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Documentary: Sweet Misery

Story at-a-glance -

  • The documentary Sweet Misery tells the whole story about aspartame, from its astounding list of related adverse health effects to the corporate fraud and manipulation surrounding its approval
  • Sweet Misery includes heartfelt conversations with aspartame victims and shocking evidence showing how aspartame made it through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process despite clear warning signs of potential health hazards and alleged scientific fraud
  • Aspartame accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined
  • About 90 different adverse health effects, from migraines and seizures to blood cancer and weight gain, have been linked to aspartame consumption

By Dr. Mercola

Aspartame -- best known by the names of Nutrasweet and Equal -- is believed to be carcinogenic and accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.

Yet, this artificial sweetener continues to be used in more than 6,000 products (often sugar-free or "diet" versions), and millions of people consume this toxic chemical daily, believing it to be a healthy alternative to sugar.

If you're one of them, or know someone who is, watching the 90-minute documentary Sweet Misery, above, could literally save your life. You might find you have something in common with filmmaker and narrator Cori Brackett's own personal story, which starts out the film.

Like many others, Cori noticed a connection between the diet sodas she was drinking and negative effects on her health, including double vision, slurred speech and weak limbs. She was even diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and forced to use a wheelchair.

When she learned of aspartame's link to the health issues described, she stopped using them and, as if by magic, her symptoms disappeared. But this is only the start of the incredibly eye-opening story behind aspartame, revealed in full detail in Sweet Misery.

A Detective Story of Corporate Fraud and Manipulation

Sweet Misery includes many heartfelt conversations with aspartame victims, including one woman serving a prison sentence for poisoning her late husband, even though his health signs suggest aspartame may have been to blame.

You'll also hear from medical experts, including Dr. Russell Blaylock, a renowned neurosurgeon, who explain why aspartame acts as a poison to your brain and body.

But perhaps the most riveting aspect of the film is the evidence showing the extensive corporate fraud and manipulation that lead to aspartame's approval. The film has archival footage from G.D. Searle, the producer of aspartame, and federal officials describing the extensive propaganda used to push aspartame on the market.

Additionally, dialogue from a former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator also detailing the manipulation that took place to get this chemical approved will leave you with the "big picture" of conspiracy and even criminal negligence surrounding this popular artificial sweetener. There's even an exchange described with Donald Rumsfeld, who was the CEO of Searle and, at the same time, part of Reagan's transition team when the FDA's board of inquiry was overruled to allow the marketing of aspartame as a food additive. Prior to this time, aspartame was unanimously rejected by the FDA because the scientific data just did not support it as a safe product.

Aspartame 101: Why It Can Wreck Your Health

Aspartame is primarily made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group, which provides the majority of the sweetness. That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol.

You may have heard the claim that aspartame is harmless because methanol is also found in fruits and vegetables. However, in fruits and vegetables, the methanol is firmly bonded to pectin, allowing it to be safely passed through your digestive tract. Not so with the methanol created by aspartame; it's not bonded to anything that can help eliminate it from your body.

Methanol is a serious neurotoxin because it acts as a Trojan horse and it's carried into susceptible tissues in your body, like your brain and bone marrow, where the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme converts it into formaldehyde, which wreaks havoc with sensitive proteins and DNA.

All animals except humans have a protective mechanism that allows methanol to be broken down into harmless formic acid. While humans do have the same number of peroxisomes (small structures in cells designed to detoxify chemicals) in comparable cells as animals, human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid, so the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.

There IS an Obvious Biological Explanation for Aspartame Reactions...

The industry is fond of claiming that there's "no biological explanation" for the health problems reported by so many after consuming aspartame. Of course, this is meant to make you think such reports aren't true, or are unrelated to aspartame. Alas, there is in fact an obvious biological explanation according to Dr. Monte:

"Here is the story: there is a major biochemical problem here," he says. "Methyl alcohol is known now, and has been known since 1940, to be metabolized differently by humans from every other animal."

Here's how it works: Both animals and humans have small structures called peroxisomes in each cell. There are a couple of hundred in every cell of your body, which are designed to detoxify a variety of chemicals. Peroxisome contains catalase, which help detoxify methanol. Other chemicals in the peroxisome convert the formaldehyde to formic acid, which is harmless, but this last step occurs only in animals. When methanol enters the peroxisome of every animal except humans, it gets into that mechanism. Humans do have the same number of peroxisomes in comparable cells as animals, but human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid.

So to recap: In humans, the methyl alcohol travels through your blood vessels into sensitive areas, such as your brain, that are loaded with ADH, which converts methanol to formaldehyde. And since there's no catalase present, the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.

