Of Relevant Studies Questioned Essay, Research Paper
The Federal Drug Administration approved aspartame, an artificial sweetener surrounded by controversy, for widespread consumption in 1983. Its brand name, NutraSweet, is a division of Monsanto, a major drug company who acquired G.D. Searle, the original drug company affiliated with aspartame. Aspartame is used in everything from diet food to sugarless gum, but its major use is in diet drinks. There have been studies done to determine what dosage of aspartame and it’s by products, aspartic acid, methyl alcohol or methanol, and phenylalanine, is safe to consume or if the amount is unlimited. Dr. Mark Gold (1995), a researcher involved with aspartame for over twenty years, found that seventy-five percent of the complaints reported to the FDA are related to aspartame and that aspartame led to a variety of symptoms. Some of these include arthritis, hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, inability to think clearly, confusion, dizziness, headaches or migraines, inability to concentrate, joint pain, memory loss, rapid heartbeat, and brain tumors among. This paper will take a closer look at how aspartame could physically cause such symptoms and discuss the validity and relevancy of the scientific studies presented in the case for aspartame use.
To understand why aspartame can possibly cause symptoms like memory loss, headaches, and brain tumors, one must look at how aspartame is used in the body. These effects have been outlined in quite a few studies, three of which are Carolyn Orange’s study entitled “Effects of Aspartame on College Student Memory and Learning,” and Jennifer Cohen’s study “How Diet Soda Turns to Poison,” and Devoli et al.’s study, “Serum Methanol Concentrations in Rats and Men after a Single Dose of Aspartame.” Once ingested aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methyl alcohol or methanol. These chemicals convert to formaldehyde and diketopiperazine (DKP), two types of neurotoxins, at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way below the average human body temperature (Cohen 2). The chemicals “cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) ? and chang[e] the chemistry of the brain (Orange 2)” which keeps the brain able to regulate the amount of amino acids allowed in the brain. This affects the hippocampus or the area of the brain that pertains to memory. Methanol is also “released in the small intestine when the methyl group of aspartame encounters the enzyme chymotrypsin (Stegink 1984, p 143),” as quoted on the Holistic Medicine website in the well sourced article “Scientific Abuse in Methanol/ Formaldehyde Research Related to Aspartame.” While Monsanto may be correct in saying in a statement on July 1, 1999 that “It is physiologically impossible for aspartame to cause brain tumors because it never enters the blood stream and thus cannot travel to essential organs, including the brain,” aspartame’s byproduct methanol is absorbed into the blood stream and once there it breaks down into formaldehyde and methanol. On the Holistic Medicine
website in the article “Scientific Abuse in Methanol/ Formaldehyde Research Related to Aspartame” Kavet (1990), Monte (1984), and Posner (1975) are cited as finding that methanol causes:
…headaches, dizziness, nausea, ear buzzing, GI disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains, behavioral disturbances, neuritis, misty vision, vision tunneling, blurring of vision, conjunctivitis, insomnia, vision loss, depression, heart problems (including disease of the heart muscle), and pancreatic inflammation. (1-2)
These symptoms are a result of long term, low-level exposure to methanol. When methanol is converted to formaldehyde, which then changes to formic acid. There are other more serious symptoms with formaldehyde according to the same article on the Holistic Medicine website:
Chronic formaldehyde exposure at very low doses has been shown to cause immune system and nervous system changes and damage as well as headaches, general poor health, irreversible genetic damage, and a number of other serious health problems (Fujimaki 1992, He 1998, John 1994, Liu 1993, Main 1983, Molhave 1986, National Research Council 1981, Shaham 1996, Srivastava 1992, Vojdani 1992, Wantke 1996). (2)
The Stegink studies (1981,1983,1989,1990) are the ones most often quoted when trying to disprove the above evidence. The only problem is that these studies used an outmoded way of testing the levels of methanol in the blood, which make them
very inaccurate. Another reason these and other studies that say aspartame and its
byproducts are harmless is that they do not take into account the long term affects. The studies in humans have been conducted over a relatively short-term basis. Unfortunately there are more inaccuracies in the studies, especially ones commissioned by G.D. Searle. Even if the evidence was unclear whether or not aspartame was harmful or not, there is no point in putting a chemical in your body that has so many possibly dangerous side effects. Ingesting preserving agents is not the best thing for the body’s health.
