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Volume 38, No. 2

Aspartame (Nutrasweet®)

Skepticism about the safety of products containing aspartame, an intense sweetening agent, surfaced in the corporate-neutral trenches of my practice as a primary-care internist. I repeatedly encountered many health problems that could be attributed with reasonable medical certainty to their consumption by patients.1,2,3 My subsequent non-granted probes, including a nationwide questionnaire-survey of aspartame reactors, reinforced the validity of these observations concerning "the most tested additive in history." Further probing led to the conclusion that many of the tests that allegedly proved or confirmed safety were misleading because of flawed protocols.

Official approval of this chemical for human use, which I now regard as a profound mistake, has resulted in serious health risks for many persons due to the ensuing "marketing miracle of the 80s" here and abroad. Indeed, the consequences probably surpass those of the thalidomide tragedy when one considers that more than half the population is consuming aspartame in about 4,000 products. Even in the short interim since publication of my first book on this subject2, additional disconcerting medical and scientific information has accumulated.

These phenomena should generate considerable objective reflection by all physicians, especially when coupled with the following observations:

  • Ongoing disbelief, silence, or both, within the FDA and other regulatory or monitoring agencies (see below) that should be public health advocates.
  • The disinclination of prestigious journals to publish articles or letters thereon. This might reflect (a) bias based on prior "scientific" studies, (b) the input of prejudiced reviewers having active or previous ties to this industry (e.g., recipients of research grants) , or (c) reflexive killing of the messenger who brings ominous news about popular palate pleasers.
  • The enormous latitude of corporate power in directing research either toward or away from related areas, and influencing decisions to publish or not publish the results.

Some details provide further background and insights into this phenomenon:

  • The FDA has received at least 6,000 major complaints from 6,000 consumers about aspartame products. This constitutes an overwhelming 80 percent of all reported adverse reactions to foods and food additives (FDA Consumer, October 1988).
  • I have data on more than 630 patients and correspondents with reactions attributed to aspartame-containing products, some life-threatening. Over 125 individuals experienced seizures1,2,3,4. The associated personal, occupational, and monetary toll often was extreme.
  • Senior FDA scientists and other credentialed professionals vigorously protested the licensing of aspartame because of disturbing findings in animal studies (especially brain tumors) and suspicions about the validity of certain experimental data.
  • Projected legal action concerning several key studies was delayed until the statutes of limitations were allowed to expire. 5 Dr. M. Adrian Gross, then a senior FDA pathologist-scientist, told a Senate hearing on August 1, 1985:

In view of all these indications that the cancer-causing potential of aspartame is a matter that has been established way beyond any reasonable doubt, one can ask: "What is the reason for the apparent refusal by the FDA to invoke for this food additive the Delaney Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act?"5

  • To my knowledge no extensive trials on humans were done or published prior to approval of aspartame as a low-nutritive sweetener, notwithstanding its conception as a drug for possible use in peptic ulcer. Even at present, few human studies have been done by corporate-neutral investigators on groups at special risk using "real world" aspartame products.
  • Many observations suggest the ability of aspartame-containing products to cause or accelerate confusion, memory loss, altered behavior, intellectual deterioration, various allergies, and a host of neuropsychiatric, metabolic, ocular, and developmental afflictions1,2,3,4. They include Alzheimer's disease2,3,5 and human brain cancer, which has increased dramatically in recent years6.

"The aspartame story" extends to the problem of phenylalanine ingestion by persons with phenylketonuria (PKU) and PKU heterozygotes. Two aspects are noteworthy. First, one out of 50 persons in the general population is a PKU heterozygote. Most remain unrecognized because studies for this trait are rarely considered beyond the neonatal period. Second, there is a high incidence -- at least 20 percent -- of aspartame reactions among the close relatives of patients who cannot tolerate aspartame products.1,2,3


by NOHA speaker, H. J. Roberts, MD, from his presentation, "The Need for Physician Whistle-Blowers in a Food Technology Revolution," at the twenty-sixth annual meeting of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

1Roberts, H. J., "Reactions attributed to aspartame-containing products: 551 cases," Journal of Applied Nutrition, 40: 85-94, 1988.

2Roberts, H. J., Aspartame (NutraSweet®): Is It Safe?  The Charles Press, Philadelphia, 1989.

3Roberts, H. J., Sweet'ner Dearest: Bittersweet Vignettes About Aspartame (NutraSweet®), Sunshine Sentinel Press , West Palm Beach, 1992.

4Roberts, H. J., "Aspartame (NutraSweet®)- associated epilepsy," Clinical Research, 36: 349A, 1988.

5Metzenbaum, H., "Discussion of S.1557 (Aspartame Safety Act)," Congressional Record-Senate, p. S10820, August 1, 1985.

6Roberts, H. J., "Aspartame (NutraSweet®)-associated confusion and memory loss: A possible human model for early Alzheimer's disease," Abstract 306, Annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, February 13, 1988.

7Roberts, H. J., "Does aspartame (NutraSweet®) cause human brain cancer?" Clinical Research, 38: 798A, 1990.

8Roberts, H. J., "Does aspartame cause human brain cancer?" Journal for the Advancement of Medicine, 4: 231-41, Winter 1991.

*This article is from copyrighted material sent to NOHA* by Dr. Roberts along with his permission to publish. [Editor]

Article from NOHA NEWS, Winter 1993

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to www.AmericanNutritionAssociation.org. Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