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ASPARTAME (NUTRASWEET®) ADDICTION
H. J. Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P.
Staff, St. Mary's Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital, West Palm Beach;
Director, Palm Beach Institute for Medical Research
Address:  6708 Pamela Lane, West Palm Beach, FL  33405

SUMMARY

 The habitual consumption of "diet" products containing the chemical
aspartame not only risks aspartame disease but also clinical addiction.
Thirty-three (5.6 percent) of 540 aspartame reactors in the author's
recent series found it difficult or impossible to discontinue them
because of severe withdrawal effects.  They or their reporting relatives
(especially parents of afflicted children) specifically used the terms
"addict" and "addiction."  Others who used comparable terms were
excluded even though they experienced similar withdrawal symptoms. The
FDA and members of Congress have been repeatedly urged by me and
thousands of outraged aspartame reactors to declare aspartame products
an "imminent public health hazard," and remove them from the market. The
mounting evidence for their causation or aggravation of headache,
seizures, depression, many neurologic disorders (most notably multiple
sclerosis), visual difficulty, allergies, diabetic complications, and a
host of other conditions — coupled with the potential for addiction —
can be ignored no longer.

  "The beginning of wisdom is to call things by the right names."
Chinese Proverb

  "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp
of experience." Patrick Henry (Speech to the Virginia Convention, 1775)

 Over half the adult population currently consumes products containing
aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®).  A multibillion-dollar industry
aggressively promotes thousands of items containing this chemical
sweetener that consumers use in prodigious amounts to avoid sugar or
lose weight... even though the latter intent often proves a delusion.

 I have described many serious side effects and medical/public health
hazards attributable to aspartame products(1-4).  The neurologic,
psychologic, eye, endocrine, metabolic and pediatric ravages in my data
base of over 1,200 aspartame reactors, comprised of both patients and
correspondents, are impressive.  Additionally, it is my increasing
conviction that aspartame products can cause, aggravate or accelerate
migraine (5), seizures (6), multiple sclerosis (3), diabetes and its
complications (7), Alzheimer's disease (8,9), and even brain tumors
(10).  The clinical and scientific basis for these assertions have been
detailed previously.

 Unfortunately, another tragic problem has been neglected:  addiction to
aspartame products.  Persons consuming large amounts not only may suffer
aspartame disease, but also have difficulty stopping them because of
violent and prolonged withdrawal reactions... the hallmark of addiction.
Recovered alcoholic patients repeatedly stated that they felt worse
after avoiding aspartame than alcohol, and asserted that they had traded
one addiction for another.  My experience, coupled with more than 10,000
consumers who volunteered their complaints to the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and manufacturers, reflects the magnitude of this
widespread unrecognized affliction.

 In view of the controversial nature and implications of this subject,
clarification of my status at the outset is relevant.  I practised many
years as a primary care internist and medical consultant prior to
encountering aspartame disease.  I continue to remain corporate neutral
— that is, no grants, monies or other inducements were received from
industry, government or other institutions.

DATA

 This report focuses on 33 persons (5.6 percent) among the most recent
540 aspartame reactors in my series.  The terms "addict" or "addiction"
were specifically used either by patients or reporting relatives and
friends — notwithstanding the absence of these words in my 9-page
Aspartame Reaction Questionnaire Survey (3).  Persons using other terms
implying addiction (e.g., "severe craving") were excluded
notwithstanding the suffering of withdrawal symptoms.

Subjects

 There were 22 females and 11 males.  Most were between 25 and 50 at the
time of consultation or correspondence.  Four children — ages 2-1/2, 3,
6, and 9-1/2 — were included (see Discussion).

The amounts of aspartame products consumed daily ranged up to six liters
or 12 cans of sodas, 20 or more tabletop packets, and considerable gum.
A number of persons gave the history of ingesting considerable iced tea
mixes containing aspartame, especially in hot weather, prior to the
onset of  clinical aspartame disease.

The manifestations of aspartame disease and the pathos of such addiction
appear in the case summaries.  The withdrawal symptoms (e.g., severe
irritability, tension, depression, tremors, nausea, sweating) usually
abated  promptly on resuming aspartame, along with an intense craving
for these products.  One woman noted:  "This was as bad as when I quit
smoking 13 years ago."  Examples of other pertinent clinical aspects are
briefly cited.

