Aspartame and Manufacturer-Funded Scientific Reviews
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Aspartame (NutraSweet) Toxicity Information Center
In 2007, a review of aspartame entitled, “Aspartame: A Safety Evaluation Based
on Current Levels, Regulations, and Toxicological and Epidemiological Studies”
was published in the scientific journal, “Critical Reviews in Toxiology” (Magnuson 2007).
Shortly after the publication, a flurry of press releases proclaimed:
“A new review of aspartame research -- the most comprehensive ever conducted --
once again has concluded the widely used sugar substitute is safe, even among
its heaviest users.”
“International Scientists Conclude Sweetener Is Safe Across Population Groups.”
What these press releases did not tell readers is that this
review was funded by the aspartame manufacturer, the authors had serious
conflicts of interests, and in page after page after page of the review, research
was misrepresented and important research and information was omitted from
the review. This analysis is intended to help readers understand how manufactures
pay for and get published reviews that put their toxic products in a positive light.
A. Conflicts of Interest
The review was funded by Ajinomoto of Japan. Ajinomoto along with Monsanto
have been the world’s biggest producers and sellers of aspartame. The authors
of the review had numerous, obvious conflicts of interests as described below.
Yet this information was apparently not disclosed to the journal it was published
in. The parent company of the journal stated in a press release that, “There
were no known conflicts of interest with the sponsor or potential biases of the
authors” (Informa 2007).
Gary M. Williams was the Chairman of the American Health Foundation (AHF) which was funded
in part by The NutraSweet Company and other companies selling aspartame-containing
products (Williams 1987). AHF Board of Directors have included representatives of PepsiCo
and the National Soft Drink Association (CSPI 2003). The AHF received more than $163,000
in grants from Philip Morris. “Regarding an AHF press kit prepared by the PR firm, Ruder
and Finn, William Ruder writes to Philip Morris: ‘please note that we have handled it
so that there is not one single mention of the problem of smoking and health.’” (CSPI 2003,
Ruder 1975). In 1987, the American Health Foundation (AHF)
convened a conference, Sweeteners: Health Effects where an AHF representative concluded
that aspartame and other sweeteners were safe: “It is clear from the perspective of potential
cancer risk that the sweeteners described in some detail in this report are safe and wholesome,
and perhaps more so, than sugar. As we noted, it is our hope that this workshop will be the
basis for international recognition of this fact, so that medical research effects can be
directed effectively to areas more relevant to health maintenance.” (Weisburger 1987)
Two of the authors, Robert Kroes and Gary M. Williams joined with Ian C. Munro, the
president of the Cantox Health Sciences International corporate
advocacy group, to work with Monsanto to review its herbicide,
glyphosate (Williams 2000). The work of these authors, directly with
Monsanto, was not disclosed in this aspartame review.
Cantox (now known as Intrinsik) specializes “in assisting clients in their
efforts to develop, gain regulatory approval and market products nationally
or internationally.” Cantox is famous as a corporate advocacy group
for whitewashing the dangers of Agent Orange, another toxic product
created by Monsanto (Dominion 2007). In 2002, the president of Cantox, Ian C. Munro (see above),
worked directly with NutraSweet company employees and consultants
on an aspartame review where he stated: “After 30 plus years of rigorous
scientific research, it is time to put questions of aspartame safety to rest. ...
The continuing debate over such a ‘nonissue’ only serves to divert attention
and the allocation of resources from more important health issues that need
to be addressed.” (Butchko 2002).
Bernadene Magnuson, the lead author of this review was also the
Senior Scientific and Regulatory Consultant for Cantox Health Sciences
International, a corporate advocacy group mentioned
above (UT 2008). The president of Cantox had already called
aspartame toxicity a “nonissue,” yet the lead author of this review
worked for Cantox!
