Dr. Julian Whitaker on aspartame
By Dave Rietz WEBmaster Text
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The Lowdown on Aspartame
(NutraSweet)

      Artificial sweeteners are marketed with the promise of weight control, and the vast majority of people who consume them do so to either lose or avoid gaining weight. Folks, this is a fraud of gigantic proportions.

      From 1960 to l976, there was virtually no change in the number of Americans who were overweight: roughly 24 percent of the population. However, from the mid l980s to the present, this number has more than doubled to 54 percent! This coincides with the massive infusion of noncaloric chemical sweeteners and sugar-free "diet" foods that are eaten by close to three-quarters of the adult population.

      Although several factors contribute to these alarming statistics, I am convinced that our blind acceptance of the most popular of these artificial sweeteners, aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful), plays a significant role in our current weight problems. Far from helping us lose weight, aspartame has been proven to increase appetite, especially cravings for sweets. Imagine "diet" products that help you pack on extra pounds! And aspartame's downside doesn't end with weight gain: This sweetener is associated with multiple health problems.

ASPARTAME MAY CAUSE A VARIETY OF DISEASES

      Since aspartame came on the market in l981, it has accounted for more than 75 percent of the complaints reported in the FDA's Adverse Reaction Monitoring system. The most common adverse reactions attributed to aspartame are headaches, dizziness, attention difficulties, memory loss, slurred speech and vision problems. This cluster of symptoms has become so common that it is actually referred to as "aspartame disease".

      Even more serious disorders have a suspected link with aspartame. Is it an accident that the incidence of brain tumors has increased by 10% since l975? John W. Olney, MD, of the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis believes there may be a link between the two. In an article published in The Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, he notes that animal studies reveal high levels of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats. According to Dr. Olney, recent findings show that aspartame has mutagenic (cancer-causing) potential, and the sharp rise in malignant brain tumors coincides with the increased use of aspartame.

      Could serious seizures and vision loss somehow be associated with the sweetener? The U.S. Navy and Air Force published articles in Navy Physiology and Flying Safety with this warning: "several researchers have found aspartame can increase the frequency of seizures, or lower the stimulation necessary to induce them. This means a pilot who drinks diet sodas is more susceptible to flicker vertigo, or to flicker-induced epileptic activity. It also means that all pilots are potential victims of sudden memory loss, dizziness during instrument flight, and gradual loss of vision."

      What about multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and other mood disorders? I have reviewed scores of documented cases of patients with symptoms so severe that they were mistakenly diagnosed with one of these conditions, only to have all signs of disease completely vanish after getting off aspartame.

THE FDA IGNORES SAFETY CONCERNS

      Yet the FDA has chosen to turn a deaf ear to repeated requests by scientists, physicians, and consumers to review aspartame's safety.

      Aspartame has spelled trouble from the get-go. The unique property of this chemical, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, was accidently discovered in l965 by a chemist trying to develop an ulcer drug. Although the FDA rescinded its initial approval because of studies showing that it caused seizures and brain tumors in lab animals, the agency eventually capitulated to political and monetary pressure and in l981 gave aspartame the stamp of approval. In doing so, this bureaucracy overrode the 3-0 decision of a Public Board of Inquiry, which had reviewed the scientific data and had recommended delaying approval pending further studies on the sweetener's link with brain cancer.

      In the intervening years, safety concerns have mushroomed. Ralph G. Walton, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, reviewed all the studies on aspartame and found 166 with relevance for human safety. Every one of the 74 studies funded by the aspartame industry gave it a clean bill of health, while 92 percent of those independently funded revealed safety problems.

ASPARTAME CAN UPSET BRAIN CHEMISTRY

      Once you understand a bit about the chemistry of aspartame, you'll see why it can cause so many problems.

      Aspartame is comprised of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartic acid acts as an "excitatory" neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain, stimulating neurons to fire. Problems can arise when aspartic acid is out of balance with "inhibitory" amino acids that calm things down. Phenylalanine also easily enters the brain, where it is transformed into neurotransmitters that can further interfere with normal brain function.

      This is a likely reason why aspartame lowers the threshold for seizures, mood disorders, and other nervous system problems. This altered brain chemistry may also be responsible for the addictive nature of aspartame. Some patients report that getting off diet soda takes more willpower than giving up cigarettes!

A LITTLE MOONSHINE FOR YOU?

      The remaining component, which makes up 10 percent of aspartame, may be the most dangerous part. It is a methyl ester that breaks down after ingestion into methanol, a nervous system toxin also known as free methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. Methanol is extremely harmful to the optic nerve. A main ingredient in "moonshine" it was notorious during Prohibition for causing blindness. Methanol is rapidly released into the bloodstream, where it is further metabolized into other harmful components, including formaldehyde (a known neurotoxin and carcinogen) and formic acid (the poison in ant stings).

      Is it any wonder that many of the symptoms of "aspartame disease" are neurological and visual? Drinking a diet soda or two (and I've had patients who drink at least a liter a day) delivers a powerful chemical rush with decidedly negative effects. With this kind of questionable history, who would want to consume this artificial chemical, particularly when there are natural and healthy sweeteners available?

RECOMMENDATIONS

      Please take the warnings in this article very seriously. Although some people are much more sensitive to aspartame's adverse effects than others, damage is likely cumulative. Aspartame is particularly harmful to children and the developing fetus. I strongly urge anyone with an aspartame "habit" to get off this harmful sweetener. For more information on the downside of aspartame, visit www.dorway.com or send a self-addressed envelope with six stamps to Betty Martini, Mission Possible International, 9270 9270 River Club Parkway, Duluth, Georgia 30097.

      Don't trade one bad habit for another by switching to sugar-laden drinks and sweets. Avoid most bottled or canned sodas, teas and juices altogether. If they don't contain an artificial sweetener, they're loaded with some kind of sugar. Your beverage of choice should be water. (Try perking it up with a slice of lemon.) Sparkling water, diluted fruit juice, and homemade iced tea flavored with the herbal sweetener stevia are other options. A few drops of stevia also nicely sweeten hot tea, coffee, cereal, yogurt, and other foods. Stevia is sold in health food stores or may be ordered from Amai Health (877/989-9954) or Wisdom of the Ancients (800/899-9908). We'll talk more about healthy sweeteners in next month's issue.

(The foregoing article is from Dr. Whitaker's March 2000 vol. 12 No. 3.
You can subscribe to Dr. Whitaker's Health & Healing by calling 800/539- 8219 or go to drwhitaker.com)