• As with other  addictions, denial and distortion were encountered.
The mother of two young children stated:  "I didn't want to believe
aspartame was the cause of my problems.  Even though anything with it
made me crave carbohydrates, I dismissed this as my imagination."

 • Several patients experienced severe withdrawal symptoms when they
traveled abroad and were unable to purchase aspartame sodas.  On the
possibility these features represented caffeine withdrawal, they tried
drinking more caffeine... but to no avail.

 • Some developed severe reactions when they also drank alcohol.  One
stated:  "My memory would just go completely."

REPRESENTATIVE HISTORIES

A. The anguished friend of an aspartame addict stated:  "She could
hardly walk.  She could hardly see.  She was already going to a
neurologist because they thought she had multiple sclerosis.  But she
told me not to talk about it even though her physician already told her
that aspartame was the problem, especially after he started researching
its role in brain tumors — because two persons in her family died from
brain tumors!  When told aspartame would kill her, she said:  ‘I'm
addicted to it and can't live without it.  If they try to take it off
the market, I'll get it on the black market!'"

B. The wife of an addicted aspartame reactor wrote:  "I've told my
husband over and over again, as have several physicians, that his
problems would probably go away if he got off aspartame.  But he says he
is addicted and can't."  Provoked by her continued purchase of aspartame
sodas, the daughter-in-law asked whether she would hand him a gun if he
said he wanted to commit suicide.  She responded:  "Please don't say
anything else.  It's hard enough to watch him lose his memory, fall, and
hardly be able to walk.  I just want to make him happy."

C. A mother stated:  "My children are no longer allowed to drink diet
sodas or anything else with aspartame in it.  Unfortunately, I am
addicted to it.  I will try and wean myself—but boy, oh boy, it's not
going to be easy!"

D. A previous alcoholic patient expressed concern that he had traded
alcoholism for aspartame addiction.  He observed in a letter:  "There
are MANY just like me.  You will rarely see a recovered alcoholic
without a drink in hand, day or night, whether it be coffee or soda...
usually DIET.  We can hardly keep sweeteners on hand at our meetings.
MANY of us suffer from tremendous mood bouts.  If aspartame has
contributed to the difficulties I have had with depression and mood
swings, I WANT TO KNOW!"

E. The wife of a man consuming up to six liters of diet cola daily
concluded:  "He is truly addicted and unable to help himself... When not
drinking it, he is like a new person, or at least the person I once
knew.  But when he then drinks it after abstaining for a week (as a
result of  incredible determination), I see depression, verbal
aggression, a sense of hopelessness, inability to sleep, poor
concentration, trouble with eyesight, chest problems, and weight gain."

F. A female correspondent with aspartame-related panic attacks and
palpitations wrote:  "I heard about this problem and will be taking the
abstinence test.  It will be hard because I am addicted to diet cola.
Something has to be done!  It seems to me that capitalism is getting in
the way of our lives."

G. A woman with an "addiction to diet cola" refused to admit the
"ridiculous amounts I have been using, even to my  husband.  I have the
symptom of always being thirsty from aspartame.  What do I do?"

H. A woman with aspartame disease was misdiagnosed as having multiple
sclerosis.  She stated:  "I am convinced that aspartame was at the root
of my problem.  It is hard to convey just how much of this stuff  I was
using.  I used at least one large box of aspartame a week... for myself!
After my husband heard on a radio broadcast that it was bad, he told me
not to use it, and refused to buy it for me any longer.  I then
literally bought it weekly, hid it in the kitchen, and used it when he
was out of the room.  And people still don't believe it is addictive???"

I. An addicted young man with longstanding symptoms he ascribed to
aspartame sodas wrote:  "I drank a lot of pop with aspartame when I was
a kid in the 1980s, and felt bad.  After reading a page on the net about
insomnia, being lightheaded, having ringing in the ears, and feeling
unreal ‘like I was on something,’ I stopped.  But it's hard to make
yourself stop.  It took about two months before I felt better.  I think
most people who drink diet pop get addicted to it... like me.  At first
you don't seem to like the taste; then you crave it."

