The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) did something very unusual with its June 27, 2007 issue – the entire issue is devoted to children’s illnesses.
It’s no secret childhood obesity is epidemic in the United States. The number of children who are overweight has doubled in the last two to three decades; currently one child in five is overweight. The increase is in both children and adolescents, and in all age, race and gender groups. No other chronic disease has spread so rapidly.
How did this happen? If you look closely, the JAMA issue tells us. In the article, Improved Use of BMI Needed to Screen Children for Overweight, the author states that:
“…some physicians feel kind of hopeless about obesity. … They say, ‘What can we do, we tell [patients] don’t eat so much and to exercise more. There isn’t a lot more to tell them to help them.’”
The article goes on to basically scold the medical profession for not making better use of the BMI, or Body Mass Index, a reliable gauge of body fatness:
“…new research shows that despite recommendations from prominent health groups, pediatricians have not widely adopted the practice. At best, roughly half of pediatricians use BMI percentile measurements to assess overweight, but the figure dips to as few as 6% in some areas. The result is missed diagnoses of overweight and lost opportunities to help pediatric patients maintain a healthful weight and prevent comorbidities.”
If we look to “the experts” to keep us out of trouble, we are looking in the wrong place. The American medical profession is more geared to treating disease than preventing it. Thus, doctors get perhaps a mere 6 hours of nutrition in medical school, but entire semesters on drug therapies and surgical procedures. I think it is telling that the advertisement on the inside of the front cover of this issue of JAMA is for Levemir®, a long-acting insulin sold in a handy easy-to-use injection pen.
For the most part, doctors today work in an environment that allows them about 10 minutes for each patient appointment. You can write a prescription in that time, but you can’t do much to help overweight kids – and their parents – understand what is happening and change dietary habits.
The “health” insurance industry does not speak much about prevention either.
And then well meaning groups pile on, like former President William Clinton, who advocates diet sodas in schools. Diet foods often trigger cravings that simply cause you to eat more.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what caused the epidemic obesity in children:
- television and computer use; almost half of children aged 8-16 years watch three to five hours of television a day
- mass marketing of junk food through television ads and movies
- proliferation of fast-food restaurants with food high in trans fats, sugars and processed white flour
- processed food displayed at children’s eye level in supermarkets
- the addition of sugar and its addictive chemical substitutes to all manner of food “products”
- school–sponsored sales of junk food and soda at the same time physical education classes and recess were cut
- working parents made home cooked meals a low priority
- fear of child kidnappings which kept children away from outdoor activities
Carrying excessive weight early in life may trigger irreversible changes in hormonal pathways, fat cells, and the brain that increase hunger and adversely affect metabolism.
Education alone will not stop this epidemic. There are too many factors at work. In nature, animals know what to eat and what to avoid. Mankind either never did or lost that basic instinct. What we do know is never before have we had such much affluence – the ability to have food – combined with such little need to do physical labor – the couch potato syndrome. Our genetic makeup is hardwired to protect us from starvation. In olden times, the king and the elite members of society may have had expanding waistlines, but not the rank and file citizen. Today, we are all at risk for that expanding waistline and the multitude of health problems that go with it.
1 in 3 Americans is Obese
In 2010, the CDC made a dire prediction that 1 in 3 people will have diabetes by the year 2050 unless something is done to curb unhealthy lifestyle trends in the United States. The current number is that 1 in 10 have diabetes. The rise in number of obese Americans is the largest contributor to the CDC’s projection. Obesity is the largest risk factor that can be changed – you can’t change getting old or your family history – but you can change how you eat and whether you exercise.
Obese children now have diseases like type 2 diabetes that used to only occur in adults. And overweight kids tend to become overweight adults, continuing to put them at greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Living with type 2 diabetes beginning around age fifty is one thing; living with it from age sixteen is quite another.
I like the way a group of experts writing for The Future of Our Children put it:
“Most agree that the nation has seen dramatic changes in the past thirty years in the ways Americans work, live, and eat. Broad societal and environmental trends have engineered routine physical activity out of everyday life for most Americans and made low-nutrition, energy-dense foods and beverages more accessible, affordable, and appealing than more healthful foods. Although reducing obesity requires changes in behaviors surrounding eating and physical activity, strategies that rely only on individual “self-control” are unlikely to be effective in environments that are conducive to poor eating habits and sedentary activity. This is especially true for children, who don’t control the environments in which they live, learn, and play. In addition, children have a more limited capacity to make informed choices about what is healthful and what is not. For this reason, there is a clear rationale for modifying children’s environments to make it easier for them to be physically active and to make healthful food choices, thus reducing their chances of becoming obese.”
Children can’t change their exercise and eating habits by themselves. They need the help and support of their families. Same goes for adults.
Grown-ups have been bombarded with decades of bad dietary advice – eat margarine, eat a high carbohydrate diet, eating fat will make you fat. Grown-ups have also been living in a toxic world for decades, and their bodies have stored many of those toxins in fat which the body hesitates now to shed because too many toxins in the bloodstream can be fatal.
The Chemistry of Overeating
Extra fat produces more of the leptin hormone which is supposed to tell the hypothalamus there is too much fat stored, so don’t store any more and burn off the excess. But overexposure to high levels of leptin is thought to work like overexposure to insulin – the cells to become “insulin-resistant” and “leptin-resistant” which feeds the diabetes problem. With leptin-resistance, after a while you don’t get strong signals to stop eating, to stop storing fat, and to start burning off extra fat.
Low levels of dopamine can drive over-eating. Brain-imaging studies conducted by the Brookhaven National Laboratory suggest that many overweight people, like drug addicts, have fewer brain receptors for dopamine – the neurotransmitter that signals feelings of satisfaction and pleasure. The more you eat, the more dopamine you release. The science suggests that obese people may be overeating to get a feel-good feeling, much like a drug addict does with drugs. The good news here is that exercise – when people do it – also triggers the release of dopamine.
Since the early 1990s, we’ve been learning about the genetic component that food and drug addictions share. Most recently, a study of 31,000 people of European origin, ages 45 to 76, found that the NRXN3 gene variant – previously associated with alcohol dependence, cocaine addiction, and illegal substance abuse – also predicts the tendency to become obese. People who inherited the gene variant NRXN3 have a 10-15 percent increased risk of being obese compared with people who do not have the variant. About 20 percent of the people studied had the gene variant. NRXN3 is the third obesity-associated gene to be identified; all three are highly active in encoding brain proteins.
The biggest contributor to the growing obesity epidemic, however, may be that we alter our brain chemistry by what we eat. Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute. Eventually it takes increasing amounts of the drug or food to get the same pleasurable feelings. Kenny found that rats that gorge themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high. They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain.
Mayo Clinic research found that obese adults don’t burn as many calories during everyday activities – walking, fidgeting, or even just standing – as non-obese people. The study’s lead author, James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, said, “Our patients have told us for years that they have low metabolisms. We have never quite understood what that means. The answer is they have low NEAT [non-exercise activity thermogenesis].”
Adenoviruses, which typically cause respiratory infections, have been implicated in obesity. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. found that the virus goes to the lungs and then, after the cold is gone, spreads through the body. When this virus goes to fat tissue, it replicates and increases the number of new fat cells. Human studies show that almost a third of obese adults carry the virus compared with 11 per cent of lean men and women.
Obesity has also been linked with relative abundance of two particular species of bacteria in the gut. Some bacteria are associated with increased ability to extract nutrients from the diet and build fat, as has been shown by studies where lean mice are colonized with “obese-associated bacteria” and develop more body fat than mice colonized with “lean-associated bacteria”.
Society norms and the convenience of fast food play an important role. Note the experience of the country of Qatar: it ranks sixth globally for prevalence of obesity and has the highest rate of obesity among boys in the Middle East and North African region. It is predicted that by 2016, 73 percent of Qatari women and 69 percent of the men will qualify as obese. Social occasions center around eating large platters of food. Walking is not popular; summer temperatures are a humid 106 degrees. As the New York Times said, “Like other oil-rich nations, Qatar has leaped across decades of development in a short time, leaving behind the physically demanding life of the desert for air-conditioned comfort, servants and fast food.”
A 2009 report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AIRC) revealed that more than 100,000 cases of cancer each year are caused by excess body fat. Excess body fat appears to increase the amount of hormones like estrogen circulating in the body, and it can also disrupt how the body processes insulin. Both of those factors have been linked to an increased cancer risk. Also, obesity creates low-grade inflammation in the body, and much current research links chronic inflammation to cancer.
Studies have shown that increased body fat can lead to increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammatory compounds in the blood, which are linked to DNA mutation and diseased cell growth, as is seen in many cancers.
Born to Be Big? Epigenetics and Chemicals
If you are an obese woman and you start a family, your children and their children down the line may struggle with the “imprint” of your obesity. Adult obesity appears to increase the risk of obesity in offspring through non-genetic influences, a phenomenon termed perinatal programming. A 2007 study found that maternal hyperglycemia during pregnancy strongly predicted high BMI in offspring at 5 to 7 years of age. By age 10-16 years, offspring of a diabetic pregnancy have an almost 1 in 5 rate of impaired glucose intolerance.