Download Interview Transcript

Symptoms from methanol poisoning are many, and include:

  • Headaches
  • Ear buzzing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Chills
  • Memory lapses
  • Numbness and shooting pains in the extremities
  • Behavioral disturbances
  • 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 that causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication and may cause birth defects.

A Historical Timeline of Aspartame

Aspartame is the number one source of side-effect complaints to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with over 10,000 complaints filed and over 91 symptoms documented that are related to its consumption. With that many reports of adverse effects, it's hard to believe aspartame is still allowed on the market — let alone being weaseled in as an unlabeled ingredient in dairy products of all kinds.

Unfortunately, aspartame's approval was and still is largely a political affair. Many readers have long forgotten what 60 Minutes' correspondent Mike Wallace stated in his 1996 report on aspartame — that the approval of aspartame was "the most contested in FDA history." And for good reason. At the time, independent studies had found it caused brain cancer in lab animals, and the studies submitted by G.D. Searle to the FDA for the approval were quickly suspected of being sloppy at best. To get an idea of of how aspartame made it through the FDA approval process despite warning signs of potential health hazards and alleged scientific fraud, take a look at the historical timeline of aspartame:

Aspartame Timeline

Blood Cancer, Brain Damage and Weight Gain

Sweet Misery was released in 2004, and the serious risks of aspartame were already well established. But since then, the research has continued to reveal even more striking risks. Last year, the longest ever human aspartame study, spanning 22 years, found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and leukemia in men.1 Other research revealed that long-term consumption of aspartame leads to oxidative stress, vascular congestion and an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain.2 Of course, as detailed in Sweet Misery, aspartame has also been previously linked to brain tumors.3

The fact that aspartame is NOT a dieter's best friend has also been known by scientists for some time, and this was again confirmed last year in a study that found compared with sucrose (regular table sugar), aspartame and another artificial sweetener, saccharin, caused greater weight gain in adult rats, and this weight gain was unrelated to caloric intake.4 The underlying mechanism was not determined.

However, a number of studies have already shown that consuming artificial sweeteners disassociates the sensation of sweetness with caloric content, thereby changing your body's ability to regulate caloric intake naturally. So if you're consuming artificial sweeteners because you think they're going to help you lose weight, think again. In all, about 90 different adverse effects have been linked to aspartame, including:

Headaches/migraines Muscle spasms Tachycardia/heart palpitations Anxiety attacks
Dizziness/vertigo Weight gain Insomnia Slurred speech
Seizures Rashes Vision problems Loss of taste
Nausea Irritability and depression Tinnitus and hearing loss Memory loss
Numbness Fatigue Breathing difficulties Joint pain


According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can also be triggered or worsened by ingesting aspartame:

Brain tumors Multiple sclerosis Epilepsy Chronic fatigue syndrome Parkinson's disease
Alzheimer's disease Mental retardation Lymphoma Fibromyalgia Diabetes

The Most Dangerous Food Additive on the Market: Are You Being Affected?

After watching Sweet Misery, many people belatedly realize they may have been suffering reactions to aspartame without realizing it. If you suspect an artificial sweetener might be to blame for a symptom you're having, a good way to help you weed out the culprit is to do an elimination challenge. It's easy to do, but you must read the ingredient labels for everything you put in your mouth to make sure you're avoiding ALL artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately, aspartame toxicity is not well known by physicians, despite its frequency. Diagnosis is also hampered by the fact that it mimics several other common health conditions. It's quite possible that you could be having a reaction to artificial sweeteners and not even know it, or be blaming it on another cause. To determine if you're having a reaction to artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, take the following steps:

  • Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
  • After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce your artificial sweetener of choice in a significant quantity (about three servings daily). Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
  • Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
  • If you don't notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it's a safe bet you're able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run.
  • If you've been consuming more than one type of artificial sweetener, you can repeat steps 2 through 4 with the next one on your list.

Let me make it abundantly clear that even though you may not show immediate signs of any noticeable reaction after consuming aspartame, please don't make the mistake of telling yourself "it must be fine for me." I strongly urge you to avoid aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, at all costs.

Also, if you do experience side effects from aspartame, please report them to the FDA (if you live in the US) without delay. It's easy to make a report — just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call reporting your reaction. There's no telling just how many reports they might need to receive before taking another look at aspartame's safety and reconsidering their stance. But, the more reports they get, the more likely that is to happen. So if you suspect you have experienced an adverse reaction to aspartame (or any other drug or food additive), please take a moment to make this important call.

Finally, if you or someone you love is currently consuming aspartame, please take the 90 minutes to watch Sweet Misery... then decide if it's really worth the risk.