J. A 28-year-old woman previously drank as much as two liters of an
aspartame cola daily.  She stated:  "I was ‘addicted’ to it, and
suffered terrible muscle spasms, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, depression,
slurred speech, etc.  I stumbled across an article about the dangers of
aspartame, and was absolutely horrified.  Within seven days after
stopping, most of these symptoms disappeared.  I have had no recurrences
to date."

K. A hospital pharmacist with considerable knowledge about addictive
substances and drug abuse wrote:   "I have been a chronic user of diet
drinks for years, and always joked that I was ‘addicted’ to aspartame.
Recently, I decided to stop them, but I can't do it no matter how hard I
try.  When I'm not drinking these drinks, the people I work with and my
family have all commented that I act as if I'm going through heroin
withdrawal.  I also experience many problems while drinking them, the
most profound of which is joint pain" (see 11).

L. The mother of an aspartame addict gave a poignant followup of her
daughter's case, which I described previously (1, p. 98), when her
addiction recurred.  She had been incapacitated with aspartame disease
as a 23-year-old student.  In her own words, "My epileptic-type
seizures, and drastic personality and intellectual changes were so
severe as to end my marriage, nearly ruin my academic standing, and
caused me to lose my job."  After stopping her excessive consumption of
aspartame sodas, she evidenced clinical normalization, and then bought a
beautiful home.  The mother described her subsequent relapse.

  "About eight months ago, unknown to me, she began drinking
  considerable diet soda.  I learned a few days ago that she started
  drinking alcohol, plans to leave her fiance, and bought a motorcycle
  — exactly as she had done 12 years previously when drinking diet
  soda.  Her aspartame addiction makes her totally irrational.  She
  crusaded against aspartame for 12 years, and is now drinking it.
  I don't know where to go for help, especially because most
  doctors I know think aspartame is just wonderful!"

M. A woman wrote:  "I am probably one of the many ‘aspartame addicts’
you have come in contact with.  I have had a terrible diet cola habit of
drinking at least a 12-pack/day for many years.  I would love to change
because I believe my particular ailments could be related to aspartame.
Where do I go from here?  Please help!!"

N. The brother of a "recovered aspartame addict" related the details of
his sibling's case to a neighbor who was beginning to drink excessive
amounts of diet sodas.  He stated:  "I am hoping that he doesn't face
severe withdrawal the way my brother did.  After 5 or 6 bad bouts of
withdrawal, he was finally able to kick the habit."

O. An aspartame reactor invited her neighbors to a block party aimed at
urging them to avoid aspartame which would not be on the premises.  A
"very addicted" woman with severe dermatitis and fatigue had tried to do
so previously at the urging of her daughter, but resumed diet cola in
two weeks.  She went to the block party with a can hidden under her
jacket... but was promptly spotted.  She confessed:  "I'm sorry, I just
can't break the addiction.  I can't get off of it!"

P. A 36-year-old computer programmer experienced many symptoms
attributable to aspartame disease after he began using "a line of
products containing aspartame."  He would ingest as much as three or
four quarts of an instant iced tea in several flavors on weekend
afternoons during the summer.  Nearly one month of abstinence was
required before his symptoms abated.

Q. A 47-year-old female sought consultation by the author for
increasingly severe problems over the previous 1-1/2 years, during which
time she consumed large amounts of aspartame.  She began the day by
drinking three cups of coffee to each of which an aspartame tabletop
sweetener was added.   She then ingested 10-12 glasses or cups of
aspartame-sweetened beverages, and ate considerable amounts of aspartame
puddings.

This patient gave a history of alcoholism and excessive amphetamine use
decades earlier.  (Amphetamines had been taken for extreme fatigue and
weight reduction.)  She joined Alcoholics Anonymous 20 years previously.
She was now happily married, and had taken only a single social drink in
five years.

Her main concern was increasing confusion and memory loss over the past
year -- especially because she prided herself on a "photographic
memory."  During this time, she also suffered severe headaches ("never a
problem before"), hearing difficulty ("as if my ears were covered"),
"lightheadedness with staggering," vertigo on lying down ("the room was
actually spinning"), attacks of severe nervousness and agitation,
intense hunger, a craving for sugar and sweets, intense muscle cramps,
pains in the legs and thighs, aching and stiffness of various joints,
marked intolerance to cold, and elevation of her blood pressure (noted
for the first time).  Dryness of the eyes became so bothersome that she
required one bottle of artificial tears a week.