How might that happen, that an obese mother can create future generations of obese children? Because the baby is born programmed to be obese:
- Each time a pregnant woman eats, her hormones launch a flurry of activity, including a rise in blood glucose with a resultant rise in insulin secreted by the pancreas. This makes sure that an ample supply of glucose is available to both her and her fetus.
- Throughout the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, hormone levels rise, the pancreas works harder, and mom’s amount of insulin resistance rises, because her muscles do not like being bathed in insulin and drowned in glucose.
- When the mother’s pancreas doesn’t secret enough insulin to keep the blood sugar level low, the mother and the fetus experience hyperglycemia. The fetus is exposed to bouts of hyperglycemia which promotes excess nutrient storage. The result is excessive birth weight (macrosomia).
- Excessive body fat stores, stimulated by excessive glucose delivery during diabetic pregnancy, often extends into childhood and adult life.
Exposure in the womb seems to permanently disrupt or dysregulate appetite control and hormones and impair energy metabolism. “Fetal metabolic programming” may lead to obesity in adolescence and young adulthood, spawning a potential vicious cycle of transgenerational transmission of the obesity epidemic from parents to offspring, regardless of offspring genetics or childhood environment.
Chemicals also play a big role in obesity. Ever since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring back in the 1960s, the book that rang the first big warning about the dangers of pesticides, we have been slowly waking up to the dangers of the 80,000 or so chemicals in our midst.
Sharon Begley reported in Newsweek in 2009 that early exposure to common chemicals may be programming kids to be fat:
“Certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain, have two previously unsuspected effects. They act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells into fat cells, which stay with you for life. And they may alter metabolic rate, so that the body hoards calories rather than burning them, like a physiological Scrooge. ‘The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity,’ says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ‘Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.’ They are not the cause of extra pounds in every person who is overweight—for older adults, who were less likely to be exposed to so many of the compounds before birth, the standard explanations of genetics and lifestyle probably suffice—but environmental chemicals may well account for a good part of the current epidemic, especially in those under 50. And at the individual level, exposure to the compounds during a critical period of development may explain one of the most frustrating aspects of weight gain: you eat no more than your slim friends, and exercise no less, yet are still unable to shed pounds.”
Dr. David Ludwig is the director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program in the Division of Endocrinology, Children’s Hospital Boston. He is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine about a family who came to his clinic:
“One of the parents was overweight, and the other was obese. The five children were more severely obese and had numerous weight-related complications – one had evidence of fatty liver, one had high blood pressure, two had gastroesophageal reflux, two had orthopedic problems, three had marked insulin resistance, four had dyslipidemia, and all had emotional problems related to their weight.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. government has thus far invested only a fraction of a cent in research for every dollar that obesity costs society. And although broad consensus exists regarding the dietary and lifestyle habits needed to prevent and treat childhood obesity, we lack anything resembling a comprehensive strategy for encouraging children to eat a healthful diet and engage in physical activity. Such a strategy would include legislation that regulates junk-food advertising, provides adequate funding for decent lunches and regular physical activities at school, restructures the farm-subsidies program to favor nutrient-dense rather than calorie-dense produce, and mandates insurance coverage for preventing and treating pediatric obesity.”
Nutrient-dense versus Calorie-dense
Nutrient-dense means that each bite of food has a lot of nutrition – vitamins, minerals, enzymes, maybe antioxidants and more. Calorie-dense is something like soda – no nutrition, but packing the calories. Most of us need help learning how to make the switch to nutrient-dense food, and organic food that has less chemicals.
Losing weight safely sometimes requires a safe detox program along with dietary changes. At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we have such a program for change. It is called FirstLine Therapy™. We measure the BMI routinely on all our patients. During the course of the program we measure the BMI twice a month to determine whether muscle mass is being maintained while fat mass is lost. We take time to do lots of hand-holding and education. The program works for children, adolescents and adults. We show you how to choose nutrient-dense foods over calorie-dense foods. We help you plan a do-able nutritional program which will allow both children and adults to lose weight (fat), while maintaining muscle mass. And we hold your hand as you tackle that tough one, exercise – how much, what type, how to do it, and how often. We show you for example what you can do while sitting at your desk during a phone call. We also offer colonics which can flush out the colon and rebalance the intestinal flora. The 12-week program gives you the tools to enable you and your children to choose a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your lives.
 Rebecca Voelker, Improved Use of BMI Needed to Screen Children for Overweight
 David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D. Childhood Obesity – The Shape of Things to Come, NEJM, December 6, 2007
 Christina Paxson, Elisabeth Donahue, C. Tracy Orleans, and Jeanne Ann Grisso, Childhood Obesity-Introducing the Issue, Childhood Obesity, The Future of Children, a publication of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, Volume 16, Number 1 Spring 2006.
 News Release: Scientists Find Link Between Dopamine and Obesity. Brookhaven National Laboratory. February 1, 2001
 News Release: New gene discovery links obesity to the brain. Albert Einstein College of Medicine. June 25, 2009
 Johnson, Paul M; Kenny, Paul J. Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats. Nature Neuroscience. March 28, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2519
James Owen, Some Couch Potatoes Born That Way, Fat Study Says, National Geographic News, January 27, 2007
 Contagious Obesity? Identifying The Human Adenoviruses That May Make Us Fat. ScienceDaily, January 30, 2006
 Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 444, 1027-131 (21 December 2006)
 Plagemann A. Perinatal programming and functional teratogenesis: impact on body weight regulation and obesity. Physiol Behav. Dec 15 2005;86(5):661-8
 Hillier TA, Pedula KL, et al. Childhood obesity and metabolic imprinting: the ongoing effects of maternal hyperglycemia. Diabetes Care 2007;30:2287-92.
 Slackman, Michael. Privilege Pulls Qatar Toward Unhealthy Choices. New York Times. April 26, 2010
 Plagemann A. Perinatal programming and functional teratogenesis: impact on body weight regulation and obesity. Physiol Behav. Dec 15 2005;86(5):661-8
 Hillier TA, Pedula KL, et al. Childhood obesity and metabolic imprinting: the ongoing effects of maternal hyperglycemia. Diabetes Care 2007;30:2287-92.
 McKinney PA, Parslow R, Gurney KA, Law GR, Bodansky HJ, Williams R. Perinatal and neonatal determinants of childhood type 1 diabetes. A case-control study in Yorkshire, U.K. Diabetes Care. Jun 1999;22(6):928-32
 Eric L Ding and Frank B Hu. Determining Origins and Causes of Childhood Obesity via Mendelian Randomization Analysis. PLoS Med. 2008 March; 5(3): e65.
 Sharon Begley, Born to be Big – Early exposure to common chemicals may be programming kids to be fat. Newsweek, September 11, 2009
 David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D. Childhood Obesity – The Shape of Things to Come, NEJM, December 6, 2007
By Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND
While visiting friends, I bonded immediately with their 2 1/2 year old son, Robbie. We played while the adults talked. After about an hour he got hungry and asked his mother for some of his favorite food, peanut butter. Robbie ate 4 teaspoons straight from the jar and within minutes he turned into a whirling dervish, a cyclone of hyperactivity. He was banging his head against a pillow on my lap one minute and the next tearing down the hall to throw toys around his room. The parents seemed all too familiar with this behavior and began making excuses. He gets like this when we have company, when he’s overtired, when he’s excited.
As a doctor, I immediately knew what the problem was—sugar. Robbie’s parents had already figured out that indulging his sweet tooth lead to hyperactive episodes. But they didn’t make the connection between the peanut butter and the behavior. I took the jar and showed them the label, which listed two different sugars (high fructose corn syrup and sugar). The parents were stunned and said they would be more diligent about cutting out the hidden sugars in their son’s diet. When my husband saw Robbie’s father a week later, he said Robbie was much calmer, was sleeping better, and was like a different person both at home and at daycare.
Most people do realize that sugar can cause hyperactivity, but what they don’t realize is that sugar lurks where you least expect to find it and affects the human body in myriad ways. The sugar industry vehemently denies that sugar is hazardous to human health. Are the parallel increases in sugar consumption, obesity, and diabetes just a coincidence? Here are the straight answers.
1. I know sugar can lead to weight gain, but is it really all that bad for me?
Yes, it really is. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in many foods, including fruits and grains. If the only sugar we consumed were in natural, whole foods, we’d all be just fine. But the average American diet is full of refined, nutrient-depleted foods and contains an average of 20 teaspoons of added, refined sugar every day. That’s twice the amount recommended by the USDA (10 teaspoons and four times the maximum I personally recommend.)
So what’s wrong with refined sugar? Many things. First, sugar compromises immune function. Two cans of soda (which contain 24 teaspoons of sugar) reduce the efficiency of white blood cells by 92 percent—an effect that lasts up to five hours, according to Kenneth Bock, M.D., an expert in nutritional and environmental health. Since white blood cells are an integral part of your immune system, if you happen to meet a nasty virus or bacteria within five hours of drinking a few colas, your immune system may be unable to fight off the invader.
