The poisonous, no-calorie, synthetic sugar substitute aspartame is back with a new name, even after multitude studies have shown it to be toxic to people. Despite all of its terrible side effects, this chemical remains generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration—but that doesn’t mean you should consume it.
By James Spounias
Sold under the names NutraSweet, Equal, and now AminoSweet, the toxic sugar substitute aspartame is an example of all that is wrong with America when it comes to food safety, politics, and greed. Aspartame’s thousands of reported side effects include headaches, memory loss, seizures, vision loss, coma, lupus, fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, diabetes, and depression. Even Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologists and investigators have said it may be responsible for brain tumors and other severe health maladies, yet it’s legal.
Aspartame continues to be consumed by millions worldwide as an ingredient of numerous foods and drinks despite its controversial status ever since the FDA approved it in 1974. Consumer-oriented and public health-oriented scientists claimed aspartame may be linked to an increase in brain tumors, particularly in infants and children, while scientists tied to G.D. Searle of Skokie, Ill. stated the sweetener was safe.
Shortly after aspartame was initially approved in 1974, the FDA put this approval on hold, in 1975, in light of the fact that FDA investigators revealed several problems with G.D. Searle’s scientific findings of safety, upon which the FDA had relied. Then-FDA Commissioner Alexander M. Schmidt requested a task force look at the aspartame question, and the task force found that early tests were terribly flawed. For instance, tumors that developed in rats given aspartame were cut out and discarded, instead of being analyzed to see if they were brought on by aspartame and reported. Also, a rat that died during the study was not carefully dissected to determine whether the death was related to aspartame, and rats recorded as dead were later reported as alive. Finally, antibiotics were administered to rats but no reporting was made.
Schmidt testified to a 1975 Senate Subcommittee, stating that Searle’s tests were “at best sloppy,” reflecting “a pattern of conduct which compromises the scientific integrity of the studies.” Schmidt added, “At the heart of the FDA’s regulatory process is its ability to rely upon the integrity of the basic safety data submitted by the sponsors of regulated products. Our investigation clearly demonstrates that, in the G.D. Searle Co., we have no basis for such reliance now.”
Searle’s conduct was so bad that Schmidt’s task force requested U.S. Attorney Samuel Skinner in Chicago present findings to a grand jury for possible criminal indictment. According to The Washington Post, a grand jury did consider the evidence, but was never asked to vote on an indictment. Skinner withdrew from the Searle case, later accepting a position with Sidley and Austin, the law firm representing Searle.
Donald Rumsfeld served as CEO, president, and chairman of Searle from 1977 until the company was sold to Monsanto in 1985. One of Rumsfeld’s major accomplishments was having aspartame reapproved by the FDA in 1981. Searle submitted an approval petition on Jan. 21, 1981, the day after President Ronald Reagan took office. On July 24, 1981, aspartame was approved as a table-top sweetener and ingredient in dry foods by Reagan appointee FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. Following this, aspartame sales skyrocketed. In 1984, Kidder Peabody estimated sales of aspartame reached $600 million.
Arthur M. Evangelista, a former FDA investigator who was highly critical of the aspartame approval process, referred to the scandal as “mass murder.” Evangelista wrote: “I can tell you, regarding toxicology, histology, and biochemistry, that aspartame is neurotoxic. Its components easily transcend the blood-brain barrier, interfering with normal nerve cell function.”
Dr. Adrian Gross, an FDA toxicologist, told Congress in 1985 that without a doubt, aspartame causes brain tumors and brain cancer and that it violates the DeLaney Amendment, which prohibits any substance be put in food which may cause cancer. “At least one of those studies has established beyond any reasonable doubt that aspartame is capable of inducing brain tumors in experimental animals and that this . . . is of extremely high significance,” said Gross.
Dr. John Olney, who is credited with the founding of the field of neuroscience called excitotoxicity, tried to bring attention to the dangers of aspartame in the mid-1990s.
Pro-aspartame industry supporters point to many studies that state aspartame is safe. However, Dr. Ralph Walton M.D., chairman of the Center for Behavioral Medicine and professor of clinical psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, took a sharp look at these studies and found something peculiar.
Walton reviewed 164 studies relating to human safety of aspartame from 1998-2007 and found that 74 had sponsorship ties to the aspartame industry and 90 were funded without industry support. All 74 of the industry-related studies reported aspartame as safe, with 83 of the 90 non-industry related studies reporting one or more problems with aspartame. Curiously, six of the seven studies showing aspartame to be safe were done by the FDA, causing some to speculate these studies were more along the lines of resumé-builders, given the revolving door between aspartame and drug behemoths. Thousands of foods and beverages contain aspartame, which are consumed by more than 250 million people worldwide in 100 different countries, according to the NutraSweet company, a spin-off of Monsanto, which was sold to J.W. Childs Equity Partners in 2000.
There has been pushback by health advocates who exposed the problems of aspartame in the socalled alternative media, and some major food and drink producers have tried to find alternatives to satisfy demands of the intense Internet and social media campaigns brought on by those seeking clean foods.
On June 27, 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported consumers demanded aspartame be reintroduced to Diet Pepsi, after PepsiCo spent two years conducting customer surveys, taste tests, and tinkering in the lab. Having initially determined that aspartame should be ditched, PepsiCo made a 180-degree turn, reintroducing its Diet Pepsi with aspartame, after introducing it with sucralose. The Journal reported that “plummeting sale and howls of protest from the diet soda’s devotees” convinced PepsiCo to bring it back with aspartame in September 2016.
That a major company may have actually tried to offer safer alternatives to aspartame but was met with resistance from consumers reflects the fact that a significant number of Americans are woefully uneducated, or perhaps that they simply may not care about their health.
For the rest of us who desire clean foods, socalled alternative health treatments, and an environment light on toxic and dangerous pesticides, we have very little choice. Government and industry, by and large, make sure we don’t.
James Spounias is the president of Carotec Inc., originally founded by renowned radio show host and alternative health expert Tom Valentine.
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