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Arthritis and Joint Pain Caused By Aspartame / NutraSweet (Monsanto)

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Chapter 1
(From "The Preventive Diet" by Richard J. Sabates, M.D.)

"There is no better reading than the book of your own life". A terrible pain woke me up in the middle of the night. My right big toe was on fire, even the sheets rubbing against it caused excruciating pain. I could not remember any recent trauma to my foot, but the pain continued, persisting day after day.

My first wrong diagnosis, and as it turned out, not the last, was gout. This is a type of arthritis characterized by pain and swelling in the joints. I had blood drawn in my own office to confirm the diagnosis, which should have shown high levels of uric acid. While awaiting the results, I took large dosages of the anti-inflammatory medication Indocin, plus Colchicine. These two drugs are normally effective first line drugs in the treatment of an acute gouty flair up.

Days later I still had the pain and had begun to walk with a noticeable limp. The test results came back negative, to my great surprise and showed no uric acid reaction. The blood test also showed no other type of infection, it registered totally normal.

This was just the beginning of a long odyssey of self diagnosis and treatments. I experimented with physical therapy, hot soaks, ultrasound, and massages. I restricted my physical activity and elevated my foot on top of my desk between patients. After x-rays were taken, I argued with the radiologist, insisting that he find something wrong, even though I knew perfectly well that the x-rays were negative. A few weeks later, the throbbing pain stopped in my foot and literally moved to my right hip. The limp was even worse. I could not even enter my car properly. I had to dive backward into the seat like I often had seen my father do after his hip replacement surgery.

I repeated every possible blood test. I checked rheumatoid factors, lupus, syphilis, parasites and even had an HIV test. All this time, I continued limping, popping pain pills and denying the obvious - that a doctor had no idea what was wrong with himself.

I stubbornly continued to think that I could decipher this illness myself. I dusted off my old textbooks and voraciously read all the latest arthritis journals. I remembered that high dosages of vitamin A may cause a similar arthritic syndrome, so I stopped taking all my vitamin A supplements.

Being a preventive physician, I started taking natural anti- inflammatories such as Bromelaine, Chondroitin Sulfate, and the oils GLA and EPA, as well as large dosages of vitamin C. All of these natural substances I had used for years in my medical practice, with good results. Finally I broke down and asked for help. First I consulted a long time friend of mine, Dr. Herbert Pardell. After a thorough examination and review of my extensive lab tests and x-rays, he diagnosed septic arthritis . He speculated that my ailment may have had an infectious origin, so I embarked on a fruitless regimen of anti- bacterial agents. Under the guide of Dr. Pardell I took strong antibiotics such as Tetracycline, Ampicillin and Flagyl for several months, without any results.

From the right hip, the pain migrated to my right shoulder. I could not even comb my hair. Dr. Pardell injected me with an anti- inflammatory substance named Sarapin, an excellent natural product for the treatment of bursitis. But after the anesthesia wore off, the pain returned.

I then consulted a well known orthopedic specialist, who recommended another stronger antibiotic (Cipro). He diagnosed atypical rheumatoid arthritis, though he was uncertain exactly what my ailment was.

Several weeks later I went to a chiropractor. The good doctor examined me. He assured me that my ailment was due to a problem in my neck and my back. He then adjusted me and I thanked him and left his office with the same pain with which I had come.

During my studies, it occurred to me that I may have contracted Lyme Disease. This rare illness is transmitted by an insect bite. I live on a ranch outside of Miami and have several horses. Perhaps I had been bitten some sort of insect. I had more blood drawn looking specifically for Lyme Disease - came back negative.

Two months later something happened that scared me even more. I noticed loss of vision in my left eye. It was cloudy, as if I had cataracts. I quickly consulted an ophthalmologist an an optometrist in my immediate family,. Both, after carefully examining me declared that I had perfect vision. They found nothing wrong with me. Interestingly, both were surprised that at my age pushing fifty, I did not need eye glasses. The lens of the eye usually hardens with age and the majority of people need glasses after age 40. I reminded them that the use of certain vitamins and antioxidants retards the aging process and that I would probably never need to use glasses. They laughed and said: "We will see you back in a couple of years to fit you for glasses."

The pain continued to plague me. From my right shoulder, the pain shifted to my left shoulder. Again, I had more x-rays, this time chest x-rays. I had more blood drawn, and again, all tests proved negative. I resigned myself to the possibility that I had some sort of hidden cancer. I remember being depressed and not being able to concentrate on my work. I had general fatigue and my hands would fall asleep, especially after waking up. I had to clap my hands in the morning just to get the feeling back. At that time, I thought my symptoms of depression were caused by mu inability to cope with this terrible affliction. I had no idea that all my symptoms may have been the result of the same illness.