Refined sugar also overworks the pancreas and adrenal glands as they struggle to keep the blood sugar levels in balance. When you eat sugar, it is quickly absorbed into your blood stream in the form of glucose. This puts your pancreas into overdrive, making insulin (which carries glucose to your cells to be used for energy) to normalize blood sugar levels. But this rapid release of insulin causes a sudden drop in blood sugar. In reaction to the falling blood sugar, excess adrenal cortisone is stimulated to raise blood sugar back to normal. A constantly high intake of simple dietary sugar keeps this roller coaster going and eventually overworks or “burns out” normal pancreas and adrenal function leading to early menopause, adult-onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue.
The purpose of eating is to provide your body with nutrients. But since sugar is devoid of nutrients, the body must actually draw from its nutrient reserves to metabolize it. When these storehouses are depleted, the body becomes unable to properly metabolize fatty acids and cholesterol, leading to higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Drawing on the body’s nutrient reserves can also lead to chronic mineral deficits, especially in magnesium (a mineral required for more than 300 different enzyme activities) and chromium (a trace element that regulates hormones such as insulin), putting you at risk for dozens of diseases, from depression to attention deficit disorder to asthma.
A recent study, for example, found that kids who eat significant amounts of junk food are much more likely to develop asthma than kids who don’t eat junk food. While the researchers didn’t tie asthma to sugar itself, they did point out that a diet full of candy and other highly processed junk foods is deficient in a number of nutrients essential to health. And as I explained earlier, such foods further deplete the body of nutrients once consumed.
In fact, children are the biggest consumers of nutritionally void junk food at a time when their brains and bodies are growing rapidly and in need of a nutrient-dense diet for proper development, both physically and mentally. Criminologist Stephen Schoenthaler has been conducting nutritional studies on delinquents and public school children for almost thirty years. In a paper from 1986 he describes how one million kids improved their test scores when they eliminated sugar and white flour from their diets.
Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., a nutritional researcher and writer, performed similar work in juvenile detention centers and showed that violent behavior decreased dramatically when sugar was eliminated.
2. What is the connection to cancer?
Sugar may be one of our favorite vices but the dark side to sugar is that it is quite capable of setting up an environment for cancer growth. A consistent finding in epidemiological studies is that people who consume the most calories have significantly higher rates of cancer. There are several reasons why overeating causes cancer, but one overlooked reason is that more gene mutations occur in response to higher caloric intake. A host of vitamins and minerals are required to digest food and the more food we eat, the more nutrients we need. The immune system also needs nutrients to do the work of cancer cell surveillance and destruction. If we over utilize nutrients to digest excess quantities of food, they just aren’t available to help keep us cancer free.
We’ve known since 1931 that cancer cells crave sugar; excess sugar feeds rapidly dividing cancer cells. Otto Warburg, Ph.D., a prolific researcher in Germany, was given a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that cancer cells depend mainly on glucose for their food supply. Cancer cells devour glucose without the aid of oxygen and consequently produce a large amount of lactic acid. The build up in lactic acid creates a more acidic pH in and around cancerous tissues. An acid pH in the body contributes to the overall physical fatigue experienced by cancer patients.2 Numerous studies in peer-reviewed journals show that sugar increases prostate, colon, and biliary tract cancer.
3. But I don’t eat junk food. Why should I be concerned about my sugar consumption?
Unless you’re eating a diet entirely made of whole, unprocessed foods (think fruits, vegetables, grains), you’re probably eating more sugar than you think, and than you should. Sugar, in its myriad forms, is added to virtually every packaged food product you’ll find at the supermarket —not just the sweet stuff. If you drink one soda, even the “natural” variety, used up your day’s sugar allowance.)
Don’t be fooled by the ingredients list. Sugar has hundreds of pseudonyms (see “Stealth Sugars,” for a sampling), and manufacturers have gotten very good at hiding them from consumers. Because ingredients are listed from most to least amount, often three different types of sugars will be in the middle of the list. If all sugars were required to be listed together, sugar would be the first ingredient.
To find out how much sugar you’re actually taking in, try keeping a food diary for one week. Check the labels of the foods you eat and make note of their sugar content. The reality of the numbers may not hit home because most of us don’t think in grams—4.2 g of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. At the end of the week, take the total number of sugar grams and divide it by 4.2 to get your weekly sugar intake in teaspoons. Then divide that number by 7 to get your daily sugar consumption.
Unfortunately, the way the FDA’s labeling rules are set up, manufacturers don’t have to separate added sugars from naturally occurring ones on labels. But your total sugar intake will give you a very good idea of how much added sugar you’re eating. Naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, don’t really contain that much sugar. A cup of strawberries, for example, contains 1/6th the sugar of a can of cola.
4. Is there such a thing as a safe amount of sugar?
Ideally, you should eliminate all refined sugar from your diet. I’m aware do realize that such a feat may not be realistic for everyone, particularly since a large number of the foods you find at the grocery store have been made with refined sugars (plus the fact that nutrition labels don’t have to list the amount of added sugars a product contains).
Many people subscribe to the bizarre logic that if they overindulge in sweets and don’t wake up the next day with diabetes or some horrible disease then it must be okay. Dr. Abraham Hoffer, a psychiatrist in British Columbia who has been studying the effects of sugar on health for more than 40 years, says that it takes roughly 15- 20 years of steady consumption of refined sugar and junk food before an individual develops a chronic illness like diabetes. And it doesn’t take a lot of sugar to put you at risk. Hoffer’s statistics show that once intake exceeds 20 teaspoons daily, the risk of chronic disease increases exponentially.
If you can’t completely cut sugar from your diet, due to eating out and not being in control of ingredients, try not to ingest more than two or three teaspoons a day. That way you will stay well below 70 pounds annually (20 teaspoons daily) which is the cut off point for sugar-induced chronic disease. At the level we’re eating sugar now (20 teaspoons per person daily), it is only a matter of time before we’re facing an epidemic of sugar-induced diseases. In fact, the epidemics may have already begun—according to the Centers for Disease control in Atlanta, the incidence of adult-onset diabetes, has increased by 70 percent among people in their 30s in the past 10 years.
5. What does processing do to sugar?
Processing sugarcane, or any whole food, strips it of most if not all of its nutritional value. Researchers found that the refining process of sugar removes 93 percent of its chromium, 89 percent of its manganese, 98 percent of its cobalt, 83 percent of its copper, 98 percent of its zinc, and 98 percent of its magnesium. Ironically, the end product, the refined sugar, is what we consume, while the nutritious residues are discarded and generally fed to cattle.
In the 1920s, Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian medical researcher scientist, who first discovered insulin, visited Panama to study diabetes among workers in the sugar cane fields. He could find almost no incidence of diabetes among the workers who ate the whole sugarcane plant daily. But among their Spanish employers—who incorporated the refined end product, white sugar, into their diets—the disease was rampant.
6. Is fructose healthier than sugar?
Many people mistakenly believe that fructose is a healthier sugar —especially since it is used in many so-called “natural” foods. While there is a small amount of fructose naturally present in fruit, the fructose that is added to many commercially prepared foods is nearly as refined as plain white sugar.
Most of the fructose you’ll encounter is in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has nearly eclipsed sugar as the most consumed sweetener in the United States. It is added to thousands of products, from cola to cookies and even to canned vegetables. HFCS is a highly refined sweetener that is virtually identical, chemically speaking, to refined white sugar; during digestion sugar breaks down into equal parts of glucose and fructose; HFCS contains 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
7. Why do I crave sugar?
You may crave sugary foods for many reasons. As I explained earlier, refined sugar stresses the pancreas and depletes the body’s supplies of chromium. A common symptom of chromium deficiency is sugar cravings. And satisfying these cravings further lowers chromium and increases cravings. And eating sweets is just plain pleasurable. Chocolate, for example, has been found to stimulate the production of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical.
But the human body is drawn to carbohydrates for reasons other than instant gratification. Carbohydrates are necessary for metabolic processes in our body. Whole, unrefined carbohydrates like grains break down into sugar when chewed. After proper chewing, grains will taste sweet. Grains contain B vitamins and magnesium, these nutrients are important co-factors in hundreds of metabolic processes in the body. And the sweetness of the foods that contain B-vitamins and magnesium may create a conditioned response to these foods. In other words, sweetness makes your body think you are getting beneficial vitamins and minerals. But when we get empty carbs like sugar with no other nutrients—the body craves more and more to try to meet its nutrient demands.
So, if your body needs these vitamins and minerals and is attracted to carbohydrates to get them, and if instead of a whole grain you eat a refined empty product, then you will probably keep craving carbohydrates until you get the vitamins and minerals you need. That’s why many doctors recommend B-complex vitamins and magnesium supplements help to control carbohydrate addiction. Of course, eating organic whole grains would be the optimum solution.
The main reason for our sugar cravings it that we’ve had a lifetime of refined sugar. It’s in baby food, snacks and treats at every turn; Madison Avenue is able to sell 10 cents worth of junk food for $2.00 because it appeals to our sweet tooth. We’re hooked and we’re not complaining as long as the supply holds out. And as Dr. Hoffer says it’s a stronger addiction than heroin.