Numerous studies have been done supporting both sides of the aspartame issue, from the first in1970, four years after aspartylphenylalanine – methyl – ester or aspartame’s accidental discovery in a pharmaceutical lab, to the most recent ones published in 1998. From the beginning most of the studies have been controversial especially the ones funded by the original drug company G.D. Searle. This was the company who conducted studies for the FDA in the process of aspartame’s approval. Once again the Holistic Medicine website proves in another well-sourced article entitled “Preapproval ‘Research’ and History of Aspartame” that the studies for aspartame consumption are not as valid as they first seem. It is known that this company withheld the results of several studies with negative results till after aspartame was approved (2). In this article there is disturbing documentation of events leading up to the FDA’s approval of aspartame for G. D. Searle and Company. There is even controversy around the first documented study on aspartame. This is the often-cited study where baby monkeys were fed
aspartame in their milk (2). Almost all of the statements from major medical associations and the statement from Monsanto saying that aspartame is non-toxic quoted or referenced this study. I also found that the majority of the studies that found aspartame and its by products harmless were funded or conducted by a major drug company or a known laboratory in their pay. By itself this information does necessarily mean anything, but considering the fact that the evidence, also from “Preapproval ‘Research’ and History of Aspartame”, proves that studies with negative results were hidden or released after the FDA’s approval and that statements from government documents show that the studies done by Searle contained procedural violations and improbable conclusions. Most of the studies done containing evidence that aspartame is toxic were published in minor or alternative medical journals. Theoretically this lessens their credibility. However, after looking at the studies and articles published in the major journals and statements on aspartame from associations such as the American Medical Association, and the American Diabetes Association and comparing them with the studies, articles, and statements from Earth Island Journal, the Holistic Medicine website, and The Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal, I found that the latter had better sourced studies with more quotes from the original FDA reports and the more accurate, later, independent studies done in the eighties. The statements from Monsanto, the drug company owning G.D. Searle and NutraSweet, and the American Medical Association were almost identical and, in addition, had few sources, while the most quoted studies were the most controversial ones. There has
been some sensationalism and rumors spread through emails on the internet, and certain websites opposing aspartame consumption make broad generalizations and sweeping claims concerning aspartame toxicity, but the few larger, better constructed sites that I cite back up their claims quite well and raise some large unanswered questions about aspartame and its supporters. The responses by Monsanto, the AMA, and others to the problems brought up by the Holistic Medicine website and the other, less known sources are largely reactionary with little supporting evidence. Many of the groundbreaking studies were published in the seventies, but the more accurate one were published in the eighties and in the nineties. Most of the studies published in the late eighties to the present have been done to support or contradict the previous ones. The problem is that there are very few studies on the long-term affects of aspartame. In fact the biggest problem is that the FDA approved aspartame for limited use four years after the first study in 1970 even when the FDA’s own scientists had severe concerns about it. Then sixteen years after the first study began, aspartame was approved for use in everything. During the time the FDA investigated aspartame, Searle, the drug company funding the research to have it approved, lied, withheld negative results, and was found to have violated standard procedures for conducting laboratory test and studies (”Preapproval ‘Research’ and History of Aspartame). Even the FDA put holds on aspartame’s mass manufacturing several times after its approval for public consumption.
In conclusion, aspartame and at least two of its byproducts, methanol and formaldehyde, are harmful to the human body causing a variety of side effects. Most of the studies saying otherwise have inherent problems with accuracy and
Validity due to corruption by the greed and ineptness of a major drug company. While the sources showing that aspartame is harmful are published in smaller, less noteworthy journals, they are no less valid because they are better cited and more detailed than most of the sources saying otherwise. Aspartame was approved too quickly, before its long-term effects were known.
Cohen, Jennifer. “How Diet Soda Turns to Poison.” Earth Island Journal 12.4
(1997): 29 EBSCOHost
Davoli, E., L. Cappellini, L. Airoldi, and R. Fanelli. “Serum Methanol
Concentrations in Rats and in Men After a single dose of Aspartame.” Food and
Chemical Toxicity. 24.3 (1986): 187-189
Gurney, James G., and Janice Pagoda. “Aspartame Consumption in Relation to
Childhood Brain Tumor Risk: Results from a Case-Control Study.” Journal of
National Cancer Institute 89.14 (1997): 1072 EBSCOHost
Henderson, C.W. “Dosing Data For Aspartame Reported.” Blood Weekly 30 March
2000: 18 EBSCOHost
Key, Sandra, and Michelle Marble. “Scientists Study Sweetener’s Link to Cancer.”
Cancer Weekly Plus. 16 Aug. 1999: 18. EBSCOHost
Orange, Carolyn. “The Effects of Aspartame on College Student Memory and
Learning.” College Student Journal. 32.1(1998): 87 EBSCOHost
“Preapproval ‘Research’ and History of Aspartame.” Holistic Medicine. 27 March
“Scientific Abuse in Methanol/ Formaldehyde Research Related to Aspartame.”
Holistic Medicine. 27 March 2001. 1-19.