Another distressing symptom was severe depression.  The patient
considered committing suicide on several occasions.  She had the good
fortune of belonging to a circle of caring friends who thwarted such an
action.

The family history was also pertinent.  Both parents had been
alcoholics.  Her mother was "a potential diabetic," and her nephew a
juvenile diabetic.

After learning of the possible cause or aggravation of similar problems
in other persons from aspartame, she promptly stopped all such products.
She emphasized, however, that the ensuing "withdrawal symptoms" were far
worse than those experienced after discontinuing alcohol or
amphetamines.  On a regimen of an appropriate diet, supportive measures
and continued aspartame avoidance, her symptoms improved.  She no longer
needed the artificial tears.  An entire subsequent visit was devoted to
discussing her lifelong "fear of fat" that had initiated the use of
aspartame products.

DISCUSSION

Addiction to aspartame products is as real as abuse of tobacco, alcohol
and drugs.  The foregoing experience of a single alerted physician
attests to this clinical phenomenon.  In effect, the United States has
been the innocent victim of regulatory shortcomings related to the
initial and continued approval of aspartame products.

To my knowledge, this is the first report that addresses aspartame
addiction.   I have challenged colleagues to cite comparable instances
of gross denial in contemporary medicine concerning widely used drugs or
chemicals classified "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS).  (Aspartame
was developed initially as a drug to treat peptic ulcer.)  Moreover, I
have repeatedly asserted that aspartame should not have been approved
for human use in view of  the high incidence of brain and other tumors
found in animal studies, and the absence of long-term trials in humans
using "real world" products exposed to prolonged storage and heat.

The plight of aspartame addicts has been compounded by (a) footdragging
of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite its own data base (12,
13), (b) the brainwashing of health professionals (especially doctors
and dieticians) from constant reiteration by pro-industry advocates that
aspartame disease does not exist, and (c) the refusal of some
addictionologists even to consider this issue.  The thousands of
complaints volunteered to the FDA, along with my independent data on
over 1,200 aspartame reactors, indicate the gravity of such
disinformation.

Exclusion of Related Terminology

 This report clearly underestimates the prevalence of aspartame
addiction.  I purposely excluded aspartame reactors who continued to
consume large amounts despite debilitating symptoms because they used
expressions other than "addict" and "addiction."  Some examples:

 • Many aspartame reactors described their "unnatural craving" for
aspartame products.  It was not limited to diet sodas — e.g., a woman
with a severe "craving" for aspartame chewing gum, especially after
meals.  In fact, the habitual chewing of such gum poses a unique great
threat (see below).

 • "Recovered alcoholics," and former smokers and substance abusers
tended to use considerable amounts of aspartame products.  One chain
smoker averred that he became a "chain drinker" of diet sodas in this
switch of addictions.

 • An aspartame reactor referred to herself as "a 10-year-plus aspartame
junkie."  Another stated she had been "a diet colaholic for 12 years."

 • Three women indicated that each was "hooked" on diet sodas for over a
decade.

 This correspondence from  a 29-year-old woman with severe aspartame
disease, who was referred by her physician to confirm the diagnosis,
bridges the terminology of  "addiction" and "craving."

  "As I do not use any sugar, I have used aspartame and saccharin.
  The disturbing phenomenon is that I now have intense and
  abnormal cravings for aspartame, and find myself using more and
  more of it... like an addictive cycle.  Without it, food seems flat.
  I have tried eliminating it altogether, and find that this actually
  intensifies the cravings even a week later!  I would like to know
  if you have ever heard of anything like this before, or have advice
  as to dealing with it.  Besides the aspartame cravings, I have also
  continued to have inexplicable bouts of itchy skin, hives, and quite
  a bit of swelling in the face and legs.  The legs are often numb, and
  I am extremely fatigued most of the time."

 The enormous consumption of aspartame products by these individuals
also could be considered as part of their addiction.

 • A 54-year-old woman was phoned by her daughter who had just learned
about aspartame disease.  "When I called her with the information, she
had already taken 15 aspartame packets.  Mother told me this was usual
for her since the product came on the market."

 • One "huge consumer of aspartame" conjectured that such sodas are
ideal for addiction because "they first quench thirst, and  then cause
thirst."  His side effects of dry mouth and dry eyes are experienced by
many aspartame reactors (2-4, 14), even in the absence of marked
sweating or hot weather.