Another cause of sugar cravings is a yeast overgrowth, also known as candidaisis. Candida is a yeast that is naturally present in the human body. But some things, such as antibiotics and too much sugar in the diet, can cause the yeast to multiply, leading a number of health problems, from vaginal yeast infections to severe fatigue. And these yeast, when present in abnormally high numbers, can cause strong cravings for sweet, starchy foods, causing the problem to perpetuate. (If you suspect a yeast overgrowth, your doctor can perform a saliva or stool test for yeast antibodies.) (Dr. Dean is the medical advisor to yeastconnection.com. Visitors to the site can take the Yeast Questionnaire to help determine if they have a yeast problem. If so, a 6-Point Yeast Fighting Program will help eliminate the sugar and yeast from your life.)
8. Are natural sweeteners like honey better than white sugar?
Regardless of what kind of sweeteners you eat, they should account for no more than 5 percent of your daily calories. Some natural sweeteners, such as blackstrap molasses, unprocessed honey, fruit juice, brown rice syrup, and evaporated cane juice do contain low levels of nutrients, such as the B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium. But don’t be fooled, these “natural” sweeteners are only marginally better than plain white table sugar and dietary intake of them should be limited.
9. What about calorie-free sugar substitutes such as Nutrasweet™ Sweet N’ Low™
Don’t be fooled into switching from sugar to sugar-free substitutes; they’re even more unhealthy, especially aspartame (Nutrasweet).) If you want to add a touch of sweetness without any calories, try stevia. Stevia is an extremely safe herb that is not only an excellent sweetener, but it actually lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics by helping to regulate pancreatic function. And unlike sugar, which weakens the immune system, stevia has antimicrobial properties and actually helps the body fight off colds and flus.
Aspartame (Nutrasweet), on the other hand, is a neurotoxin and should be avoided like the plague. Aspartame has been shown to cause birth defects, brain tumors and seizures and to contribute to diabetes and emotional disorders.
Aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent). Those in support of this popular artificial sweetener, state that the two primary amino acids, which comprise 90 percent of aspartame by weight, are a harmless and natural part of our diet. While phenylalanine and aspartic acid are naturally occurring amino acids, our bodies and brains are not equipped to handle such high concentrations as found in a diet soda where they disrupt nerve cell communication and can cause cell death. The neurotoxic effects of these isolated amino acids can be linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and seizures.
Methanol, too, is naturally present in fruits and vegetables but these foods also contain ethanol, which neutralizes the methanol. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines safe consumption of methanol as no more than 7.8 mg per day of this dangerous substance. Yet a one-liter beverage, sweetened with aspartame, contains about 56 milligrams of wood alcohol, or seven times the EPA limit.
And the absolute irony of the use of aspartame in diet products is that it can actually cause weight gain. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, found in aspartame, stimulate the release of insulin. Rapid, strong spikes in insulin remove all glucose from the blood stream and store it as fat. This can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and sugar cravings. Additionally, phenylalanine has been demonstrated to inhibit carbohydrate-induced synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which signals that the body is full. This can cause you to eat more than your normally would and, ultimately, gain weight. In one study a control group switching to an aspartame-free diet resulted in an average weight loss of 19 pounds.
Saccharin is a petroleum-derived sweetener discovered in 1879 and was used extensively during the sugar shortages during World Wars I and II. The sweetener got a bad reputation in l977 when the FDA proposed restrictions on its use saying studies involving male rats given large amounts of saccharin developed urinary bladder tumors. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) then officially classified saccharin as an “anticipated human carcinogen.” But researchers have since been unable to reproduce the results from 1977, and saccharin was recently removed from the NTP’s list. Saccharin might be the lesser of two evils, but it’s still a synthetic substance.)
10. Many low-carbohydrate foods, like the Atkins Bars, contain sugar alcohols. What are they?
It sometimes requires a little detective work to find the hidden sugars in foods. You probably know the “ose”s (maltose, sucrose, glucose, fructose), but there are dozes more that you’d never suspect. The following is a list of 100 common names for sugar that you may encounter in ingredients of your favorite foods.
Barley malt syrup
Brown rice syrup
Concentrated fruit juice
Evaporated cane juice
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Ribose rice syrup
Rice syrup solids
WHERE SUGAR RESIDES
USDA recommends limiting added sugars—from packaged foods and the sugar bowl—to 24 grams a day (6 teaspoons) if you eat 1,600 calories; 40 grams (10 teaspoons) for a 2,000-calorie diet; 56 grams (14 teaspoons) for a 2,400-calorie diet; and 72 grams (18 teaspoons) for a 2,800-calorie-diet.
WHERE WE GET OUR SUGAR
THEN AND NOW
In 1973, the per capita consumption of sugar and other highly refined sweeteners (such as high-fructose corn syrup) was 126 pounds a year. Today, it’s 158 pounds—an increase of 26 percent. During the same time period, the percent of overweight Americans increased by nearly 20 percent.
A single can of cola contains 12 teaspoons of added sugars. That’s 120 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily intake of sugar. Researchers have found that just two cans of soda can suppress immune function for up to five hours.
Dr. Carolyn Dean MD ND
Proficient in both conventional and alternative medicine, Dr. Dean offers Consultations for Health by phone. She provides short-term Telephone Wellness Consultations to assist individuals with all types of illness at any stage or degree of severity. Dr. Dean specializes in managing or healing often misdiagnosed and chronic conditions such as digestive problems, hormone imbalance, recurring infection, irritable bowel syndrome, widespread inflammation, allergies, anxiety, fibromyalgia, mood swings, chronic fatigue syndrome, fluid retention, lost vitality, ADHD, autism and many other conditions that often remain unresolved.
Dr. Dean has been in the forefront of health issues for 28 years. She graduated from medical school in 1978, holds a medical license in California, and is a graduate of the Ontario Naturopathic College and former board member of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Dr. Dean is the author and co-author of 12 health books, including the highly acclaimed “The Magnesium Miracle” and “The Complete Natural Guide To Women’s Health” and “Death by Modern Medicine.” To see more, go to www.carolyndean.com.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener consumed by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. It is used in more than 6,000 diet products including soft drinks, chewing gum, candy, desserts, yogurt as well as in pharmaceuticals -in particular, syrups and antibiotics for children.
Aspartame is sold as ‘NutraSweet,’ ‘Equal,’ and ‘Spoonful.’
One would think something so ubiquitous would be absolutely safe.
Aspartame has been controversial since day one. Searle, the manufacturer, had failed to win FDA approval for 16 years and was under investigation for performing fraudulent studies. Aspartame was suddenly approved in 1981 when Donald Rumsfeld, former CEO of Searle and new member of President Ronald Reagan’s transition team, appointed a new FDA commissioner.
The controversy never died down. Today for example, the State of New Mexico is attempting to ban aspartame. It is banned in Japan and officially discouraged in China. But in the USA, the FDA and lobbying groups like the Calorie Council continue to proclaim its safety.
A 1996 review of past research conducted on aspartame found that every industry-funded study had said the sweetener was safe to consume. However 92 percent of independent studies claim one or more problems exist with its use, the British newspaper the Guardian reported.
The history of the research and approval process has long been considered suspect. Probably the most thorough collection of that history is presented by Betty Martini, founder of Mission Possible International, a global volunteer force warning the public of aspartame’s dangers.
HISTORY OF ASPARTAME
Modified and Additional Material by Arthur M. Evangelista, a former FDA Investigator
Original Authors of the Two Main Components: Alex Constantine and Gregory Gordon
Posted: 12 March 2004 at http://www.wnho.net/history_of_aspartame.htm
With the permission of:
Dr. Betty Martini, D.Hum, Founder
Mission Possible International
9270 River Club Parkway
Duluth, Georgia 30097
The development of new pharmaceuticals was the focus of research at the international pharmaceutical company, G.D. Searle and Company (Farber 1989, page 29). A group working on an ulcer drug was formed including Dr. Robert Mazer, James Schlatter, Arthur Goldkemp and Imperial Chemical. In particular, they were looking for an inhibitor of the gastrointestinal secretory hormone gastrin (Stegink 1984a).
In 1965, while creating a bioassay, an intermediate chemical was synthesized — aspartylphenylalanine-methyl-ester (aspartame). In December of 1965, while James Schlatter was recrystalling aspartame from ethanol, the mixture spilled onto the outside of the flask. Some of the powder got onto his fingers. Later, when he licked his fingers to pick up a piece of paper, he noticed a very strong sweet taste. He realized that the sweet taste might have been the aspartame. So, believing that the dipeptide aspartame was not likely to be toxic, he tasted a little bit and discovered its sweet taste (Stegink 1984a, page 4). The discovery was reported in 1966, but there was no mention of the sweetness (Furia 1972).
The investigators first reported the discovery of the artificial sweetener in the Journal of the American Chemical Society stating (Mazur 1969):
“We wish to report another accidental discovery of an organic compound with a profound sucrose (table sugar) like taste . . . Preliminary tasting showed this compound to have a potency of 100-200 times sucrose depending on concentration and on what other flavors are present and to be devoid of unpleasant aftertaste.”
