Equal and Nutrasweet: Are they Dangerous?
Worrying about our body weight has become a major concern for the vast majority of Americans. Because of this concern, the diet industry has boomed. One of the most crucial substances for the diet industry are the artificial sweeteners. Most of the population takes the safety of these sweeteners for granted due to the fact that they are found in over 10,000 foods.
Those of you who know me well understand that, in general, I am not an alarmist. I make every effort to be a critical thinker when presented with health issues. I have applied this principle while looking at artificial sweeteners and what I found caused me deep concern. As always, I think that you should not just take my word for anything. I will present you with the facts and you should make a decision for your own health and for those you love.
Artificial sweeteners, like Saccharin, have a long history of being questioned as a potential cancer causing substance. This review, however, will concentrate on the more popular sweetener known as Aspartame, better known as NutraSweet® or Equal®.
In 1965, the researchers at G.D. Searle were developing a new ulcer medication when they discovered that they had created a substance that was 200 times as sweet as sugar, but had no calories. The question was then asked if this substance was safe for human consumption. In 1971, Searle Labs felt it had sufficient evidence of aspartame safety to approach the FDA for approval. Questions about potential brain lesions, tumors, and endocrine dysfunction delayed approval until 1981. End of the story! The FDA took 10 years to thoroughly examine the safety of this substance and approved its use for the general public. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests otherwise.
As far back as 1976, an FDA task force questioned the validity of Searle’s aspartame testing procedures. Dr. Adrian Gross, the chief scientist on the FDA task force investigating Searle, told CBS Nightly News in 1981 that Searle took great pains to cover up the shortcomings of their studies, even going as far as to remove tumors that developed in animals during the research in order to mask cancerous evidence. The studies were clearly arranged to have the results the drug company wanted.
The Public Board of Inquiry (P.B.O.I.) stated in a report dated September 30, 1980 “On the basis of the conclusion concerning Issue Number 2, the Board concludes that approval of aspartame for use in foods should be withheld at least until the question concerning its possible oncogenic (cancer causing) potential has been resolved by further experiments. The Board has not been presented with proof of reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive under its intended conditions of use.” Despite numerous unanswered questions and contradictory conclusions from various investigations, Commissioner Hayes ignored the recommendations of the FDA’s own P.B.O.I. and approved aspartame for dry use. It was approved for use in liquids in 1983.
So, what makes aspartame so dangerous? This question is answered when we look at the way aspartame is broken down in the body (in hot liquids or acidic liquids such as pop). Aspartame is a combination of the amino acids phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. The worse of these is the methanol (wood alcohol). High amounts of methanol alone results in toxicity and blindness. The amounts found in aspartame foods, however, do not have enough methanol to cause this effect. The real danger is that methanol is changed to a cancer causing substance known as formaldehyde (the stuff used to preserve dead folks). This deadly formaldehyde has been shown to bind to tissue components in human studies (Trocho, C et al, ‘Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo’, Life Sciences 1998, 63 (5): 337-349.)
I will point out that methanol is found in some of the fruits and vegetables we eat. The difference is that these foods also contain amounts of ethanol which blocks the production of formaldehyde in the body. Aspartame contains NO ethanol. The constituents of aspartame are without a question potentially harmful. However, does this mean that they do indeed pose a health concern? And if so, why doesn’t the FDA remove aspartame from the shelves?
Read on for answers to these questions.
Aspartame Health Risks
The health risks posed by aspartame are numerous and varied. They include but are not limited to headaches, mood changes, seizures, brain tumors, increased appetite, poor diabetic sugar control, allergic reactions, cancer, and behavior problems.
If the above list is accurate in any manner, why is aspartame not taken off the market? The answer is actually very simple. All of these symptoms are slow in development and they all could be due to many other causes. In other words, it is extremely hard and almost clinically impossible to diagnose any of these symptoms as being caused by aspartame. This is especially true since there is no immediate reaction after its consumption. And, more than likely, the negative effects of aspartame occur after long term consumption of up to many years making it even more difficult to pin it as the culprit.
The reality, though, is that our society is taking daily doses of this substance over long periods of time. Unfortunately, there are no long term studies on the use of aspartame to help clarify the matter. It makes sense to err on the side of caution when it comes to using aspartame. Real or not, the potential consequences for the long-term use of this sweetener are scary.
You should make an effort to cease or decrease its use.
Some Disturbing Facts
There are some very interesting facts to consider when deciding whether you feel that aspartame does or does not pose a health risk.
Professor Ralph Walton of Northeastern Ohio University’s College of Medicine conducted a survey of aspartame studies in peer-reviewed medical literature. Of 166 studies reviewed, 74 had aspartame industry funding and 92 were independently funded. Of the industry funded studies, 74/74 (100%) attested to aspartame’s safety. Of the independently funded studies, 84/92 (92%) demonstrated some type of adverse reaction.
In the mid-1970’s it was discovered that the manufacturer of aspartame falsified studies in several ways. One of the techniques used was to cut tumors out of test animals and put them back in the study. Another was to list animals that had actually died as surviving the study!
The FDA’s Chief Counsel, Richard Merrill, considered there to be enough evidence to bring fraud indictments against Searle for their “willful and knowing failure to make reports to the FDA and for concealing material facts and making false statements in reports of animal studies conducted to establish the safety of the food additive aspartame.”
In 1987 Dr. Jacqueline Verrett, a toxicologist, testified before a U.S. Senate hearing and stated: “It would appear that the safety of aspartame and its breakdown products has still not been satisfactorily determined, since many of the flaws cited in these three studies were also present in all of the other studies submitted by Searle”.
Dr. John Olney, Washington School of Medicine wrote a letter on December 8, 1987 stating: “Being a neuropathologist, I know that spontaneous brain tumors in laboratory rats are extremely rare. The archival literature documents an incidence not exceeding 0.6%. Since the above incidence in NutraSweet-fed rats is 3.75%, this suggests that NutraSweet may cause brain tumors and certainly suggests the need for additional in-depth research to rule out that possibility.”
So, let’s review the facts. Aspartame contains the deadly wood alcohol Methanol and is broken down into Formaldehyde in your body. All of the studies funded by the aspartame industry attest to its safety. The vast majority of independent studies raise questions about aspartame safety. A number of researchers not getting pay checks from the aspartame industry have raised questions about health risks including cancer and brain tumors. Aspartame contains NOTHING that would be considered as good for your health. It’s only benefit is that it contains zero calories.
I think that the decision you need to make is not whether aspartame is good or bad for you. The decision is whether you will continue to subject you body to what I would call a toxin. I know since you do not experience symptoms immediately from the consumption of this product, that a good number of you will continue to use aspartame. This falls under the same reasoning as to why people continue to smoke. If you will not stop using aspartame all together, at least decrease the amount you are taking each day.
My family has stopped using aspartame. This includes diet soft drinks. I strongly recommend that you do the same and I plead with you to stop giving your children aspartame. As a parent myself, I am not sure how you could give them this substance in good conscious.