Eight months had passed since the start of my arthritis. My research uncovered an article in a publication called The Townsend Letter, written in May, l991. This small publication is dedicated to discussing medical conditions and how they relate to nutrition and unorthodox therapies. Frequently, preventive physicians contribute interesting articles. Numerous articles in The Townsend Letter have been previously turned down by the most prestigious medical journals because they advocate the use of vitamins, minerals and alternative treatments not yet proven to the satisfaction of mainstream medicine.

I read an article titled "Joint Pains Associated with the use of Aspartame," written by Dr. H. J. Roberts, M.D., of West Palm Beach, Florida. In his introduction, he referred to the fact that the article had been turned down for publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association. With much interest but very little hope, I read Dr. Roberts describe 58 cases of multi-articular arthritis associated with the use of Aspartame (NutraSweet). All symptoms subsided after the patients discontinued using the artificial sweetener. The pain returned when he reintroduced aspartame.

Could it be that this product approved by the FDA and used by millions of people could be responsible for my arthritis? Could it be something so simple? I doubted it.

At that time I consumed large quantities of Aspartame, and like many people across the country, had a running battle with my weight. When hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida, I used my two week vacation to help out in the community. I opened a small clinic in a partially damaged church where there was no water or electricity. We slept on the floor and all we had to eat were canned foods, colas and ham and cheese sandwiches. During this time, I gained more than 1 0 pounds. When I returned home I started a crash diet, including Aspartame products. My diet consisted of two to four yogurts a day, "lite" of course. I would add Aspartame to my Cuban coffee, as well as occasionally drink protein shakes sweetened with Aspartame. I reread Dr. Roberts article and started to believe that maybe Aspartame could be the cause of my arthritis.

Dr. Roberts article narrated the story of a 62 year old patient that had pain in all his joints. The man regularly used eight packets of Aspartame a day among the coffee, hot chocolate and gelatins in his diet. This patient also complained of loss of vision in one eye, headaches, hand cramps, irritability and a feeling of sleepiness during the day. Interestingly enough, he had gained 30 pounds instead of losing weight. When he stopped using Aspartame, all his symptoms disappeared in just a few weeks.

I nearly fell off my chair when I read this. This must be it. Full of renewed hope, I stopped my daily yogurt and called Dr. Roberts in West Palm Beach. The doctor spoke to me at length and told me his frustrating story of trying to alert the community of the Aspartame problem he uncovered. He had tried to publish his article not only in JAMA, but also in three other publications. Each turned him down. He suggested that the principle cause of this denial was money. The manufacturers of these drugs spend million of dollars in advertising and promotion to position their products in the medical community. Sometimes they are even able to exert editorial control and block unfavorable articles concerning their products. Dr. Roberts also told me that he had published a book titled "Sweetener Dearest" in an effort to alert the general population of the problems associated with this artificial sweetener.

My improvement was a lot slower than I wished, but little by little the pains became less intense and I began to engage in all my previously normal physical activities. Small tasks such as combing my hair and raising and lowering the glass of my car window to throw a coin in the Turnpike toll became very significant milestones in my life.

Two months after I began treatment, all my pains had disappeared though I was still troubled by my left eye. As a doctor, I knew that I had not proven that my particular arthritis was caused by aspartame. It may be a coincidence that my pains had disappeared. So I decided to be a scientist with all the risks this carried. First of all, I risked suffering the terrible pains again just to attain some sort of causal proof. And second, if the pains did not return, I would again worry about my mysterious illness. I started my Aspartame loaded diet as a test, consuming colas, yogurts, gelatins and ice creams.

It was with a mixture of happiness and sadness that I woke up the very next day with the familiar throbbing pain, this time in my shoulder.

These events took place several years ago. My vision has returned to around 100% normal. The pains are all gone, yet I know that my joints have suffered permanent damage. All damaged joints, through accidents, sports or arthritic processes, attract calcium and fibrin to the tissues that in the long run may cause permanent arthritic changes. All arthritic process liberates the so-called free radicals, toxic substances that erode the tissue. The only protection against them are antioxidants, especially ones that form SOD. I now take extra dosages of antioxidants and try to apply the lessons that I learned with my arthritis experience.


  1. I learned that sugar, even when used excessively (sometimes causing terrible health problems) is after all, a natural substance that our immune system recognizes. Never again will I touch artificial sweeteners and I will try to educate my patients as to the very important reasons why.

  2. In an effort to substitute nature through chemistry, all adulterated foods have a great possibility (sooner or later) of eventually producing toxic or allergic reactions in certain groups of people.

  3. The FDA is intimately related to the pharmaceutical industry. It is important to let the consumers know that many retired FDA officials go to work as special counselors to the pharmaceutical industry. FDA Commissioner Dr. Charles C. Edwards has said " It is not our purpose to endanger the financial interest of the pharmaceutical companies."

    FDA ex -commissioner Dr. Robert Liz put it more directly. "What bothers me most is that people believe that the FDA is protecting them....