Today, hundreds of millions of Americans, and millions more world-wide, consume foods and soft drinks stamped with the NutraSweet “swirl”, dump packets of Equal in their coffee, and consume NutraSweet-flavored cereal, puddings, gelatins, cheesecake, chewing gum, diet soft drinks, children’s vitamins, chilled juices, and 9,000 other products.
So, what is aspartame, a.k.a. NutraSweet, Spoonful, Equal…etc.? aspartyl phenylalanine-methyl ester.
Aspartame (C14H18N2O5 ) is a compound of three components. These components are methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine (the latter being free form amino acids).
Methanol (methyl alcohol or wood alcohol) is a colorless, poisonous, and flammable liquid. It is used for making formaldehyde, acetic acid, methyl t-butyl ether (a gasoline additive), paint strippers, carburetor cleaners for your car’s engine, and chloromethanes, et al. This poison can be inhaled from vapors, absorbed through the skin, and ingested.
Methanol is the type of alcohol you read about when people become blind from drinking it. In aspartame, methanol poisoning and poisoning from methanol’s breakdown components (formaldehyde and formic acid) can have widespread and devastating effects. This occurs in even small amounts, and is especially damaging when introduced with toxic, free-form amino acids, called excitotoxins.
Methanol is quickly absorbed through the stomach and small intestine mucosa. The methanol is converted into formaldehyde (a known carcinogen). Then, via aldehyde hydrogenase, the formaldehyde is converted to formic acid. These two metabolites of methanol are toxic and cumulative.
Phenylalanine is an amino acid. Well, amino acids are good for us, right? Don’t they keep us healthy? The answer is yes, amino acids are necessary for good health, EXCEPT when you separate the individual amino acid from its protein chain, and use it as an “isolate” or by itself.
The Aspartic acid, in aspartame, is also an excitotoxin. An excitotoxin, is a deleterious substance that excites or over-stimulates nerve cells. This occurs in the brain, as well as the peripheral nerves, because aspartic acid, in free form, is an absorption accelerant & easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
This pathological excitation of nerve cells creates a breakdown of nerve function, as we will see. Basically, they are a group of compounds that can cause special neurons within the nervous system to become overexcited to the point that these cells will die.
That’s right, they are excited to death. Excitotoxins include such things as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartate, (a main ingredient in NutraSweet), L-cysteine (found in hydrolyzed vegetable protein) and related compounds.
What makes this all the more intriguing is that “excitotoxins” appear to play a key role in degenerative nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and many others.
But the story doesn’t stop there. It appears that an imbalance of these excitotoxins during critical periods of brain development can result in an abnormal formation of brain pathways; that is, a “miswiring of the brain.” This may lead to serious disorders such as behavioral problems (hyperactivity, aggression, attention deficit disorders, learning disorders, poor learning ability, and ADD)-and a lifetime of endocrine problems such as menstrual difficulties, infertility, and premature puberty.
One of the earliest observations seen in animals exposed to large doses was gross obesity. Some neuroscienttists have voiced concern that America’s explosion of childhood obesity may be related to excitotoxins in food.
Aspartame creates altered brain function, nerve damage, and systemic organ complications. Information collected reveals that aspartame clinically exacerbates any borderline (even yet undetected) predisposing illness, and absolutely complicates certain known medical illnesses like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, retinopathies, allergies, mentation disorders, etc. (See list of symptoms 1)
Aspartame is a toxin, and is unique in this hazardous respect. This is NOT an allergic reaction, but rather a true toxin. No other food can be provided as a comparison to the toxic nature of NutraSweet. Upon closer examination, the available research revealed that the manufacturer (Monsanto) and the FDA are manipulating the public (via the media) into thinking that aspartame is safe. It is not. As an American who trusted the system we all created, as an American who worked for the system, it made me angry that public health has taken a backseat to greed. This is the “engine” that perpetuated this epidemic: the collusion of our government with multi-national conglomerate influence.
G.D. Searle approached Dr. Harry Waisman, Biochemist, Professor of Pediatrics, Director of the University of Wisconsin’s Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Laboratory of Mental Retardation Research and a respected expert in phenylalanine toxicity, to conduct a study of the effects of aspartame on primates. The study was initiated on January 15, 1970 and was terminated on or about April 25, 1971. Dr. Waisman died unexpectedly in March, 1971.
Seven infant monkeys were given aspartame with milk. One died after 300 days. Five others (out of seven total) had grad mal seizures. The actual results were hidden from the FDA when G.D. Searle submitted its initial applications.
G.D. Searle denied knowledge of or involvement with the initiation, design or performance of the study. Yet, false results were submitted to the FDA like the rest of the 150 G.D. Searle studies (on aspartame and other products), bearing a Searle Pathology-Toxicology project number. Both Dr. Waisman and G.D. Searle were responsible for the study design. A number of false statements were made by G.D. Searle including that the animals were unavailable for purchase for autopsy after the termination of the study.
The FDA banned the sweetener cyclamate, 1969. Robert Scheuplein, who was the acting Director of FDA’s Toxicological Services Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition was quoted as saying “the decision was more a matter of politics than science.”
Neuroscientist and researcher John W. Olney found that oral intake of glutamate, aspartate and cysteine, all excitotoxic amino acids, cause brain damage in mice (Olney 1970). Dr. John W. Olney informed G.D. Searle that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of mice.
Ann Reynolds, a researcher who was hired by G.D. Searle and who has done research for the Glutamate (MSG) Association, and was asked to confirm Dr. Olney’s tests. Dr. Reynolds confirmed aspartame’s neurotoxicity in infant mice.
Excitotoxic compounds like MSG, aspartate, cysteine seem to create hypothalamic lesions, particularly in young animals. The reason for the latter is likely the fact that the blood brain barrier closes most slowly (if ever completely) around structures like hypothalamus. The outcome for such animals (rats) was obesity,severe behavioral changes, etc.
G.D. Searle did not inform the FDA of this study until after aspartame’s approval. None of the tests submitted by G.D. Searle to the FDA contradicted these findings (Olney 1970, Gordon 1987, page 493 of US Senate 1987).
An internal G.D. Searle memo laid out the strategy for getting aspartame approved (Helling 1970):
At this meeting [with FDA officials], the basic philosophy of our approach to food and drugs should be to try to get them to say, “Yes,” to rank the things that we are going to ask for so we are putting first those questions we would like to get a “yes” to, even if we have to throw some in that have no significance to us, other than putting them in a yes saying habit.
We must create affirmative atmosphere in our dealing with them. It would help if we can get them or get their people involved to do us any such favors. This would also help bring them into subconscious spirit of participation.
(Refer to Actual Letter…2)
FDA Toxicologist Dr. Adrian Gross came upon some irregularities in the submitted tests of the G.D. Searle drug Flagyl. G.D. Searle did not respond for another two years. Their response raised serious questions about the validity of their tests (Gross 1975, page 35)
On March 5, 1973, G.D. Searle’s petition to the FDA for approval to market aspartame as a sweetening agent was published in the Federal Register (1973).
On March 21, 1973 the MBR report was submitted to G.D. Searle. Background: In August of 1970, G.D. Searle conducted two 78- week toxicity studies on rats for what was to become a best-selling heart medication, Aldactone. One study was conducted at G.D. Searle and one at Hazelton Laboratories.
In March 1972, the rats for autopsied and the pathology slides were analyzed. For confirmation of the results, G.D. Searle sent the slides to Biological Research, Ltd. where board certified pathologist, Dr. Jacqueline Mauro examined the data. She discovered that the drug appeared to induce tumors in the liver, testes, and thyroid of the rats. The report submitted to G.D. Searle by Dr. Mauro was known as the MBR Report.
These statistically significant findings were confirmed by G.D. Searle’s Mathematics- Statistics Department.
Instead of submitting these alarming findings to the FDA, G.D. Searle contracted with another pathologist, Dr. Donald A. Willigan.
He was given 1,000 slides to examine. The Willigan Report was more to G.D. Searle’s liking because it revealed a statistically significant increase in thyroid and testes tumors, but not in liver tumors. Liver tumors are of much more concern to the FDA. The Willigan Report was immediately submitted to the FDA. G.D. Searle did not disclose the MBR Report to the FDA until August 18, 1975, 27 months after it had been given to G.D. Searle.
At first, G.D. Searle claimed that they did not submit the MBR Report to the FDA because of an “oversight.”
The FDA Commissioner from 1972 to 1976, Alexander Schmidt, M.D. felt that “Superficially, it seemed like, if there would ever be a safe kind of product, that would be it. The idea that two naturally-occurring amino acids could harm someone in relatively small amounts….”
In an FDA memorandum dated September 12, 1973, Martha M. Freeman, M.D. of the FDA Division of Metabolic and Endocrine Drug Products addressed the adequacy of the information submitted by G.D. Searle in their petition to approve aspartame (Freeman 1973):
“Although it was stated that studies were also performed with diketopiperazine [DKP] an impurity which results from acid hydrolysis of Aspartame, no data are provided on this product.”
