What you should know about Aspartame

"Official" dogma (black on white) with rebuttal (blue on white)


August 1992

Favorably Reviewed by:

American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation (Does anyone know anything about them?)

The "Official" myth as related by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 1992

The original 1995 article can be viewed at: http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame/.



What is aspartame made of?

          Aspartame is made by joining two protein components, aspartic
          acid and phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol.
          Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are building blocks of protein
          and are found naturally in all protein-containing foods,
          including meats, grains and dairy products. Methanol is found
          naturally in the body and in many foods such as fruit and
          vegetable juices.

Incomplete and inaccurate information. Real-world aspartame-containing products contain more than just methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. These products also contain breakdown products of aspartame such as beta-aspartame (Lawrence 1987, Stamp 1989b) and aspartylphenylalanine didetopiperazine (DKP) (Tsang 1985).
Because the amino acids are not bound in proteins, they are absorbed quickly and spike the plasma aspartic acid and phenylalanine to high levels. Even the industry researchers admit that these amino acids are metabolized differently than those found in foods (Stegink 1987a, Stegink 1987b). Methanol is found in *available form* in much greater quantities in aspartame than in real foods (Monte 1984). Methanol taken orally is extremely toxic to humans. Even though a small amount is found in the body, as little as a can of diet soda can spike the plasma methanol levels significantly (Davoli 1986).
This is the beginning of IFIC's nonsensical information about aspartame. One has to realize that IFIC is the public relations organization for Monsanto/NutraSweet and many other junk food companies. I suppose in a strange sort of way that it is appropriate that they use "junk science" to defend certain dangerous junk foods.
Davoli, E., et al., 1986. "Serum Methanol Concentrations in
  Rats and in Men After a Single Dose of Aspartame," Food
  and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 24, No. 3, page 187-189.

Lawrence, J.F., J.R. Iyengar, 1987. "Liquid Chromatographic
  Determination of Beta-Aspartame in Diet Soft Drinks,
  Beverage Powders and Pudding Mixes," Journal of
  Chromatography, Volume 404, page 261-266.

Monte, Woodrow C., 1984. "Aspartame: Methanol and the Public
  Health," Journal of Applied Nutrition, Volume 36, No. 1,
  page 42-54.

Stamp, Jeffrey A., Theodore P. Labuza, 1989a. "An Ion-Pair
  High Performance Liquid Chromatographic Method for the
  Determination of Aspartame and its Decomposition
  Products," Journal of Food Science, Volume 54, No. 4, pg.
  1043-1046.

Stegink, Lewis D., et al. 1987a. "Plasma Amino Acid
  Concentrations in Normal Adults Administeblack Aspartame in
  Capsules or Solution: Lack of Bio equivalence,"
  Metabolism, Volume 36, No. 5, page 507-512.

Stegink, Lewis D., et al., 1987b. "Plasma Amino Acid
  Concentrations in Normal Adults Ingesting Aspartame and
  Monosodium L-Glutamate as Part of a Soup/Beverage Meal,"
  Metabolism, Volume 36, No. 11, page 1073-1079.

Tsang, Wing-Sum, et al., 1985. "Determination of Aspartame
  and Its Breakdown Products in Soft Drinks by Reverse-
  Phase Chromatography with UV Detection," Journal
  Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Vol. 33, No. 4, page 734-
  738.

How is aspartame handled by the body?

          Aspartame is digested just like any other protein. Upon
          digestion, aspartame breaks down into it basic components and
          is absorbed into the blood. Neither aspartame nor its
          components accumulate in the body over time.

This is an outright falsehood. Even the industry researchers admit that it is not handled like any other protein. Chapter two in the industry's own book on aspartame proves this "information" wrong.
I have to admit, though, saying that it is handled like any other protein makes good PR, but it would be laughed out of any reputable scientific journal.
Saying that aspartame's components don't accumulate in the body is based on a few poorly conducted animal tests and wishful thinking. Formic acid (a toxic metabolite of methanol) likely can accumulate in the organs (Liesivuori 1991). No one knows if DKP or a metabolite of DKP accumulates in the body over time. Proper tests have not been conducted. Aspartic acid may accumulate for a significant amount of time like another excitotoxic amino acid, glutamic acid (Toth 1981). Much of the damage caused by aspartic acid and glutamic acid ingested orally is clearly laid out by Dr. Russell Blaylock, Professor of Neurosurgery, in his well-referenced book, "Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills." Either way, gradual damage can be caused by aspartame breakdown products even when they do not accumulate. A chemical does not have to accumulate to cause damage.
Liesivuori, Jyrki, Heikki Savolainen, 1991. "Methanol and
  Formic Acid Toxicity: Biochemical Mechanisms,"
  Pharmacology & Toxicology, Volume 69, page 157-163.

