Aspartame is the technical name for the brand names NutraSweet,Equal, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. It was discovered by accident in1965 when James Schlatter, a chemist of G.D. Searle Company, was testingan anti-ulcer drug.
Aspartame was approved for dry goods in 1981 and for carbonatedbeverages in 1983. It was originally approved for dry goods on July 26,1974, but objections filed by neuroscience researcher Dr. John W. Olneyand consumer attorney James Turner in August 1974, as well asinvestigations of G.D. Searle's research practices caused the U.S. Foodand Drug Administration (FDA) to put approval of aspartame on hold(December 5, 1974). In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle and madeSearle Pharmaceuticals and The NutraSweet Company separate subsidiaries.
Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions tofood additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are veryserious, including seizures and death. A few of the 90 differentdocumented symptoms listed in the report as part of aspartame dangers are:
Dizziness Seizures Nausea Numbness Muscle spasms Weight gain Rashes Depression Fatigue Irritability Tachycardia Insomnia Vision problems Hearing loss Heart palpitations Breathing difficulties Anxiety attacks Slurred speech Loss of taste Tinnitus Vertigo Memory loss Joint pain
According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame,the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened byingesting of aspartame:
Brain tumors Multiple sclerosis Epilepsy Chronic fatigue syndrome Parkinson's disease Alzheimer's Mental retardation Lymphoma Birth defects Fibromyalgia Diabetes
Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid,phenylalanine, and methanol. The book Prescription for NutritionalHealing, by James and Phyllis Balch lists aspartame under the categoryof "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 MedicalUniversity of Mississippi, recently published a book thoroughlydetailing the damage that is caused by the ingestion of excessiveaspartic acid from aspartame. Blaylock makes use of almost 500scientific references to show how excess free excitatory amino acidssuch as aspartic acid and glutamic acid (about 99 percent of monosodiumglutamate or MSG is glutamic acid) in our food supply are causing seriouschronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms.
How Aspartate (and Glutamate) Cause Damage
Aspartateand glutamate act as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating thetransmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartateor glutamate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influxof too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessiveamounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damagethat can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they arereferred to as "excitotoxins." They "excite" or stimulate the neuralcells to death.
Aspartic acid is an amino acid. Taken in its free form (unbound toproteins), it significantly raises the blood plasma level of aspartateand glutamate. The excess aspartate and glutamate in the blood plasmashortly after ingesting aspartame or products with free glutamic acid(glutamate precursor) leads to a high level of those neurotransmittersin certain areas of the brain.
The blood brain barrier (BBB), which normally protects the brain fromexcess glutamate and aspartate as well as toxins, 1) is not fullydeveloped during childhood, 2) does not fully protect all areas of thebrain, 3) is damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions, and 4)allows seepage of excess glutamate and aspartate into the brain evenwhen intact.
The excess glutamate and aspartate slowly begin to destroy neurons.The large majority (75 percent or more) of neural cells in a particulararea of the brain are killed before any clinical symptoms of a chronicillness are noticed. A few of the many chronic illnesses that have beenshown to be contributed to by long-term exposure to excitatory aminoacid damage include:
|Multiple sclerosis (MS)||Parkinson's disease|
|Alzheimer's disease||Neuroendocrine disorders|
The risk to infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly andpersons with certain chronic health problems from excitotoxins aregreat. Even the Federation of American Societies for ExperimentalBiology (FASEB), which usually understates problems and mimics the FDAparty-line, recently stated in a review that glutamic acid should be avoided by women of childbearing age.
Aspartic acid from aspartame has the same deleterious effects on the body as glutamic acid isolated from it's naturally protein-bound state, causing it to become a neurotoxin instead of a non-essential amino acid.
Aspartame in diet sodas, or aspartame in other liquid form are absorbed more quickly and have been shown to spike plasma levels of aspartic acid.
The exact mechanism of acute reactions to excess free glutamate andaspartate is currently being debated. As reported to the FDA, thosereactions include:
|Headaches/migraines||Fatigue (blocks sufficient glucose entry into brain)||Anxiety attacks|
|Abdominal pains||Vision problems||Asthma/chest tightness|
One common complaint of persons suffering from the effect ofaspartame is memory loss. Ironically, in 1987, G.D. Searle, themanufacturer of aspartame, undertook a search for a drug to combatmemory loss caused by excitatory amino acid damage. Blaylock is one ofmany scientists and physicians who are concerned about excitatory aminoacid damage caused by ingestion of aspartame and MSG.
A few of the many experts who have spoken out against the damagebeing caused by aspartate and glutamate include Adrienne Samuels, Ph.D.,an experimental psychologist specializing in research design. Anotheris Olney, a professor in the department of psychiatry, School ofMedicine, Washington University, a neuroscientist and researcher, andone of the world's foremost authorities on excitotoxins. (He informedSearle 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. Personswith the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolizephenylalanine. This leads to dangerously high levels of phenylalanine inthe brain (sometimes lethal). It has been shown that ingestingaspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excesslevels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not havePKU.
This is not just a theory, as many people who have eaten largeamounts of aspartame over a long period of time and do not have PKU havebeen shown to have excessive levels of phenylalanine in the blood.Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain can cause the levels ofserotonin in the brain to decrease, leading to emotional disorders suchas depression. It was shown in human testing that phenylalanine levelsof the blood were increased significantly in human subjects whochronically 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 showedthat high blood phenylalanine can be concentrated in parts of the brainand is especially dangerous for infants and fetuses. He also showed thatphenylalanine is metabolized much more efficiently by rodents than byhumans.