The Female Preponderance

 Female aspartame reactors consistently outnumbered men in prior
analyses of both my data (2,3) and that of the FDA (12, 13).  Some of
the metabolic and endocrine factors that may contribute to this gender
vulnerability have been discussed (2,3,8).

More women are trying to avoid aspartame during pregnancy on the advice
of  peers, chiefly out of concern for fetal harm (1-3).  Obstetricians
increasingly concur, albeit partly to avoid medicolegal situations
predicated on the absence of informed consent.  Unfortunately, some
pregnant women in this series resumed aspartame products,
notwithstanding their great misgivings, after experiencing severe
withdrawal symptoms during attempted abstinence.

  A 27-year-old woman with an "addiction" to aspartame products,
especially a popular lemonade, suffered headache, irritability and
dizziness.  Attempting to become pregnant, she stated: "It will be the
hardest to let go."

Children

 The apparent addiction of four children was disconcerting.  Their case
histories warrant summary.

 • A 9-1/2-year old boy exhibited "extreme hyperactivity."  Every time
he opened the refrigerator and found only regular cola sodas, he would
exclaim:  "I can't believe they didn't get even one diet cola!"

 • A 2-1/2-year-old girl had been weaned off baby fruit juices and begun
on aspartame drinks to prevent sugar-induced dental problems. She
developed an extensive rash that subsided after stopping aspartame. Her
mother wrote:  "For the first five days, she was like someone in
withdrawal — aggressive and craving the substance."

 • A 6-year-old girl was diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist as having
attention deficit disorder and a "mild encephalopathy of unknown
origin."  Her mother drank an aspartame beverage during the pregnancy
because of marked morning sickness and a severe yeast infection.  She
wrote:  "Little did I realize what I was doing to myself, let alone my
fetus who also developed the yeast infection.  By the time she was three
years old, we were both using sugar-free products — including yogurt,
popsicles, gum, soda pop, candy, ice cream, pies, puddings and hot
chocolate.  (She also sneaked them in.)  I developed a brain tumor
(oligodendroglioma), and underwent surgery and radiation.  Fortunately,
my mom came across two articles on aspartame a year ago, after which we
quit these products."

 • A 3-year-old girl repeatedly developed a rash and behavior problems
after taking aspartame products.  Her mother stated:  "For at least five
days after stopping them, she craved the former drink, and was extremely
hyperactive and aggressive."

Comments on Addiction

 The continued heavy consumption of aspartame in these reactors
qualifies as "substance abuse" relative to causing, aggravating or
prolonging their physical, mental and behavioral disorders.
As with other forms of chemical dependency, aspartame abusers are likely
to deny or distort symptoms.  The assertion that the addiction solely
represents caffeinism is erroneous.

 Health professionals and other groups recognize the numerous
psychologic, sociologic, economic, medical and environmental
complexities of substance abuse and addictive behavior.  Unlike the
well-known addiction to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, aspartame products
continue to be marketed aggressively to uninformed consumers by a
multibillion dollar industry.  Most regard this "supplement" as safe
because of its approval by the FDA.  They include pregnant women, the
fetus, young children, and patients with many diseases who are highly
vulnerable to the ravages of this potent neurotoxin.  Anthropologists
could equate the matter with "our intoxicated destiny" (15).

 In his classic description of "addictive eating and drinking," Randolph
(16) also emphasized that small quantities of a specific excitant can
perpetuate an addiction response owing to the extreme degrees of
specific sensitivity commonly involved.  He included various sugars,
alcoholic beverages and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Consumer Pleas For Help and Outrage

 As noted in the case summaries, aspartame addicts have pleaded for help
because of their suffering.  Some additional examples:

 • A 39-year-old mother wrote:  "How in the world do you get off
aspartame?  I've wanted to get off of the stuff for years."

 • A 40-year-old receptionist had consumed 4-6 cans of a caffeine-free
diet cola plus two large diet colas with caffeine daily since their
introduction.  Every time she tried to stop, she experienced "terrible"
withdrawal anxiety — with associated exhaustion, dizziness,
palpitations, and presumed hypoglycemia attacks.  She summarized her
dilemma:  "I just can't seem to get off the treadmill!"