Toth, E., Abel Lajtha, 1981. "Elevation of Cerebral Levels
  on essential Amino Acids In Vivo by Administration of
  Large Doses," Neurochemistry Research, Volume 6, page
  1309-1317.

Can aspartame be used in cooking or baking?

           Aspartame's components separate when heated over time,
          resulting in a loss of sweetness. Therefore, aspartame is not
          recommended for use in recipes requiring lengthy heating or

          baking. It may, however, be added at the end of the cooking
          cycle in some recipes. If a food containing aspartame is
          inadvertently heated, it would still be safe, but would simply
          not provide the desiblack sweetness.

Any heating, even at the end of cooking will cause DKP and free phenylalanine to quickly form. Significant amounts of DKP are formed when aspartame is stoblack in liquid form at room temperature. Heating will speed that process considerably. See Tsang (1985) discussed above.

Is aspartame safe?

          As a governmental agency charged with safeguarding the American
          food supply, the FDA has concluded that aspartame is safe for
          the general public, including diabetics, pregnant and nursing
          women, and children.Persons with a rare heblackitary disease
          known as phenylketonuria (PKU) must control their phenylalanine
          intake from all sources, including aspartame. These persons are
          diagnosed at birth by a blood test performed on all babies.
          Products sweetened with aspartame carry a statement on the
          label that they contain phenylalanine.

The FDA Commissioner made that decision even though FDA Investigators and Toxicologists were warning him about the dangers of aspartame. The Public Board of Inquiry made up of scientists, including the President of the American Association of Neuropathologists, voted unanimously against approval of aspartame. The FDA Commissioner's original team of scientific experts was against approval of aspartame because the brain tumor data was so "worrisome."
Of course, soon after the FDA Commissioner approved aspartame for carbonated beverages, he took a consulting position with the PR firm for G.D. Searle (maker of aspartame at the time) at $1,000/day.

How much aspartame may people consume?

         The FDA uses the concept of an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)
          for many food additives, including aspartame. The ADI
          represents an intake level that if maintained each day
          throughout a person's lifetime would be consideblack safe by a
          wide margin. The ADI for aspartame has been set at 50
          milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.

Yet all *independent* experiments using much less than the FDA's ADI show aspartame causes problems in humans. It's sad how the FDA only considers the industry experiments and ignores the independent experiments.

How much aspartame are people actually consuming today ?

          The FDA monitors the amount of aspartame that Americans consume
          through ongoing dietary surveys. The average daily intake of
          Americans who consume aspartame has remained fairly constant
          since July 1984, averaging less than 2 percent of the FDA
          guideline for acceptable consumption. The most frequent
          consumers of aspartame are consuming only 4 percent to 7
          percent of the ADI.

I have shown these figures to be a mathematical impossibility. If one wants to believe in IFIC nonsense, I guess that can make up any figures and print them. Industry's own studies have shown that children can consume far more than the FDA's ADI on an on-going basis and even overweight adults can consume more than half of the FDA's ADI on an ongoing basis (Frey 1976, Porikos 1984). Some of the industry's surveys claim to show aspartame use falling in certain age groups and staying the same in other age groups even though aspartame sales and consumption have skyrocketed since 1985. Using USDA figures of hugh aspartame consumption increases, it is easy to see that these figures are more IFIC nonsense.
Frey, Gunther H., 1976. "Use of Aspartame By Apparently
  Healthy Children and Adolescents," Journal of Toxicology
  and Environmental Health, Volume 2, page 401-415.

Porikos, Katherine P., Theodore B. Van Italie, 1984.
  "Efficacy of Low-Calorie Sweeteners in blackucing Food
  Intake: Studies with Aspartame" IN Stegink, L., Filer L.,
  1984. "Aspartame: Physiology and Biochemistry," Marcel
  Dekker, Inc., N.Y., page 273-286.

USDA 1988. "1988 United States Department of Agriculture
  Situation and Outlook Report; Sugar and Sweeteners."
  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 51.