Bernadene Magnuson became a member of the corporate advocacy
group, The Burdock Group in 2005. (Nutra 2005). The Burdock Group
offers its clients “technically rigorous, comprehensive safety and regulatory
management of their products. .... The Burdock Group offers the highest
quality consulting services for the safety and regulatory issues facing
the Food and Beverage, Dietary Supplement, Cosmetics/ Personal Care
and Pet Food Industries. Together, we form a cohesive team that offers
single-source solutions for your business’s safety assessment and
regulatory needs.” (Burdock 2008). This author’s work for pro-aspartame
advocacy group, Cantox and corporate advocacy group, Burdock Group
was not disclosed in this aspartame review.
Gary Marsh has had researched funded by the Formaldehyde Institute,
a trade association consisting of Monsanto, Dupont and other chemical
companies (CSPI 2008a, Tataryn 1983). The Formaldehyde Institute raised
money for research in an attempt to portray formaldehyde exposure in a
good light. Since independent published research has shown that aspartame
ingestion leads to formaldehyde accumulation in the brain, kidneys, liver
and other organs and tissues (Trocho 1998), Gary Marsh’s research for the
Formaldehyde Institute is a serious conflict of interest. This author’s funding
from the Monsanto-supported Formaldehyde Institute was not disclosed in
this aspartame review.
Michael Pariza was a scientific advisor to the industry-funded advocacy group,
“American Council on Science & Health” (ACSH) (CSPI 2008a). According to
an article in the Washington Post:
“In 1982, the American Council on Science and Health ( ACSH ) filed a
friend-of-the-court brief in a Formaldehyde Institute lawsuit that overturned
a federal ban on formaldehyde insulation. .... At least a third of ACSH ’s
funding comes from such companies as Allied Corp., Coca-Cola, the
National Soft Drink Association, Colgate-Palmolive Co., Dow Chemical Canada,
du Pont, Eli Lilly, Exxon, General Mills, General Foods Fund, Gulf Oil, Hershey Foods,
Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Monsanto Fund, Mobil Foundation, M&M/Mars,
Pillsbury Foundation, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, Shell Oil, Upjohn and Velsicol Chemical.”
Michael Pariza is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Life Sciences
Institute (ILSI), a chemical and food company research association funded by Ajinomoto,
Monsanto, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, and many other food and chemical companies
involved in the production, use and sale of aspartame (Nutrition 2003, CSPI 2008b, ILSI 2005).
This author’s official positions within industry associations funded by Ajinomoto and Monsanto
were not disclosed in this aspartame review.
Ronald Walker spent seven (7) years as the ILSI’s Chairman of their Scientific Committee
on Toxicology/Food Safety in Europe (Walker 2001). As mentioned above, ILSI is funded
by Monsanto, Ajinomoto, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, etc. He was a consultant for
DSM Nutritional Products, a company that sold “Twinsweet” from Holland Sweetener
Company which is a mixture of aspartame and acesulfame-k. The DSM web site contained
aspartame advocacy articles written by Holland Sweetener Company (Walker 2007,
DSM 2008). He was a consultant Numico Beheer BV / Danone Group, a company that
had a joint venture with Ajinomoto (the sponsor of this review) (Walker 2007, Asia 2007).
He is a paid consultant to the corporate public relations group, the European Food
Information Council with corporate members that include Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Danone,
Nestle, etc. (Walker 2007, EUFIC 2008). Finally, he was a paid consultant for Cantox
Health Sciences International (Walker 2005).
Ronald Walker wrote a glowing review of another Ajinomoto product, monosodium glutamate
(MSG) for a symposium funded by an Ajinomoto managed trade group, International Glutamate
Technical Committee (IGTC) (Walker 2000, Ishii 2003). He has participated in another aspartame review
where he claimed that aspartame was safe (SCF 2002). This author’s funding from companies
selling aspartame, official positions with associations who are supported by aspartame
manufacturers and marketers as well as his past positions defending aspartame was not
disclosed in this aspartame review.