Commenting on one particular single dose study:
“It is not feasible to extrapolate results of such single dose testing to the likely condition of use of Aspartame as an artificial sweetener.”
It is important to note that Dr. Freeman pointed out the inadequacy of single-dose tests of aspartame as early as 1973.
Matalon said, “Let us say cigarettes were invented today, and you give 20 people two packs a day and after six weeks, no one has cancer, would you safe that it was safe? That’s what they did with NutraSweet.”
Since then, the NutraSweet Company has flooded the scientific community with single-dose studies.
“Chemistry – No information is provided other than formulae for Aspartame and its diketo-piperazine.”
Pharmacology – Reference is made to 2 year rat studies, but no data are provided on acute or chronic toxicity.”
“Clinical – No protocols or curriculum vitae information are provided for the 10 completed clinical studies. Results are reported in narrative summary form, and tabulations of mean average values only.
No information is given as to the identity of the reporting labs, methodology (except rarely), or normal values. (Reported units for several parameters cannot be verified at this time.)
“No pharmacokinetic data are provided on absorption, excretion, metabolism, half-life; nor bioavailability of capsule vs. food-additive administration.”
Dr. Freeman concludes:
“1. The administration of Aspartame, as reported in these studies at high dosage levels for prolonged periods, constitutes clinical investigational use of a new drug substance.”
“2. The information submitted for our review is inadequate to permit a scientific evaluation of clinical safety.”
She went on to recommend that marketing of aspartame be contingent upon proven clinical safety of aspartame. The FDA Bureau of Foods rejected Dr. Freeman’s recommendation.
(Congressional Record 1985a)
Construction of a large aspartame manufacturing plant in Augusta, Georgia was halted. It was thought that aspartame’s uncertain regulatory future was the main reason for the stopping of construction (Farber 1989, page 47). In the 1973 G.D. Searle Annual Report, an executive stated that “commercial quantities of the sweetener will be supplied from the enlarged facility of Ajinomoto.”
Ajinomoto is the inventor and main producer of the food additive MSG.
Ninety of the 113 aspartame studies which were submitted by G.D. Searle to the FDA were conducted in the early to mid- 1970′s. All of the tests that were described by the FDA as “pivotal” were conducted during this time. Eighty percent of these tests were conducted by G.D. Searle or by their major contractor, Hazleton Laboratories, Inc.
(Graves 1984, page S5497 of Congressional Record 1985a).
Dr. J. Richard Crout, the acting director of the FDA Bureau of Drugs stated that “The information submitted for our review was limited to narrative clinical summaries and tabulated mean values of laboratory studies. No protocols, manufacturing controls information or preclinical data were provided.
Such deficiencies in each area of required information precluded a scientific evaluation of the clinical safety of this product….”
Dr. John Olney and Consumer Interest attorney, James Turner, Esq. met with G.D. Searle to discuss the results of Olney’s experiments. G.D. Searle representative’s claim that Olney’s data raises no health concerns.
On July 26, 1974, just 15 months after Searle petitioned for approval, FDA commissioner Alexander Schmidt approved aspartame use in dry foods, allowing a 30-day period for public hearings and comment. He acted on a strong endorsement from the Bureau of Foods, now called the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).
It was not approved for baking goods, cooking, or carbonated beverages. This approval came despite the fact that FDA scientists found serious deficiencies in all of the 13 tests related to genetic damage which were submitted by G.D. Searle.
At that point, consumer attorney Turner, author of a 1970 book about food additives, objected to the short comment period.
Turner was joined in his protest by a now-defunct public interest group and by Dr. John Olney, a Washington University neuropathologist who had linked aspartame to brain lesions in mice.
Schmidt promptly froze the approval. In an action that was the first of its kind, he ordered that a Public Board of Inquiry be named to look into aspartame. Schmidt also had been alerted to conflicts between Searle research reports and conclusions from independent animal studies that the firm’s anti-infective drug, Flagyl and its cardiovascular drug Aldactone may cause cancer. He named a Bureau of Drugs task force to investigate.
Philip Brodsky, the unit’s since-retired lead investigator, said aspartame was included in a broad inquiry into Searle animal studies on five drugs and the Copper-7 intrauterine device to surprise the company. “We didn’t think they’d expect us to cover it.”
The task force assailed Searle’s conduct of research on most of the products, including aspartame, in a searing, 84-page report.
“At the heart of the FDA’s regulatory process,” the report said, “is its ability to rely upon the integrity of the basic safety data submitted by sponsors of regulated products. Our investigation clearly demonstrates that, in the G.D. Searle Co., we have no basis for such reliance now.”
The task force charged, for example, that the company removed tumors from live animals and stored animal tissues in formaldehyde for so long that they deteriorated. Instead of performing autopsies on rhesus monkeys that suffered seizures after being fed aspartame, the company had financed a new monkey study with a different methodology that showed no problems.
For the next seven years, Searle’s petition was tied up in reviews by the task force and other sharply critical FDA panels.
At the task force’s request, Richard Merrill, the FDA’s general counsel, demanded in a letter that Samuel Skinner, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, open a grand jury investigation of Searle and three of its employees.
One Searle official named by Merrill was Robert McConnell, who had been director of Searle’s Department of Pathology and Toxicology and oversaw most of the company’s aspartame research.
McConnell’s Detroit lawyer, Gerald Wahl, said that as the inquiries heated up, his client was suddenly awarded a $15,000 bonus and asked to take a three-year sabbatical by director Wesley Dixon. Wahl said Dixon told McConnell he had become a “political liability,” a remark Dixon later denied making.
McConnell received his annual salary of more than $60,000 during the sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but he never got his job back, and ended up suing the company, Wahl said.
“I’ve represented hundreds of executives, but I’ve never seen anybody get the deal that McConnell got,” he said. “When you boil it all down, they were looking for continued support from McConnell during the inquiries.”
G.D. Searle’s responses to queries about the testing of their drug Flagyl, serious and unexpected side effect from other drugs they developed, and information from Dr. John Olney’s studies started a controversy within the FDA as to the quality and validity of G.D. Searle’s test of aspartame and pharmaceuticals (Congressional Record 1985a).
In July 1975, the FDA Commissioner, Dr. Alexander Schmidt appointed a special Task Force to look at 25 key studies for the drugs Flagyl, Aldactone, Norpace, and the food additive aspartame. Eleven of the pivotal studies examined involved aspartame. All of the studies whether conducted at G.D. Searle or Hazleton Laboratories were the responsibility of the Pathology-Toxicology Department at G.D. Searle. (Gross 1987a, page 430 of US Senate 1987).
The special Task Force was headed by Philip Brodsky, FDA’s Lead Investigator and assisted by FDA Toxicologist, Dr. Adrian Gross. The Task Force was especially interested in “pivotal” tests as described in an article from Common Cause Magazine by Florence Graves (Graves 1984, page S5499 of Congressional Record 1985a):
“Before the task force had completed its investigation in 1976, Searle had submitted the vast majority of the more than 100 tests it ultimately gave the FDA in an effort to get aspartame approved.
These included all test ever described as ‘pivotal’ by the FDA. About half the pivotal tests were done at Searle; about one-third were done at Hazleton Laboratories. ‘Pivotal’ tests include long-term (two-year) tests such as those done to determine whether aspartame might cause cancer.
Former FDA commissioner Alexander Schmidt said in a recent interview that if a pivotal test is found to be unreliable, it must be repeated ‘Some studies are more important than others, and they have to be done impeccably,’ Schmidt said.”
G.D. Searle executives admitted to “payments to employees of certain foreign governments to obtain sales of their products.” (Searle 1975)
Consumer lawyer Turner said, “The notion that an industrial company would take large sums of money and parcel it out to scientific consulting firms and university departments, who they consider to be personal and commercial allies is an unconscionable way to ensure the safety of the American food supply.”
He said the NutraSweet experience shows that “the entire system of the way scientific research is done needs to be carefully investigated, evaluated, and revamped.”
Food industry officials also said most studies financed by Searle or the NutraSweet Co. have been arranged as contracts, rather than grants. Smith said the company often uses contracts “to accomplish a specific research task.”
James Scala, former director of health sciences for the General Foods Corp., a major NutraSweet user, said that a scientist working under contract became “more of an arm of the Searle research group than a grantee.”
On July 10, 1975, Senator Edward Kennedy chaired a hearing on drug-related research before the Senate Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare (US Senate 1975). Preliminary reports of discrepancies discovered about G.D. Searle were discussed.
The findings of the FDA Task Force were later presented at further hearings on January 20, 1976 (US Senate 1976a) and April 8, 1976 (US Senate 1976b).
Chief investigator Brodsky said that “politicized” handling of the task force disclosures, at hearings chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy D-Mass., was one reason he retired in 1977. He said the main witnesses, Searle executives, and top FDA officials uninvolved in the investigation gave “the wrong answers to the wrong questions”…They didn’t even let the experts answer the questions.