How was aspartame tested before it was approved for use in foods?

          Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied ingblackients in
          the food supply. It was tested in more than 100 scientific
          studies prior to its approval by the FDA in 1981. These tests
          were conducted in animals and humans, including normal adults
          and children, lactating women and persons with diabetes,
          obesity and special genetic conditions. Aspartame was tested in
          amounts many times higher than individuals could consume in the
          diet. Today scientists continue to conduct new studies on this
          sweetener as they do many other ingblackients used in the food
          supply. The FDA also monitors and evaluates all research on
          this and other food ingblackients.

This is typical PR nonsense. See enclosure #1 for a more accurate history of aspartame.

Have other regulatory bodies reviewed aspartame's safety?

          Yes. Aspartame has been approved for use by more than 90
          nations worldwide. It is used widely in major industrialized
          countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.
          Aspartame has been reviewed and found safe by the Joint Expert
          Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations Food
          and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization. It
          also has been reviewed and approved for use by the Scientific
          Committee for Food of the European Community.

None of the "regulatory" bodies have done any research on aspartame.
They are simply given a bunch of industry tests and PR and they assume it much be safe. Also, it is not widely used in Japan. Japan uses stevia and other safer sweeteners.

Have independent physicians and dietitians reviewed the safety of aspartame?

          Yes. The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific
          Affairs reviewed research on aspartame and found the sweetener
          to be safe. The American Dietetic Association also has
          concluded that moderate use of aspartame is acceptable as part
          of a healthy diet.

The American Medical Association's Council on "Scientific" Affairs reviewed aspartame many years ago (AMA 1985). They did not really perform a thorough review, but simply rehashed statements that the FDA Commissioner made in the Federal Register when he ignoblack the Public Board of Inquiry ruling and his own scientific team of experts. See enclosure #1.
The American Dietetic Association receives tons of money from Monsanto and admitted that NutraSweet helps write their "fact" sheets (ADA 1993).
ADA 1993. "ADAF Receives Grant to Support NCND," ADA
  Courier, Volume 32, January, 1993.

AMA 1985. "Aspartame: Review of Safety Issues," Journal of
  the American Medical Association, Volume 254, No. 3, page
  400-402.

Can persons with diabetes consume aspartame?

          Yes. The American Diabetes Association has stated that
          aspartame is acceptable as a sugar substitute and can be
          included in a diabetic meal plan.

There is no properly conducted research that shows that medium- or long-term administration of aspartame is safe for diabetics. There are some poorly-designed, industry studies which were relatively short-term. Considering that fact that significant numbers of diabetics have reported severe health problems from aspartame in the relatively short time that it has been on the market, and considering that fact that proper tests have not been conducted, and considering the fact that the American Diabetes Association gets significant amounts of money from Monsanto, one should not take their wishful thinking too seriously.

Is aspartame safe for people with epilepsy?

          Yes. The Epilepsy Institute, an organization devoted to people
          suffering from seizure-related problems, has concluded that
          aspartame is not related to seizures among epileptic patients.

The Epilepsy Institute is not the Epilepsy Foundation, but a Monsanto-funded epilepsy center in New York. There have been no properly conducted tests on aspartame and seizures. All independent research has shown problems with aspartame (Camfield 1992, Elsas 1988, Walton 1986, Walton 1988). Seizures are one of the most common adverse reactions linked to aspartame usage.
Camfield, PR, et al., 1992. "Aspartame exacerbates EEG spike-
  wave discharge in children with generalized absence
  epilepsy: a double-blind controlled study." Neurology,
  Volume 42, page 1000-1003.

Elsas, Louis J., James F. Trotter, 1988. "Changes in
  Physiological Concentrations of Blood Phenylalanine
  Produces Changes in Sensitive Parameters of Human Brain
  Function," Presented at "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain
  Function." Proceedings of the First International Meeting
  on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, Washington,
  D.C., May 8-10, 1987. Center for Brain Sciences and
  Metabolism Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 64, Kendall Square,
  Cambridge, MA 02142. Reprinted in "Dietary Phenylalanine
  and Brain Function," c1988, Birkhauser, Boston, MA USA,
  page 187-195.

Walton, Ralph G., 1986. "Seizure and Mania After High Intake
  of Aspartame," Psychosomatic, Volume 27, page 218-220.