John Doull was a paid consultant of Monsanto, a member of the Monsanto-funded
ACSH Advisory Board, and a Trustee of the Monsanto- and Ajinomoto-funded
corporate research association, ILSI (Tobacco 1993, CSPI 2008). This author’s
consultancy with Monsanto and official positional within Monsanto- and Ajinomoto-
funded associations was not disclosed in this aspartame review.
A reader might ask, “Is it possible for there to be an unbiased review of aspartame,
made by Ajinomoto and Monsanto, where the review is funded by Ajinomoto,
authors have done paid work for Monsanto, several authors have offical positions in trade
and research associations funded by Monsanto, Ajinomoto, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, etc.,
several authors work for corporate advocacy groups, one of which called aspartame toxicity
a ‘nonissue,’ and one author who consults for companies that sell aspartame and in the
past has said that aspartame is safe?” I think a reasonable answer might be,
“No! Are you kidding me?!”
B. Misrepresenting the Research
It is extremely common for “Reviews” funded by manufacturers
of unhealthy or toxic products to misrepresent the research so
as to promote their products amongst medical professionals.
However, it is becoming more common for manufacturers and
trade associations to use corporate advocacy groups to hand-pick
researchers to misrepresent the research for them. Not only
do these reviews contribute to continued exposure of the general
public to toxic products like aspartame, but some medical professionals,
who do not have the time to check all references for accuracy, are
duped into thinking a toxic product is safe. This section is intended
to use examples from this aspartame review to demonstrate how
medical professionals can be misled when research is misrepresented
and key research and information is omitted.
B.1. Formaldehyde Poisoning From Aspartame
An independent study in Europe demonstrated that aspartame ingestion
at relatively small levels lead to the accumulation of formaldehyde adducts
(bound to protein) in the liver, kidneys, brain, and other organs and tissues
(Trocho 1997). This published, peer-reviewed, independent study was not even
mentioned in this review! One of the techniques for misrepresenting research
is to avoid mentioning the research altogether!
Some of the side effects of chronic formaldehyde poisoning include:
- Irreversible genetic damage from long-term, low-level exposure (Shaham 1996)
- Headaches, fatigue, chest tightness (Main 1983)
- Sleeping problems, burning skin, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness (Liu 1991)
- Headaches, fatigue, IgE-mediated sensitization (Wantke 1996)
- Musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular symptoms (Srivastava 1992)
- Headaches, tiredness (Olsen 1982)
- Headaches, dizziness, nausea, lack of concentration ability (Burdach 1980)
- Cytogenic effects of blood lymphocytes (Suruda 1993)
- Fertility (adverse effects) (Taskinen 1999)
- Cognitive adverse effects (Kilburn 2000)
- Seizures and neurobehavioral impairment (Kilburn 1994)
- Headaches, skin problems (Proietti 2002)
- Low birth weight (Maroziene 2002)
- Neurobehavioral symptoms (Kilburn 1985)
- Memory problems, equilibrium and dexterity impairment.(Kilburn 1987)
Methanol is quickly absorbed from aspartame ingestion (Davoli 1986). Methanol is
converted into formaldehyde in the body (Kavet 1990). Some of the formaldehyde is
converted into formic acid and eliminated by the body (Kavet 1990). However,
Trocho (1998) demonstrated that aspartame ingestion at low levels by rodents:
20 mg/kg body weight (acute dose) or 200 mg/kg body weight (chronic dose), lead
to formaldehyde accumulation in the liver, brain, kidneys and other parts of the body.
The formaldehyde was bound as “adducts” to proteins and DNA. Research in humans
demonstrates that adduct formation can occur from formaldehyde exposure
(Carraro 1997, 1999).
Another way the reviewers can convince medical professionals that chronic
formaldehyde poisoning from aspartame is not a problem is to convince
them that the methanol obtained from aspartame (and then converted into
formaldehyde in the body) does not increase methanol levels in the blood
Table 25 on page 692 of the Magnuson (2007) review purports to show
several studies where plasma methanol levels did not rise except for
when very large doses of aspartame were ingested (Stegink 1981,
Stegink 1983, Stegink 1989). What they don’t tell you, but what can be
seen by reading the research is that these industry-sponsored studies
used an extremely old methanol measuring technique from 1969
(Baker 1969) that would not be able to see any plasma methanol
increases until it went up by 500 - 600% ! Relatively small amounts
of aspartame can cause a doubling of plasma methanol levels (Davoli 1986).