On December 5, 1975, Dr. John Olney and James Turner waived their right to a hearing at the suggestion of the FDA General Counsel after the FDA and G.D. Searle agreed to hold a Public Board Of Inquiry (PBOI) (Federal Register 1975).
On December 5, 1975, the FDA put a hold on the approval of aspartame due to the preliminary findings of the FDA Task Force. The Public Board of Inquiry is also put on hold.
The evidence of the aspartame pivotal studies were protected under FDA seal on December 3, 1975 (Sharp 1975).
G.D. Searle had invested 19.7 million dollars in an incomplete production facility and 9.2. million dollars in aspartame inventory. On December 8, 1975, stockholders filed a class action lawsuit alleging that G.D. Searle had concealed information from the public regarding the nature and quality of animal research at G.D. Searle in violation of the Securities and Exchange Act (Farber 1989, page 48).
On January 7, 1976, G.D. Searle submitted to the FDA their proposal for the adoption of “Good Laboratory Practices” (Buzzard 1976b). G.D. Searle’s input was used in FDA’s adoption of Good Laboratory Practices.
In March 1976, the FDA Task Force completed a 500-page report with 15,000 pages of exhibits (80-page summary) to the FDA after completing their investigation (Schmidt 1976c, page 4 of US Senate 1976b).
A preliminary statement about the breadth of the investigation from FDA Toxicologist and Task Force team member, Dr. Andrian Gross before the US Senate (Gross 1987a, page 1-2):
“Practices that were noted in connection with any given such study were quite likely to have been noted also for other studies that were audited, and this was a situation which was in no way unexpected: after all, the set of all such studies executed by that firm from about 1968 to the mid- 1970′s were conducted in essentially the same facilities, by virtually the same technicians, professional workers and supervisors, and the nature of such studies does not differ much whether a food additive or a drug product is being tested for safety in laboratory animals.
It is in this sense, therefore, that the overall conclusion summarized at the beginning of the Searle Task Force Report have relevance to all the studies audited in 1975 (whether they had references to aspartame or to any of the six drug products of Searle’s) and, by extension, to the totality of experimental studies carried out by that firm around that time — 1968 to 1975.”
A few of the conclusions of the FDA Task Force (Gross 1987a, page 2-3):
“At the heart of FDA’s regulatory process is its ability to rely upon the integrity of the basic safety data submitted by sponsors of regulated products. Our investigation clearly demonstrates that, in the (case of the) GD Searle Company, we have no basis for such reliance now.”
“We have noted that Searle has not submitted all the facts of experiments to FDA, retaining unto itself the unpermitted option of filtering, interpreting, and not submitting information which we would consider material to the safety evaluation of the product . . . Finally, we have found instances of irrelevant or unproductive animal research where experiments have been poorly conceived, carelessly executed, or inaccurately analyzed or reported.”
“Some of our findings suggest an attitude of disregard for FDA’s mission of protection of the public health by selectively reporting the results of studies in a manner which allay the concerns of questions of an FDA reviewer.”
“Unreliability in Searle’s animal research does not imply, however, that its animal studies have provided no useful information on the safety of its products. Poorly controlled experiments containing random errors blur the differences between treated and control animals and increase the difficulty of discriminating between the two populations to detect a product induced effect.
A positive finding of toxicity in the test animals in a poorly controlled study provides a reasonable lower bound on the true toxicity of the substance.
The agency must be free to conclude that the results from such a study, while admittedly imprecise as to incidence or severity of the untoward effect, cannot be overlooked in arriving at a decision concerning the toxic potential of the product.”
A few of the relevant findings summarized from various documents describing the FDA Task Force Report:
- “Excising masses (tumors) from live animals, in some cases without histologic examination of the masses, in others without reporting them to the FDA.” (Schmidt 1976c, page 4 of US Senate 1976b) Searle’s representatives, when caught and questioned about these actions, stated that “these masses were in the head and neck areas and prevented the animals from feeding.” (Buzzard 1976a)
“Failure to report to the FDA all internal tumors present in the experimental rats, e.g., polyps in the uterus, ovary neoplasms as well as other lesions.” (Gross 1987a, page 8).
- G.D. Searle “stored animal tissues in formaldehyde for so long that they deteriorated.” (Gordon 1987, page 496 of US Senate 1987; US Schmidt 1976c, page 25, 27 of US Senate 1976b)
- “Instead of performing autopsies on rhesus monkeys that suffered seizures after being fed aspartame, the company had financed a new monkey seizure study with a different methodology that showed no problems.” (Gordon 1987, page 496 of US Senate 1987)
- “Reporting animals as unavailable for necropsy when, in fact, records indicate that the animals were available but Searle choose not to purchase them.” (Schmidt 1976c, page 5 of US Senate 1976b)
- Animals which had died were sometimes recorded as being alive and vice versa. “These include approximately 20 instances of animals reported as dead and then reported as having vital signs normal again at subsequent observation periods.” (Gross 1985, page S10835)
- “Selecting statistical procedures which used a total number of animals as the denominator when only a portion of the animals were examined, thus reducing the significance of adverse effects.” (Schmidt 1976c, page 4 of US Senate 1976b)
- G.D. Searle told the FDA that 12 lots of DKP were manufactured and tested in one study, yet only seven batches were actually made. (Gross 1985, page S10835)
- “Significant deviations from the protocols of several studies were noted which may have compromised the value of these studies . . . In at least one study, the Aspartame 52 weeks monkey study, the protocol was written after the study had been initiated.” (Gross 1985, page S10835)
- “It is significant to note that the Searle employee responsible for reviewing most of the reproduction studies had only one year of prior experience, working on population dynamics of cotton tail rabbits while employed by Illinois Wildlife Service. In order to prepare him for this title of ‘Senior Research Assistant in Teratology’ (fetal damage) Searle bought him books to read on the subject and also sent him to a meeting of the Teratology Society. This qualified him to submit 18 of the initial tests to the FDA, in addition to training an assistant and 2 technicians. He certainly must have kept them busy because Searle claimed that 329 teratology examinations were conducted in just 2 days. He estimated that he himself examined about 30 fetuses a day, but officials for the Center for Food and Applied Nutrition could never determine how that was possible.”
- “In each study investigated, poor practices, inaccuracies, and discrepancies were noted in the antemortem phases which could compromise the study.”
- “Presenting information to FDA in a manner likely to obscure problems, such as editing the report of a consulting pathologist . . . Reporting one pathology report while failing to submit, or make reference to another usually more adverse pathology report on the same slide.” (Schmidt 1976c, page 4-5 of US Senate 1976b)
- Animals were not removed from the room during the twice per month exterminator sprayings. (Gross 1985, page S10836 of Congressional Record 1985b)
- Often the substance being tested which was given to the animals was not analyzed or tested for homogeneity. “No records were found to indicate that any treatment mixtures used in the studies were ever tested or assayed for pesticide content . . . Running inventory records for either treatment mixtures or the test compounds used in treatment mixtures are not maintained.”
- In the Aspartame (DKP) 115 week rat study the written observations of the pathology report was changed by the supervising pathologist, Dr. Rudolph Stejskal even though he was not physically present during the autopsies and could not have verified the observations of the pathologist who did perform the autopsies. The pathologist who did perform some of the autopsies had no formal training for such procedures.
- “Contrary to protocol, slides were not prepared of this [unusual lesions from the Aspartame (DKP) study) tissue for microscopic examinations . . . .”
- “In the Aspartame 46 weeks hamster study, blood samples reported in the submission to FDA as 26 week values (for certain specified animals) were found by our investigators as being, in fact, values for different animals which were bled at the 38th week. Many of the animals for which these values were reported (to the FDA) were dead at the 38th week.” (Gross 1985, page S10838)
“It is apparent from the report, that the Appendix portion contains all the individual (animal) values of clinical lab data available from the raw data file. A selected portion of these values appears to have been used in computing group means (which were reported to the FDA). It is not clear what criteria may have been used for selecting a portion of the data or for deleting the others in computing the means (reported to the FDA).” (Gross 1985, page S10838 of Congressional Record 1985b)
- “Searle technical personnel failed to adhere to protocols, make accurate observations, sign and date records, and accurately administer the product under test and proper lab procedures.”
- [There were] “clerical or arithmetic errors which resulted in reports of fewer tumors.”
- [G.D. Searle] “delayed the reporting of alarming findings.” FDA Toxicologist and Task Force member, Dr. Andrian Gross stated:
“They [G.D. Searle] lied and they didn’t submit the real nature of their observations because had they done that it is more than likely that a great number of these studies would have been rejected simply for adequacy. What Searle did, they took great pains to camouflage these shortcomings of the study.
As I say, filter and just present to the FDA what they wished the FDA to know and they did other terrible things for instance animals would develop tumors while they were under study. Well they would remove these tumors from the animals.”
FDA Lead Investigator and Task Force Team Leader, Phillip Brodsky described the 1975 FDA Task Force members as some of the most experienced drug investigators. He went on to state that he had never seen anything as bad as G.D. Searle’s studies.