 The outrage of these aspartame victims has been intense (3,4).  Indeed,
it generated several groups of consumer activists.

 • A 28-year-old mother concisely expressed her anger:  "In a sentence,
I could say that aspartame effectively ruined my physical and emotional
health for the better part of ten years."

 • A 28-year-old Australian woman "addicted" to diet cola wrote: "It is
an absolute crime that this substance has been offered to an
unsuspecting and ill-informed public.  It must be stopped!"

 • A male aspartame reactor reflected:  "I guess it IS going to take a
bloody epidemic of blindness, diabetes and multiple sclerosis to get
this poison off the market."

 • A 43-year-old woman with multiple aspartame reactions — notably joint
pain, loss of hair, severe fatigue, aggravated hypoglycemia, allergies,
and mouth lesions — expressed extreme concern "about this unnerving
‘addiction’ to aspartame."

 Each of the three components of aspartame -- phenylalanine (50%),
aspartic acid (40%), and the methyl ester (10%) that promptly becomes
free methyl alcohol (methanol) after ingestion — and their multiple
breakdown products following exposure to heat or during storage are
potentially neurotoxic and addictive (1 - 4).  (They also have been
invoked relative to the allergenicity and carcinogenicity of aspartame
and its metabolities.)  Some of the mechanisms may involve dopamine,
cerebral cholecystokinin (CCK), serotonin, endorphins, other important
neurotransmitters, insulin, and the unique permeability of the blood-
brain barrier to phenylalanine.

The transformation of phenylalanine to dopamine and dopamine metabolites
assumes relevance in addictive states.  Addictive drugs flood synapses
with dopamine, which carries a "pleasure message" from one nerve cell to
another in the "reward pathway"... thereby creating a "high."  For
instance, cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine, thereby acting as an
indirect dopamine agonist.  Such repeated rushes can result in
desensitization of the brain to dopamine.

 • During et al (17) demonstrated that changes in brain phenylalanine
may selectively affect production of the dopamine molecule that becomes
preferentially released into synapses.

 • Myers and Melchior (18) found that a dopamine-dopaldehyde
condensation product (tetrahydropapaveroline) caused rats to drink
increasingly large amounts of alcohol solutions which they normally
reject.

 • Researchers have advanced the concepts that increased dopamine
influences the addiction effects of cocaine; and that dopamine-receptor
agonists themselves might be addictive in cocaine users (19).

 The habitual chewing of aspartame gum poses a unique threat, as
evidenced by the dramatic development of generalized symptoms in some
aspartame reactors.  Its flavor and sweetness can last 30 minutes,
compared to about five minutes for sugar-sweetened gum.  The chemical
may be absorbed through the mucosa of the mouth (as used therapeutically
with nitroglycerin), and via simple diffusion from the oropharynx
directly into the brain.  The latter phenomenon has been demonstrated
with small molecules such as glucose, sodium chloride and ethyl alcohol
(20).

The Methanol Issue

 The chronic intake of free methanol in significant amounts is highly
germane to aspartame disease and addiction, particularly for alcoholics.
Six years before FDA approval of aspartame, Dr. Herbert S. Posner (21)
of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences wrote a
review titled, "Biohazards of Methanol in Proposed New Uses."  He
stressed the failure to recognize the "delayed and irreversible effects
on the nervous system" of methanol... at widely varying levels of
exposure and at rather low levels."  Furthermore, he suggested "...when
a safer compound is available, methanol should not be utilized."

The daily intake of methyl alcohol from natural sources averages less
than 10 mg (22).  Aspartame beverages contain 55 mg methanol per liter,
and nearly double as much in some carbonated orange sodas.  Persons
ingesting five liters a day can therefore consume over 400 mg methanol.
These facts are pertinent:

 • Methyl alcohol is probably the first component of aspartame released
within the small intestine, and rapidly absorbed.  Blood and methanol
concentrations correlate with aspartame intake.  "Abuse doses" (100
mg/kg or more) ingested by normal subjects significantly elevate blood
methanol concentrations, remaining detectable for eight or more hours
(23).

 • Humans are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of methanol than
animals because several enzymes required for its metabolism have been
lost during evolution.

 • The toxicity of methanol is enhanced by its slow rate of oxidation —
only one-seventh that of ethyl alcohol — occurring chiefly in the liver
and kidneys.  Even though the half life in human volunteers ingesting
small amounts (1-5 ml) is about three hours, complete oxidation to
carbon dioxide usually requires several days.

