Diet Coke Sweetener Called Dangerous Poison
This article is reprinted from the September, 1999 edition of Your Jerusalem.
Aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke as well as in a large variety of other products, has been called “a dangerous poison” by Mission Possible, a grassroots organization based out of Los Angeles, California, dedicated to getting the word out on the synthetic sugar substitute. Aspartame, which is marketed in the United States under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, has the dubious distinction of generating the longest list ever of U.S. FDA complaints against a product. The list of complaints includes headaches, dizziness, mood swings, nausea, abdominal pains, change in vision, diarrhea, seizures and convulsions, memory loss, chronic fatigue, sleep problems, changes in heart rate, numbness, local swelling, difficulty in breathing, disruption of menstrual patterns, joint and bone pain, and approximately 75 other symptoms including, in some rare cases, grand mal seizures, difficulty with pregnancy and even death. At the very least, most people will report headaches or dizziness after drinking soft drinks containing aspartame. Besides symptoms reported by ordinary citizens, studies dating as far back as 1971 have shown the link between aspartame (NutraSweet) and breast tumors as well as grand mal seizures.
Members of Mission Possible began their campaign when they realized the effect that the chemical substance was having on themselves and their family members. Reports one founder, “My youngest child began to use the sweetener in a drink called Crystal Light (marketed in the U.S.) It came in the mail as sample packets to mix with water. She began to develop migraine headaches, then she developed heart attack-like symptoms. I took her to a specialist who could not diagnose the problem. One day, they carried her in from a school field trip after she had suffered a grand mal seizure. When we discovered aspartame as a possible cause … I eliminated it from her diet and she got well.”
Aspartame (NutraSweet) is manufactured from 2 synthetic amino acids (the building blocks of proteins): phenylalaline (50% of aspartame) and aspartic acid (40% of aspartame), bound together by methanol (also known as wood alcohol, 10% of aspartame). Phenylalaline, linked to seizures in humans, degrades into a substance known as DKP, a proven tumor-causing agent. Aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of mice (study by John Olney, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri). Methanol is a cumulative toxin in the human body and when consumed without ethanol (the antidote for methanol toxicity always found in natural foods such as fruit juice), it can damage the optic nerve causing blindness. Methanol is dangerous to fetal tissue as it, like phenylalaline, crosses the placental boundary. In extreme cases, methanol poisoning can cause death. The methanol found in aspartame (NutraSweet) breaks down into formaldehyde (embalming fluid) and formic acid, which has the same chemical composition as ant venom. Formic acid is used commercially in products such as paint stripper.
As early as 1971, studies were already producing results showing that aspartame caused mammary tumors in rats. Searle Laboratories, the pharmaceutical company which developed aspartame, showed that DKP (one of the substances into which aspartame breaks down) caused, in addition to mammary tumors, brain tumors, uterine polyps, enlarged pituitary and thyroid glands and atrophied testes. Of the 145 albino rats under testing in the 1971 “115 Week Oral Tumor Study in the Rat”, 73 females showed grossly observed masses. For instance, female rat No. M17LF (a low dose female who had been fed DKP in rat chow) showed 5 abnormal masses in the mammary glands: “Mass 1, a 3 x 3 x 2.5 cm spheroidal multinodular yellowish mass non-adherent to the surrounding muscles or tissue (submitted in toto); Mass 2, a 2 x 5 x 2 x 1 cm, irregularly shaped, spheroidal, smooth, yellowish white firm mass located subcutaneously and adjacent to the above described mass (submitted in toto). Mass non-adherent to the surrounding muscles or tissues, etc…” Mission Possible accuses Searle of wrongdoing, noting that “to hide the mammary tumors, Searle scientists excised them, and returned the animals to the study or removed the tumors post-mortem. In addition, the masses were examined microscopically ‘in toto’, or only after they had been left to deteriorate.” Thus, according to Mission Possible, malignancies were made to appear benign. Searle explained that a computer “programming error” was responsible.
Animal studies are not the only evidence that aspartame causes mammary tumors. According to anti-aspartame activists, there is a clear correlation between aspartame consumption by the general populace and an increase in breast cancer rates. Thus, while in the U.S. there had been a steady 1% increase in incidents of breast cancer between the years 1940 and 1982, suddenly the rate of increase jumped to 4% starting in 1982, one year after aspartame (NutraSweet) was approved in the U.S. for use in dry foods. (In 1983 it was approved for use in carbonated beverages.)
The story of aspartame’s creation and eventual introduction to the market reads like a spy novel: it is dominated by corruption, conflicts of interest and apparent lies. Says one anti-aspartame activist who wishes to remain anonymous, “It is clear that the makers of aspartame were in it for only one thing – the money, and it didn’t matter to them if they destroyed an entire generation in the process.”