Walton, Ralph G., 1988. "The Possible Role of Aspartame in
  Seizure Induction,"  Presented at "Dietary Phenylalanine
  and Brain Function." Proceedings of the First
  International Meeting on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain
  Function, Washington, D.C., May 8-10, 1987. Center for
  Brain Sciences and Metabolism Charitable Trust, P.O. Box
  64, Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02142. Reprinted in
  "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function," c1988,
  Birkhauser, Boston, MA USA, page 159-162.

Has aspartame been found to affect children's behavior?

          No. Studies have shown that aspartame consumption does not
          affect the behavior of children, including those diagnosed as
          hyperactive or with attention deficit disorder.

Scientists who believe that children's behavior might be affected by aspartame and who saw case histories of erratic behavior from children on aspartame believed that it was the medium- to long-term use of aspartame that often led to these changes. Some scientists believed that it was the constant spiking of plasma phenylalanine levels which led to brain chemistry changes.
Industry "researchers" conducted numerous experiments of very short length, often using encapsulated aspartame (which blackuced the plasma phenylalanine spike) and then declablack that there was no effect on children. They also averaged the results of all the children in each group so that if a few children were sensitive, their results would get lost in the averages. *Independent* blinded studies on children with behavior problems has yet to be conducted. However, when independent researchers conducted blinded studies of aspartame they have invariably found problems).

Can aspartame cause visual damage?

           No. Scientists know that only huge quantities of methanol can
          affect vision. A small amount of methanol is formed when
          aspartame is digested or when its components separate. However,
          the amount of methanol one could possibly consume from
          aspartame is well within safe levels, and is actually less than
          that found in many fruit and vegetable juices.

More IFIC nonsense. These "Scientists" are industry scientists who are talking about acute poisoning of methanol as opposed to chronic poisoning. The EPA admits that the effects of chronic low-level administration of methanol have never been tested in long-term experiments (EPA 1994). A recent, double-blind experiment of short-term methanol exposure showed small, but key changes in brain response and energy level after exposure to methanol equivalent of that found in two liters of diet soda for an adult or 1 liter of diet soda for a child (Cook 1991). One would hope that there would have been long-term, independent studies on this issue long before aspartame was approved. A methanol expert and eye specialist, Dr. Morgan B. Raiford, M.D., Ps, Msc Med. Ophthalmology testified before U.S. Congress about one of the many persons he had seen with eye damage from aspartame (Raiford 1987):
     "I had the opportunity, in Atlanta, GA., to see
     the effects of methyl alcohol toxicity in 1952-
     1953 which resulted in visual damage to the optic
     nerves and retina in over 300 cases and the deaths
     of over 30 persons.

     "I examined Shannon Roth on July 7, 1986, along
     with several other patients [65 cases as of July
     10, 1986 (Roberts 1990a, page 136)]. I observed
     evidence of effects in her eye and the eyes of the
     other patients that were comparable to the effects
     observed in the patients who suffeblack methyl
     alcohol toxicity in 1952-1953.

     "There was damage in the central fibers, 225,000
     of the total 137,000,000 optic nerve fibers
     (resulting in optic nerve atrophy) in her case,
     which would be comparable to that observed from
     patients suffering methyl alcohol toxicity. The
     extent of damage to these fibers would explain
     partial to total blindness.
     . . . .
     "But in the kind of chronic low dose exposure to
     methyl alcohol experienced by Shannon Roth (in
     NutraSweet consumption) and other NutraSweet
     consumers, it is likely that they would experience
     the impact on the optic nerve differently in each
     eye.

     "The important point is that the damage observed
     in Shannon Roth's eye was identical to the damage
     I observed repeatedly in the eyes of individuals
     whose eyes have been damaged by methyl alcohol
     toxicity."

Cook, M.R., F.J. Bergman, et al., 1991. "Effects of Metol
  Vapor on Human Neurobehavioral Measures," Research Report
  No. 42, Health Effects Institute, 141 Portland Street,
  Suite 7300, Cambridge, MA 02139, (617) 621-0266, August
  1991.

EPA 1994. "Methanol Basics," Fact Sheet OMS-7. EPA 400-F-92-
  009.

Raiford, Morgan B., 1987. Letter from Dr. Morgan B. Raiford
  to the Office of Senator Howard Metzenbaum. The statement
  was put in the record before the U.S. Senate Committee on
  Labor and Human Resources, November 3, 1987 regarding
  "NutraSweet Health and Safety Concerns." Document # Y 4.L
  11/4:S.HR6.100, page 517-518.