Legitimate researchers use plasma methanol measuring techniques
that are not worthless (e.g., d’Alessandro 1994, Osterloh 1996, Cook 1991).
The fact that the Magnuson (2007) reviewers did not mention any of these issues proves
that they are either not familiar with the research or would knowingly keep
crucial information from readers.
Another way for the reviewers to convince readers that the methanol
from aspartame converting into formaldehyde and accumulating is not
a problem is to compare the methanol levels in aspartame to that in
fruits and other products. The reviewers state: “Similarly, Butchko
and Kotsonis (1991) estimated that tomato juice provides about
six times as much methanol as an equivalent volume of an aspartame-
sweetened beverage. .... In conclusion, the amount of methanol
contributed to the diet from aspartame-containing products consumption
is likely to be less than that from natural sources.”
This argument put forth by the reviewers was largely addressed in
an independent review in 1984 by Dr. Woodrow Monte entitled,
“Aspartame: Methanol and the Public Health” (Monte 1984). The
manufacturer was concerned enough about the debunking of their
argument related to aspartame, methanol and fruit that they wrote
a Letter to the Editor in 1985 attempting to address Dr. Monte’s
arguments (Sturtevant 1985). However, these reviewers avoided
citing Dr. Monte’s review and even the manufacturer’s response
Dr. Monte pointed out that there are “protective factors” in
traditionally-ingested foods/drinks that contain methanol.
For example, wine has high levels of methanol, but it also has
high levels of ethanol. The ethanol blocks the conversion of
methanol into formaldehyde so that the methanol can safely be
eliminated in the urine and breath (Leaf 1952, Liesivuori 1991,
Roe 1982). Fruits also have protective factors to prevent the
conversion of methanol into formaldehyde as detailed by
Dr. Monte and as detailed in my heavily-referenced article
entitled, “Scientific Abuse in Methanol / Formaldehyde Research
Related to Aspartame,” available at:
By not mentioning independent, published research that is
well known to the manufacturer and debunks some of the
manufacturer’s arguments related to aspartame, methanol
and formaldehyde, these reviewers once again show either
their bias and/or lack of knowledge of the scientific literature
as it relates to aspartame.
The reviewers recite numerous other arguments put forth in
the past by the manufacturer. All of these arguments have
been addressed in detail in the scientific literature and on
the following web page:
B.2. Aspartame and Seizures
Section 126.96.36.199 of the Magnuson (2007) review entitled,
“Effect of Aspartame on Seizures”
on page 696 cited two industry-funded, double-blind studies
(Shaywitz 1994, Rowan 1995). The way these studies are
presented, the reader gets the sense that a large amount
of aspartame will not cause seizures, even in persons who are
predisposed to seizures.
What they didn’t tell the readers is that nearly all of the subjects
in these two aspartame industry-sponsored studies were taking anti-seizure
medication during the study! It is obvious that anti-seizure medication
can help prevent seizures.
But the Magnuson (2007) reviewers presented these studies as if they had
relevence to the overwhelming majority of people who do not take
anti-seizure medication. Either they didn’t read the studies they’re
reviewing or they knowingly left crucial information out of
In addition, the reviewers left out information that the aspartame
used in these studies are, according to industry consultants,
not “bioequivalent” to aspartame taken in real-world products
(Stegink 1987a). The aspartame was given in slow-dissolving capsules.
Giving aspartame in slow-dissolving capsules tremendously-reduces the
biochemical changes that normally occur from real-world aspartame ingestion.