The (some say apocryphal) story begins after cyclamate, an artificial sweetener used in carbonated beverages in combination with saccharin, was banned by the FDA in 1970 for causing cancer in the bladders of mice. It was noted at the time that “a pot of gold awaits the discovery of a safe artificial sweetener.” (The Diet Book, Pinncale, 1973) Earlier, in 1966, G.D. Searle Pharmaceuticals had been searching for new drugs, including one for ulcers. Dr. James Schlatter, one of the scientists on Searle’s research team, synthesized an intermediate chemical — aspartyl-phenylalaline-methylester, or “aspartame”. Dr. Schlatter accidentally spilled the substance onto the outside of the container, and when he inadvertently licked his fingers, he tasted the chemical’s sweetness. In 1970, an internal trade memo indicated that Searle was in the race for an artificial sweetener to replace the banned cyclamate. In the same year, the publication “Science” first reported to the general public the discovery of aspartame.
Searle approached Dr. Harry Waisman, a biochemist and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin’s Jospeh P. Kennedy Memorial Laboratory and an expert in phenylalaline (50% of aspartame) toxicity. Dr. Waisman conducted a study of the effects of aspartame on primates. The study began on January 15, 1970 and was terminated April 25, 1971 after Dr. Waisman died unexpectedly (no foul play implied). In this pivotal study, seven Rhesus monkeys were given aspartame with milk. One died after 300 days. Five others suffered grand mal seizures. In 1971, neuroscientist Dr. John Olney told G.D. Searle that aspartic acid (40% of aspartame) caused holes in the brains of mice.
Despite these findings, Searle pushed ahead with its campaign to bring aspartame to the market, petitioning the U.S. FDA in 1973 for approval to sell aspartame as a sweetening agent. On July 26, 1974, aspartame was approved for limited use as a free-flowing sugar substitute and as tablets for sweetening hot beverages, cereals, gums and dry bases. Dr. Olney and consumer interest attorney James Turner filed a formal objection stating that they believed that aspartame could cause brain damage. On December 5, 1975, the FDA put a hold on the approval of aspartame: “Some of our findings suggest an attitude of disregard for [the] FDA’s mission of protection of public health by selectively reporting the results of studies. … Experiments have been poorly conceived, carelessly executed, or inaccurately analyzed or reported.” On March 1, 1976, the FDA task force investigating aspartame submitted a stinging indictment of Searle which contained recommendations for regulatory action including referral to the Justice Department for review of possible criminal violations of the law.
Despite these ignominious beginnings, Searle refused to give up. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the pharmaceutical company hired a barrage of scientists and lawyers to disprove earlier studies and to push aspartame approval through the bureaucracy of the FDA. Many of these hired individuals had connections with the federal government, and some had even held high positions under various presidential administrations. On June 1, 1977, Donald Rumsfeld became Chairman and CEO of G.D. Searle. Rumsfeld, straight out of the White House as Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Defense and, before that, his Chief of Staff, was paid 2 million dollars in salary and 1.5 million in bonuses between the years of 1979 and 1984 for execution of his duties. On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President of the United States, Searle Pharmaceuticals reapplied to the FDA for aspartame approval. A former Searle salesperson, Patty Wood-Allott, revealed that Donald Rumsfeld told his sales force that, if necessary, “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, aspartame would be approved that year.”
Indeed it was. On July 18, 1981, aspartame was approved for use in dry foods and again two years later for use in carbonated beverages. Already by 1984, complaints were mounting over aspartame. Dr. Richard Wurtman of MIT and Dr. Woodrow Monte, Director of Science and Nutrition at Arizona State University, received over 1,000 complaints about the artificial sweetener, the most numerous being dizziness, visual impairment, disorientation, buzzing in the ears, tunnel vision, loss of equilibrium, retinal hemorrhaging, menstrual flow disruption and depression. By 1985, almost 7 million pounds of aspartame were being consumed annually in the United States. By 1987, the number was up to over 17 million.
Today, though a number of books and many newspaper articles, as well as television interviews, have exposed the truth about aspartame, for the most part the general public is unaware of its potential dangers. Says Jerusalemite Sara Ben Chanan (owner of Alumah Restaurant) who works within the natural foods industry, “I almost cry when I see parents giving their children Diet Coke. Don’t they realize they’re poisoning them?” Mission Possible is working fervently to get out that very message, both in the United States and, now, in Israel.
You may visit Mission Possible’s website at www.dorway.com.
Other important resources include:
- Homepage for the movie “Sweet Misery“, a documentary about aspartame
- Wikipedia entry for aspartame
- Diet Coke website
- Government Says Aspartame is Good For You
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