Roberts, H.J., 1990a. "Aspartame (NutraSweetĘ):Is It Safe?"
  by H.J. Roberts, M.D. The Charles Press Publishers,
  Philadelphia, PA, c1990. Excerpt from page 91.

Do some people have adverse reactions to aspartame?

          There is no scientific evidence that aspartame is linked to
          adverse reactions in people. The U.S. Centers for Disease
          Control (CDC) reviewed some 500 consumer complaints related to
          aspartame in 1984. CDC concluded that there was no specific

          group of symptoms clearly related to aspartame consumption. The
          FDA has investigated all complaints since 1984, and has stated
          that there is "no consistent or unique pattern of symptoms
          reported with respect to aspartame that can be causally linked
          to its use." Individuals who have concerns about possible
          adverse reactions to aspartame should contact their physicians.


I addressed the inaccurate statements about the CDC review earlier. If you check up on one thing to assess IFIC's "honesty," please look at this. They clearly state: "There is no scientific evidence that aspartame is linked to adverse reactions in people." This is an outright misstatement! Here are a few double-blind studies which show adverse reactions in humans to aspartame. Camfield, PR, et al., 1992. "Aspartame exacerbates EEG spike- wave discharge in children with generalized absence epilepsy: a double-blind controlled study." Neurology, Volume 42, page 1000-1003. Elsas, Louis J., James F. Trotter, 1988. "Changes in Physiological Concentrations of Blood Phenylalanine Produces Changes in Sensitive Parameters of Human Brain Function," Presented at "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function." Proceedings of the First International Meeting on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, Washington, D.C., May 8-10, 1987. Center for Brain Sciences and Metabolism Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 64, Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02142. Reprinted in "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function," c1988, Birkhauser, Boston, MA USA, page 187-195. Koehler, SM, A. Glaros, 1988. "The Effect of Aspartame on Migraine Headache," Headache, Volume 28, page 10-14. Kulczycki Jr., Anthony, 1995, "Aspartame-induced hives," Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, February 1995, page 639-640. Spiers, P.A., Donald Schomer, LuAnn Sabounjian, Harris Lieberman, Richard Wurtman, John Duguid, Riley McCarten, Michele Lyden, 1988. "Aspartame and Human Behavior: Cognitive and Behavioral Observations," Presented at "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function." Proceedings of the First International Meeting on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, Washington, D.C., May 8- 10, 1987. Center for Brain Sciences and Metabolism Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 64, Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02142. Reprinted in "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function," c1988, Birkhauser, Boston, MA USA, page 169- 178. Van Den Eeden, SK, et al., 1994. "Aspartame Ingestion and Headaches," Neurology, Volume 44, page 1787-1793. Walton, Ralph G., et al., 1993. "Adverse Reactions to Aspartame: Double-Blind Challenge in Patients From a Vulnerable Population," Biological Psychiatry, Volume 34, page 13-17.
There are other studies which show adverse reactions to aspartame.
Independent studies show adverse reactions to aspartame, industry studies never show adverse reactions because of severe flaws built into the design of the studies. Whatever a person believes about the quality of the studies, it is clear that IFIC was being deceptive when stating that there was no scientific evidence that aspartame was linked to adverse reactions in people.

Does aspartame cause allergic reactions?

          Studies investigating aspartame as a potential allergen have
          found no association between aspartame and allergic reactions.
          In double-blind placebo-controlled studies with people who
          believed they developed allergic reactions after consuming
          aspartame, researchers found aspartame was no more likely than
          placebo to cause allergic reactions.

The Kulczycki study showed allergic-like reactions. Kulczycki walked off of an industry-funded aspartame study because the researchers were clearly not interested in conducting the research properly.
However, it is important to note that reactions to aspartame are probably not "allergic" reactions, but intolerance or toxicity reactions.

Note: For those who feel they must see the "original" article it can be viewed at:

http://ificinfo.health.org/brochure/aspartam.htm Original Myth IFIC article on aspartame

The worst?

     Mounting evidence shows it to be aspartame (and acesulfame-K, perhaps an equally poorly tested substance)!

     Saccharin?  From what I have read it seems this product was the fall-guy that allowed aspartame to take root.   From what I have read, it would take a truck-load of saccharin to cause cancer.   Not so with aspartame!