One account of a case of extremely high phenylalanine levels causedby aspartame was recently published by the Wednesday Journal in anarticle titled "An Aspartame Nightmare." John Cook began drinking six toeight diet drinks every day. His symptoms started out as memory lossand frequent headaches. He began to crave more aspartame-sweeteneddrinks. His condition deteriorated so much that he experienced wide moodswings and violent rages. Even though he did not suffer from PKU, ablood test revealed a phenylalanine level of 80 mg/dl. He also showedabnormal brain function and brain damage. After he kicked his aspartamehabit, his symptoms improved dramatically.
As Blaylock points out in his book, early studies measuringphenylalanine buildup in the brain were flawed. Investigators whomeasured specific brain regions and not the average throughout the brainnotice significant rises in phenylalanine levels. Specifically thehypothalamus, medulla oblongata, and corpus striatum areas of the brainhad the largest increases in phenylalanine. Blaylock goes on to pointout that excessive buildup of phenylalanine in the brain can causeschizophrenia or make one more susceptible to seizures.
Therefore, long-term, excessive use of aspartame may provide a boostto sales of serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and drugs tocontrol schizophrenia and seizures.
Methanol a.k.a wood alcohol/poison (10 percent of aspartame)
Methanol/wood alcohol is a deadly poison. Some people may remembermethanol as the poison that has caused some "skid row" alcoholics to endup blind or dead. Methanol is gradually released in the small intestinewhen the methyl group of aspartame encounters the enzyme chymotrypsin.
The absorption of methanol into the body is sped up considerably whenfree methanol is ingested. Free methanol is created from aspartame whenit is heated to above 86 Fahrenheit (30 Centigrade). This would occurwhen aspartame-containing product is improperly stored or when it isheated (e.g. as part of a "food" product such as Jello).
Methanolbreaks down into formaldehyde in the body. Formaldehydeis a deadly neurotoxin. An EPA assessment of methanol states thatmethanol "is considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate ofexcretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidized toformaldehyde." Theyrecommend a limit of consumption of 7.8 mg/day. A one-liter (approx. 1quart) aspartame-sweetened beverage contains about 56 mg of methanol.Heavy users of aspartame-containing products consume as much as 250 mgof 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 frommethanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision,progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision,obscuration of vision, retinal damage, and blindness. Formaldehyde is aknown carcinogen, causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replicationand causes birth defects.
Due to the lack of a couple of key enzymes, humans are many timesmore sensitive to the toxic effects of methanol than animals. Therefore,tests of aspartame or methanol on animals do not accurately reflect thedanger for humans. As pointed out by Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, director ofthe food science and nutrition laboratory at Arizona State University:"There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possiblemutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic effects of chronic administrationof methyl alcohol."
He was so concerned about the unresolved safety issues that he filedsuit with the FDA requesting a hearing to address these issues. He askedthe FDA to:
"...[S]low down on this soft drink issue long enough to answersome of the important questions. It's not fair that you are leaving thefull burden of proof on the few of us who are concerned and have suchlimited resources. You must remember that you are the American public'slast defense. Once you allow usage (of aspartame) there is literallynothing I or my colleagues can do to reverse the course. Aspartame willthen join saccharin, the sulfiting agents, and God knows how many otherquestionable compounds enjoined to insult the human constitution withgovernmental approval."
Shortly thereafter, the Commissioner of the FDA,Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., approved the use of aspartame in carbonatedbeverage. He then left for a position with G.D. Searle's publicrelations firm.
It has been pointed out that some fruit juices and alcoholicbeverages contain small amounts of methanol. It is important toremember, however, that methanol never appears alone. In every case,ethanol is present, usually in much higher amounts. Ethanol is anantidote for methanol toxicity in humans. The troops of Desert Stormwere "treated" to large amounts of aspartame-sweetened beverages, whichhad been heated to over 86 degrees F in the Saudi Arabian sun. Many ofthem returned home with numerous disorders similar to what has been seenin persons who have been chemically poisoned by formaldehyde. The freemethanol in the beverages may have been a contributing factor in theseillnesses. Other breakdown products of aspartame such as DKP (discussedbelow) may also have been a factor.
In a 1993 act that can only be described as "unconscionable," the FDAapproved aspartame as an ingredient in numerous food items that wouldalways be heated to above 86 degree F (30 degree C).
DKP is a byproduct of aspartame metabolism. DKP has been implicatedin the occurrence of brain tumors. Olney noticed that DKP, whennitrosated in the gut, produced a compound that was similar toN-nitrosourea, a powerful brain tumor causing chemical. Some authorshave said that DKP is produced after aspartame ingestion. I am not sureif that is correct. It is definitely true that DKP is formed in liquidaspartame-containing products during prolonged storage.
G.D. Searle conducted animal experiments on the safety of DKP. TheFDA found numerous experimental errors occurred, including "clericalerrors, mixed-up animals, animals not getting drugs they were supposedto get, pathological specimens lost because of improper handling," andmany other errors. These sloppy laboratory procedures may explain whyboth the test and control animals had 16 times more brain tumorsthan would be expected in experiments of this length.
In an ironic twist, shortly after these experimental errors werediscovered, the FDA used guidelines recommended by G.D. Searle todevelop the industry-wide FDA standards for good laboratory practices.
DKP has also been implicated as a cause of uterine polyps and changesin blood cholesterol by FDA Toxicologist Dr. Jacqueline Verrett in hertestimony before the U.S. Senate.