The methanol absorption is slowed tremendously, allowing the body to eliminate
more of it before it is transformed into formaldehyde. The absorption of the
excitotoxic amino acid is slowed so that the liver can prevent the sudden spike
in plasma levels of this amino acid normally seen when aspartame is ingested
in liquids (Stegink 1987a, 1987b).
Finally, the reviewers showed no concern that these industry studies
were one day (Rowan 1995) and two weeks long (Shaywitz 1994).
Roberts (1988) looked at 551 cases of reported aspartame toxicity. He
showed that reactions to aspartame appeared anywhere from immediately to more
than one (1) year after initial use began. Keeping the studies short helped
guarantee that there would be few, if any, adverse reactions. According
to a NutraSweet Company representative, the two week Shaywitz (1994) study
was to be conducted on 20 subjects (Kotsonis 1987), yet only 10 subjects were
described in the publication. The reviewers did not question what happened
to the other 10 subjects.
B.3. Aspartame and Vulnerable Populations
On page 695 the reviewers state:
“Concerns exist that the only studies done that show
no effect of aspartame are those which use healthy
adults and people used to high intakes of aspartame
such as diabetics and people on weight-loss regimes
(Tsakiris et al., 2006). However, the effect of acute
high-dose aspartame was also evaluated in a double-
blinded study of 18 patients with Parkinson’s disease,
as this was considered a susceptible target population
for adverse effects (Karstaedt and Pincus, 1993).”
Here again, industry-sponsored studies on aspartame
tend to be very short, especially in susceptible population
groups. This study on Parkinson's patients was less than one day
long! The study purported to test whether the increase in
plasma phenylalanine levels effects other measurable health-related parameters.
However, since they gave the aspartame in slow-dissolving capsules, there
was only a relatively small increase in plasma phenylalanine
Do these reviewers actually think that one day studies for
testing a chronic poison on a vulnerable population is
appropriate? Apparently so, because they had absolutely
no criticism of this and other similar industry-sponsored studies.
B.4. Aspartame and Medium-Term Research
The Magnuson (2007) review described an industry-sponsored study by Leon (1989)
where aspartame or placebo was given to healthy adults for 24 weeks:
“The results indicated no differences between groups in body weight, vital signs
blood lipid levels, urinalysis results or incidence of complaints....”
What the reviewers didn’t mention is that there were approximately 50% more adverse reactions
in the aspartame group than in the placebo group. However, the researchers split
the reactions in 14 smaller subcategories and they could then claim that within
each tiny subcategory, there was no “statistically significant” increase in aspartame
B.5. Aspartame and Migraines / Headaches
When the Magnuson (2007) reviewers discuss aspartame and headaches, they were critical
of two reletively long, independent studies linking aspartame use to headaches
or migraines (Koehler 1988, Van Den Eeden 1994), but had not a single criticism
on an aspartame industry-sponsored study that found no link between aspartame
and headaches (Schiffman 1987).
Again, these reviewers had not one criticism of the industry-sponsored
Schiffman (1987) study even though it was only one day long. While the
Koehler (1988) study was four weeks long and the Van Den Eeden (1994)
study was 14 days long. The reviewers also neglected to point out that
in the Schiffman (1987) study, 77.5% of the subjects taking the placebo
experienced adverse reactions during the one-day period! 45% of the
subjects taking the placebo experienced headaches. This is a ridiculously
high percentage of subjects reporting adverse reactions to “placebo” in a
single day. The number of participants used in this study was “sufficient to
ensure that a difference of 33% in the incidence rates of headache”
between the aspartame and placebo control groups would be seen as statistically
significant. This means that if less than 78% (45% + 33%) of the persons taking
aspartame reported headache reactions, it would not be considered statistically
Magnuson (2007) did not even mention the critque of the Schiffman (1987) study by the
Editor of the journal, Headache (Edmeads, 1988), nor did they mention other published
“Unfortunately, their experimental design was flawed in such a way that their negative
results in no way support their conclusion that ‘aspartame is no more likely to produce
headache than placebo.’” (Elsas 1988)
“We believe that the study of Schiffman et al had some serious flaws and did not
reflect the realities of migraine due to dietary factors.” .... “Persons susceptible to
migraine and other vascular headaches should continue to be warned of the possible
aggravating role of aspartame.” (Steinmetzer 1988)
B.6. Aspartame and Aspartic Acid
On page 691 of the Magnuson (2007) review, they state:
“...there have been no observed adverse effects of large doses of aspartic acid
in studies with humans (see reviews: Meldrum, 1993; Institute of Medicine,
2005) or nonhuman primates (Reynolds et al., 1976, 1980).”