 • The body attempts to detoxify methyl alcohol by oxidizing it to
formaldehyde (a deadly neurotoxin and Class A carcinogen), and then to
formate or formic acid within minutes. Formate and formaldehyde each may
contribute to toxicity and nervous system/immune dysfunction through
various mechanisms. One is the conjugation of formaldehyde with human
serum albumin (F-HSA) to form a new antigenic determinant.  Patients
with multiple health complaints who had been exposed chronically to
formaldehyde develop anti F-HSA antibodies and elevated Tal cells
(antigen memory cells), consistent with sustained antigenic stimulation
of the immune system (24).

 • Concerning the methyl alcohol component of aspartame, Hugh C. Cannon,
Associate Commissioner for Legislative Affairs of the FDA, wrote in a
letter dated September 8, 1986:  "The Agency has recently become aware,
however, of clinical data that indicate that the toxic effects of
methanol are due to formate accumulation and not to formaldehyde or
methanol itself.  Formate is the oxidation product of formaldehyde which
is itself formed from the metabolism of methanol."

 The eye manifestations experienced by one-fourth of aspartame reactors
(1 - 4) are probably at least partly due to methanol and its breakdown
products.  It is of interest that several persons had severe visual
deterioration diagnosed as toxic amblyopia (including transient
blindness diagnosed as optic neuritis) on different occasions following
the excessive intake of either aspartame or alcohol.

Responsibility of the Health Professions

 The medical profession must pursue this concern in conjunction with
consumer advocates, elected officials and regulatory agencies.  Such a
commitment also extends to challenging the safety of proposed sweeteners
being developed by food technologists, some up to 10,000 times sweeter
than sucrose.  My objection to the petition for approval of Neotame (25)
provides a case in point.

Health professionals must protest the unbridled consumption of  "diet"
sodas and other aspartame products by children.  The potential
consequences include interference with brain development, abnormal
behavior, cognitive problems, depression, seizures, headache, allergic
disorders (asthma; severe eruptions), gastrointestinal complaints,
anorexia with marked weight loss, and cross-sensitization to other
chemicals such as monosodium glutamate (26).  The use of aspartame-
sweetened foods and beverages by young children, especially those with a
morbid obsession about weight gain and obesity, incurs another risk:  a
life-long preference for sugars and sweets.

 • A number of concerned teacher-correspondents attributed the increased
frequency of attention deficit disorders and decline in school grades to
the consumption of aspartame products.  In my opinion, several prior
industry-sponsored studies that concluded neither sugar (sucrose) nor
aspartame affect children's behavior and cognitive performance (27) are
misleading because of the nature of their protocols.

 • Neuropsychiatric reactions to aspartame candy and gum in children
occurred within a unique social context:  their consumption of Halloween
gifts from thoughtful neighbors concerned about giving them conventional
candy.  The most frequent were headache, vomiting and tremors.

 • Most physicians do not realize the aspartame content of many over-
the-counter and prescription drugs and vitamin products intended for use
by young children.  They include tasty suspensions, and chewable tablets
of  antibiotics or analgesics.

 ALL pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid aspartame products
(28).  In addition to risking addiction, the reasons include:

 • Exposure of the fetus to considerable phenylalanine, aspartic acid,
and free methyl alcohol

 • Maternal malnutrition associated with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and
reduced caloric intake

 • The transmission of aspartame and its components via the mother's
milk

 • Increasing the "allergic load"... thereby risking future
hypersensitivity diseases

 The FDA and elected officials have been warned repeatedly about the
potentially disastrous effects of aspartame consumption by pregnant
women and young children... but to little avail.  Indeed, the FDA
disregards its own data (12, 13).  Alfred North Whitehead aptly
asserted:  "Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue,
ignorance has the guilt of vice."

REFERENCES

 1. Roberts HJ.  The Aspartame Problem.  Statement for Committee on
Labor and Human Resources, U.S. Senate Hearing on "NutraSweet"-Health
and Safety Concerns, November 3, 1987.  83-178, U.S. Government Printing
office, Washington, 1988:466-467.

