, the
manufacturer of aspartame, undertook a search for a drug to combat
memory loss caused by excitatory amino acid damage. Blaylock is one of
many scientists and physicians who are concerned about excitatory amino
acid damage caused by ingestion of aspartame and MSG.
A few of the many experts who have spoken out against the damage
being caused by aspartate and glutamate include Adrienne Samuels, Ph.D.,
an experimental psychologist specializing in research design. Another
is Olney, a professor in the department of psychiatry, School of
Medicine, Washington University, a neuroscientist and researcher, and
one of the world's foremost authorities on excitotoxins. (He informed
Searle in 1971 that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of mice.)
Phenylalanine (50 percent of aspartame)
Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in the brain. Persons
with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize
phenylalanine. This leads to dangerously high levels of phenylalanine in
the brain (sometimes lethal). It has been shown that ingesting
aspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excess
levels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not have
This is not just a theory, as many people who have eaten large
amounts of aspartame over a long period of time and do not have PKU have
been shown to have excessive levels of phenylalanine in the blood.
Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels of
serotonin in the brain to decrease, leading to emotional disorders such
as depression. It was shown in human testing that phenylalanine levels
of the blood were increased significantly in human subjects who
chronically used aspartame.
Even a single use of aspartame raised the blood phenylalanine levels.
In his testimony before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Louis J. Elsas showed
that high blood phenylalanine can be concentrated in parts of the brain
and is especially dangerous for infants and fetuses. He also showed that
phenylalanine is metabolized much more efficiently by rodents than by
One account of a case of extremely high phenylalanine levels caused
by aspartame was recently published by the Wednesday Journal in an
article titled "An Aspartame Nightmare." John Cook began drinking six to
eight diet drinks every day. His symptoms started out as memory loss
and frequent headaches. He began to crave more aspartame-sweetened
drinks. His condition deteriorated so much that he experienced wide mood
swings and violent rages. Even though he did not suffer from PKU, a
blood test revealed a phenylalanine level of 80 mg/dl. He also showed
abnormal brain function and brain damage. After he kicked his aspartame
habit, his symptoms improved dramatically.
As Blaylock points out in his book, early studies measuring
phenylalanine buildup in the brain were flawed. Investigators who
measured specific brain regions and not the average throughout the brain
notice significant rises in phenylalanine levels. Specifically the
hypothalamus, medulla oblongata, and corpus striatum areas of the brain
had the largest increases in phenylalanine. Blaylock goes on to point
out that excessive buildup of phenylalanine in the brain can cause
schizophrenia or make one more susceptible to seizures.
Therefore, long-term, excessive use of aspartame may provide a boost
to sales of serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and drugs to
control schizophrenia and seizures.
Methanol a.k.a wood alcohol/poison (10 percent of aspartame)
Methanol/wood alcohol is a deadly poison. Some people may remember
methanol as the poison that has caused some "skid row" alcoholics to end
up blind or dead. Methanol is gradually released in the small intestine
when the methyl group of aspartame encounters the enzyme chymotrypsin.
The absorption of methanol into the body is sped up considerably when
free methanol is ingested. Free methanol is created from aspartame when
it is heated to above 86 Fahrenheit (30 Centigrade). This would occur
when aspartame-containing product is improperly stored or when it is
heated (e.g. as part of a "food" product such as Jello).
breaks down into formaldehyde in the body. Formaldehyde
is a deadly neurotoxin. An EPA assessment of methanol states that
methanol "is considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate of
excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidized to
recommend a limit of consumption of 7.8 mg/day. A one-liter (approx. 1
quart) aspartame-sweetened beverage contains about 56 mg of methanol.
Heavy users of aspartame-containing products consume as much as 250 mg
of methanol daily or 32 times the EPA limit.
Symptoms from methanol poisoning include headaches, ear buzzing,
dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo,
chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains in the extremities,
behavioral disturbances, and neuritis. The most well known problems from
methanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision,
progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision,
obscuration of vision, retinal damage, and blindness. Formaldehyde is a
known carcinogen, causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication
and causes birth defects.
Due to the lack of a couple of key enzymes, humans are many times
more sensitive to the toxic effects of methanol than animals. Therefore,
tests of aspartame or methanol on animals do not accurately reflect the
danger for humans. As pointed out by Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, director of
the food science and nutrition laboratory at Arizona State University:
"There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possible
mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic effects of chronic administration
of methyl alcohol."
He was so concerned about the unresolved safety issues that he filed
suit with the FDA requesting a hearing to address these issues. He asked
the FDA to:
"...[S]low 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
Shortly thereafter, the Commissioner of the FDA,
Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., approved the use of aspartame in carbonated
beverage. He then left for a position with G.D. Searle's public
It has been pointed out that some fruit juices and alcoholic
beverages contain small amounts of methanol. It is important to
remember, however, that methanol never appears alone. In every case,
ethanol is present, usually in much higher amounts. Ethanol is an
antidote for methanol toxicity in humans. The troops of Desert Storm
were "treated" to large amounts of aspartame-sweetened beverages, which
had been heated to over 86 degrees F in the Saudi Arabian sun. Many of
them returned home with numerous disorders similar to what has been seen
in persons who have been chemically poisoned by formaldehyde. The free
methanol in the beverages may have been a contributing factor in these
illnesses. Other breakdown products of aspartame such as DKP (discussed
below) may also have been a factor.
In a 1993 act that can only be described as "unconscionable," the FDA
approved aspartame as an ingredient in numerous food items that would
always be heated to above 86 degree F (30 degree C).
DKP is a byproduct of aspartame metabolism. DKP has been implicated
in the occurrence of brain tumors. Olney noticed that DKP, when
nitrosated in the gut, produced a compound that was similar to
N-nitrosourea, a powerful brain tumor causing chemical. Some authors
have said that DKP is produced after aspartame ingestion. I am not sure
if that is correct. It is definitely true that DKP is formed in liquid
aspartame-containing products during prolonged storage.
G.D. Searle conducted animal experiments on the safety of DKP. The
FDA found numerous experimental errors occurred, including "clerical
errors, mixed-up animals, animals not getting drugs they were supposed
to get, pathological specimens lost because of improper handling," and
many other errors. These sloppy laboratory procedures may explain why
both the test and control animals had 16 times more brain tumors
than would be expected in experiments of this length.
In an ironic twist, shortly after these experimental errors were
discovered, the FDA used guidelines recommended by G.D. Searle to
develop the industry-wide FDA standards for good laboratory practices.
DKP has also been implicated as a cause of uterine polyps and changes
in blood cholesterol by FDA Toxicologist Dr. Jacqueline Verrett in her
testimony before the U.S. Senate.