What they don’t say is: 1) there have been no long-term studies on human
subjects given free-form (unbound-to-protein) aspartic acid; 2) the concerns related
to acute effects of aspartic acid involve potential irreversible damage to parts of
the brain of infants and young children who are exposed to high levels of free-form
aspartic acid from aspartame. These effects have been seen in infant and young animals.
3) Industry studies claiming no effect of excitotoxins such as aspartic
acid on non-human primates gave brain-protected drugs to the animals and used
a recroped picture from an earlier and different study to claim no effects (Olney 1993).
As described by Dr. John W. Olney:
“In addition, the 2nd report by Reynolds, Filer and colleagues (Stegink 1975),
admitted for the first time that their monkeys were maintained under Sernylan
(phencyclidine) anesthesia throughout the 6 hr experiment. Failure to divulge in their
1st report that their animals were anesthetized with phencyclidine is a particularly critical
omission, since the use of phencyclidine thoroughly invalidates the entire study in the
eyes of any knowledgable neuroscientist. Phencyclidine is one of the most potent antagonists
of glutamate receptors known (Wang 1990, Olney 1990, Olney 1986). Administration of
phencyclidine or its various analogs, such as MK-801, totally prevents glutamate (even
very high doses of glutamate) from damaging the hypothalamus (Wang 1990). Not only
does the use of phencyclidine totally invalidate the primate non-susceptibility claims of
Reynolds et al., their deliberate representation that ‘No unusual behavior was exhibited
by the infants’ when they clearly were aware that their infant monkeys had actually been
drugged and anesthetized, raises additional grave questions.”
“In 1976, Reynolds et al attempted to convince the world definitively that
glutamate is non- toxic for the infant primate by publishing a 3rd report
(Reynolds 1976) in which new evidence is presented on an additional specie
of monkey (fascicularis, a specie not documented in their first 2 reports). This
report is illustrated with a brain section from a 7 day old fascicularis monkey
that ingested glutamate 5 hrs earlier (Appendix, Exhibit # 2). Incredibly, the brain
section used to illustrate the new finding is the same brain section used in their
second report (Stegink 1975) to illustrate lack of brain damage in a 1 day old
rhesus monkey dosed with glutamate 6 hrs earlier ( Appendix, Exhibit #2).
These illustrations are obviously spurious for two reasons: 1) They cannot
possibly constitute evidence from two separate monkeys or two separate
species because they are one and the same photograph which has merely
been cropped differently during photographic printer; 2) Regardless how this
photograph is cropped, it does not authentically document lack of glutamate
toxicity because it is selected from the caudal level of the hypothalamus which
lies outside the zone that is subject to damage by orally administered glutamate.
When Dr. Reynolds published this spurious photograph in her 3rd paper (Reynolds
1976), she had very good reason to know that it was from the wrong region of the
brain, because not only had I instructed her colleague and co-author on this matter
in 1972, but I met with Dr. Reynolds herself in 1975 and briefed her very carefully
and pointedly on both the science and the ethics of this matter. This briefing was
one year prior to the publication of her 3rd spuriously documented report.”
Nearly every section of the Magnuson (2007) review has research that is
misrepresented and/or crucial pieces of information are left out. In addition
to the misrepresentation of the research, readers (including medical professionals)
are often not told that this review was funded by the aspartame manufacturer,
Ajinomoto, and the reviewers had enormous conflicts of interest.
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