 2. Roberts HJ.  Reactions attributed to aspartame-containing products:
551 cases. J Appl Nutr 1988; 40:85-94.

 3. Roberts HJ.  Aspartame (NutraSweet®): Is It Safe?  Philadelphia, The
Charles Press, 1989.

 4. Roberts HJ.  Sweet'ner Dearest:  Bittersweet Vignettes About
Aspartame (NutraSweet®). West Palm Beach, Sunshine Sentinel Press, 1992.

 5. Roberts HJ.  Aspartame and headache.  Neurology 1995; 45:1631-1633.

 6. Roberts HJ.  Aspartame (NutraSweet®)-associated epilepsy.  Clin Res
1988; 36:349A.

 7. Roberts HJ.  Complications associated with aspartame (NutraSweet®)
in diabetics.  Clin Res 1988; 3:489A.

 8. Roberts HJ.  Defense Against Alzheimer's Disease:  A Rational
Blueprint for Prevention.    West Palm Beach, Sunshine Sentinel Press,
1995.

 9. Roberts HJ.  Preclinical Alzheimer's disease  (Letter)  Neurology
1997; 48:549-550.

10. Roberts HJ.  Does aspartame cause human brain cancer?  J Adv M
1991;4 (Winter):231-   241.

11. Roberts HJ.  Joint pain associated with aspartame use.  Townsend
Letter for Doctors 1991;   May:375-376.

12. Tollefson L, Barnard RJ, Glinsmann WH.  Monitoring of adverse
reactions to aspartame    reported to the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration.  In Proceedings of the First International Meeting on
Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, ed by RJ Wurtman and E Ritter-
Walker, Washington, D.C., May 8-10, 1987, 347-372.

 13. Department of Health & Human Services:  Summary of adverse
reactions attributed to aspartame.  April 20, 1995.

14. Roberts HJ.  Aspartame-associated dry mouth (xerostomia).  Townsend
Letter for Doctors   1993; February:201-202.

15. Rudgley R.  The Alchemy of Culture:  Intoxicants in Society.
London, British Museum Press, 1998.

16. Randolph, TG.  The descriptive features of food addiction:
addictive eating and drinking.    Quart J Studies Alcohol 1956; 17:198-
224.

17. During NJ, Acworth IN, Wurtman RJ.  An in vivo study of dopamine
release in striatum: The effects of phenylalanine.  In Proceedings of
the First International Meeting on   Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain
Function.  ed by RJ Wurtman and E Ritter-Walker, Washington, D.C., May
8-10, 1987.

18. Myers RD, Melchior CL.  Alcohol drinking:  Abnormal intake caused by
tetrahydropapaveroline in brain.  Science 1977; f196:554-555.

19. Koob G.  Cited by The Lancet 1998; 352:1290.

20. Maller O, Kare MR, Welt M, Bohrman H.  Movement of glucose and
sodium chlorine from the oropharyngeal cavity to the brain.  Nature
1967; 213:713.

21. Posner HS.  Biohazards of methanol in proposed new uses.  J Toxic
Envir Health 1975; 1:153-171.

22. Monte WC.  Aspartame: Methyl alcohol and the public health.  J Appl
Nutr 1984; 36:42-54.

23. Stegink ID, Filer LJ Jr.  Aspartame:  Physiology and Biochemistry.
New York, Marcel Dekker, Inc. 1984.

24. Thrasher JF, Broughton A, Micevich P.  Antibodies and immune
profiles of individuals occupationally exposed to formaldehyde.  Six
case reports.  Am J Indust M 1988; 14:479-488.

25. Roberts HJ.  Submission to FDA regarding Docket No. 981F-0052 (Food
Additive Petition for Neotame), March 3, 1988.

26. Roberts HJ.  Testimony:  Analysis of Adverse Reactions to Monosodium
Glutamate. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,
Bethesda, April 8, 1993.

27. Wolraich ML, Lindgren SD, Stumbo PJ, et al.  Effects of diets high
in sucrose or aspartame on the behavior and cognitive performance of
children.  N Engl J Med 1994; 330:301-307.

28. Roberts HJ.  Aspartame effects during pregnancy and childhood.
(Letter)  Latitudes 1997; 3 (Number 1): 3.
Courtesy of Dr. Roberts and
The "Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients",
11 Tyler Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368
Phone: 360 385-6021
January, 2000 (pp. 52-57)