The report quoted a letter written to G.D. Searle on July 15, 1975 from its consultant in reproduction and teratology, Dr. Gregory Palmer, in regards to a review of some of G.D. Searle’s reproductive studies submitted to the FDA; (as noted in the Congressional record)
“Even following the track you did, it seems to me you have only confounded the issue by a series of studies most of which have severe design deficiencies or obvious lack of expertise in animal management. Because of these twin factors, all the careful and detailed examination of fetuses, all the writing, summarization and resummarization is of little avail because of the shaky foundation.”
G.D. Searle officials noted that Dr. Palmer did not look at all of the teratology studies (Searle 1976b, page 21). However, there is no credible evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the studies which were not presented to Dr. Palmer were much better. In fact, the evidence shows that it is very likely that all of the studies were abysmal.
The FDA Commissioner at the time, Alexander Schmidt stated (Graves 1984, page S5497 of Congressional Record 1985a):
“[Searle's studies were] incredibly sloppy science. What we discovered was reprehensible.”
Dr. Marvin Legator, professor and director of environmental toxicology at the University of Texas and the pioneer of mutagenicity testing at the FDA from 1962 to 1972 was asked by Common Cause Magazine to review the FDA investigation results of G.D. Searle’s tests page (Congressional Record 1985a):
“[All tests were] scientifically irresponsible [and] disgraceful.
I’m just shocked that that kind of sloppy [work] would even be sent to FDA, and that the FDA administrators accepted it. There is no reason why these tests couldn’t have been carried out correctly. It’s not that we are talking about some great scientific breakthrough in methodology.”
Senator Edward Kennedy at the April 8, 1976 hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare stated (Se. Ted Kennedy 1976):
“The extensive nature of the almost unbelievable range of abuses discovered by the FDA on several major Searle products is profoundly disturbing.”
“In all of the studies at Searle which have been examined by the FDA in its investigation, the scope of the material being considered included seven years of observation, from 1968 to date, in 57 studies involving more than 5,700 animals with over 228 million observations and calculations.”
However, their deliberate misconduct and “lies” (as put by FDA Investigator, Dr. Adrian Gross) invalidated their experiments for the following reasons:
- Many of the problems with the studies included horrendous experimental designs, questions regarding dosage given, loss of animal tissue and data, etc., etc., which invalidates entire experiments and causes what they claim to be 4 million observations and calculations per study (average) to become irrelevant.
- Only the key aspartame studies were looked at. It is almost a certainty that the non-key aspartame studies were equally flawed. Therefore, this would invalidate the “hundreds of millions” of observations and calculations made during these studies.
- The difference between a study showing no statistical difference and a significant statistical difference is often only a few observations or calculations. Therefore, had the myriad of other serious experimental errors not occurred (as detailed above), the observation and calculation mistakes in each experiment investigated would, by themselves, invalidate most of the key studies.
- It is highly unlikely that the FDA Investigative teams found all of the problems with G.D. Searle’s studies. G.D. Searle seemed so intent on covering up their misconduct, that it is quite likely that they were able to hide many of the problems from the FDA.
A series of poorly conceived, flawed studies funded by G.D. Searle were published in Volume 2 (1976) of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. An Associate Editor of this scientific journal was Robert G. McConnell, the Director of G.D. Searle’s Department of Pathology and Toxicology (the department responsible for monitoring the quality of G.D. Searle’s pre-approval tests investigated by the 1975 FDA Task Force). Mr. McConnell’s story continues later in 1977.
Another G.D. Searle employee, Carl R. Mackerer was an editor of the journal. Another editor of the journal was Thomas R. Tephly, the person responsible for conducting a series of badly flawed blood methanol and formate measurements in NutraSweet-funded studies over the last 15 years.
In July 1976, the FDA decided to investigate 15 key aspartame studies submitted by G.D. Searle in which the 1975 FDA Task Force discovered problems. Three (3) of the studies were investigated at the FDA (E5, E77/78, E89) by a 5-member Task Force headed by FDA veteran Inspector, Jerome Bressler.
On August 4, 1976, G.D. Searle representatives met with the FDA and convinced them to allow G.D. Searle to hire a private agency, University Associated for Education in Pathology (UAREP), and pay them $500,000 to “validate” the other 12 studies.
According the FDA Commissioner during the early 1980s, Arthur Hull Hayes, the UAREP investigation was to “make sure that the studies were actually conducted.”
As described by Florence Graves:
“The pathologists were specifically told that they were not to make a judgment about aspartame’s safety or to look at the designs of the tests. Why did the FDA choose to have pathologists conduct an investigation when even some FDA officials acknowledged at the time that UAREP had a limited task which would only partially shed light on the validity of Searle’s testing? The answer is not clear.
“Dr. Kenneth Endicott, Director of UAREP, said in an interview that the FDA had ‘reasons to suspect’ that Searle’s tests ‘were not entirely honest.’ Because the FDA ‘had doubts about [Searle's] veracity,’ Edicott said, officials wanted UAREP ‘to determine whether the reports were accurate.’
“FDA scientist Dr. Adrian Gross, in a letter to an FDA official, said, ‘speaking as a pathologist, it seemed questionable that the group could do the kind of comprehensive investigation that was required. He pointed in particular to a variety of issues that needed to be investigated. He said some of these would involved closely questioning administrators and lab technicians about their practices. Since many important issues that should be investigated ‘have nothing to do with pathology,’ he said, only trained FDA investigators were qualified to do a comprehensive evaluation of the testing. . . .
(SEE LETTER BY DR. ADRIAN GROSS 3)
“Meanwhile, an interview with Endicott indicates that Adrian Gross was right: the pathologists couldn’t–and didn’t–carry out a comprehensive review. . . . As former FDA Commissioner Alexander Schmidt put it in a recent interview, UAREP looked at the slides to determine whether they had been misrepresented, but didn’t look at the conduct of the experiments in depth. The 1975 [FDA] task force investigation looked at the conduct of the experiments in depth, but did not look at the slides. . . . Endicott agreed . . . ‘We could only look at what was there–the tissues.’
The findings of this investigation where released in the Bessler Report in August 1977 (see below).
1977 OUR POLITICAL PROCESS AT WORK:
Donald Rumsfeld, who was a former member of the U.S. Congress and the Chief of Staff in the Gerald Ford Administration, was hired as G.D. Searle’s President. Attorney James Turner, Esq. alleged that G.D. Searle hired Rumsfeld to handle the aspartame approval difficulties as a “legal problem rather than a scientific problem.” (US Senate 1987).
John Robson as Executive Vice President. He was a former lawyer with Sidley and Austin, Searle’s Law Firm and also served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, which was then connect to the Department of Transportation.
Robert Shapiro as General Counsel. He is now head of Searle’s NutraSweet Division. He had been Robson’s Special Assistant at the Department of Transportation.
William Greener, Jr., as Chief Spokesman. He was a former spokesman in the [Gerald] Ford White House.
Donald Rumsfeld is now on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Tribune which recently wrote a glowing article about the NutraSweet Company.
On January 10, 1977, FDA Chief Counsel Richard Merrill recommended to U.S. Attorney Sam Skinner in a 33-page letter detailing violations of the law that a grand jury be set up to investigate G.D. Searle. In the letter, Merrill stated:
“We request that your office convene a Grand Jury investigation into apparent violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S..C. 331(e), and the False Reports to the Government Act, 18 U.S.C. 1001, by G.D. Searle and Company and three of its responsible officers for their willful and knowing failure to make reports to the Food and Drug Administration required by the Act, 21 U.S.C. 355(i), and for concealing material facts and making false statements in reports of animal studies conducted to establish the safety of the drug Aldactone and the food additive Aspartame.”
All of the G.D. Searle studies were abysmal as discussed earlier. However, there were two studies where the violations of the law appeared to be especially flagrant. The two studies cited by Merrill were the 52-week toxicity study on infant monkeys performed by Dr. Waisman which G.D. Searle withheld key information from the FDA and the 46-week toxicity study of hamsters where G.D. Searle had taken blood from healthy animals at the 26th week and claimed that the tests had actually been performed at the 38th week.
Many of the animals from which G.D. Searle claimed had blood drawn from were actually dead at the 38th week. See earlier discussion for references.
On January 26, 1977, G.D. Searle’s law firm, Sidley & Austin, requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney Samuel Skinner before a grand jury is convened. One representative of Sidley & Austin at that meeting was Newton Minow who is currently on the Board of Directors at the Chicago Tribune.
On March 8, 1977, in a confidential memo to aides, while he was supposed to be pushing for fraud indictments against G.D. Searle, U.S. Attorney Samuel Skinner stated that he had begun preliminary employment discussions with G.D. Searle’s law firm Sidley & Austin. page 497 of US Senate 1987;
On April 13, 1977, a U.S. Justice Department memo urged U.S. Attorney Samuel Skinner to proceed with grand jury investigations of G.D. Searle. The memo points out that the Statute of limitations on prosecution would run out shortly (October 10, 1977 for the Waisman monkey study and December 8, 1977 for the hamster study.
Samual Skinner withdrew from the G.D. Searle case and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Conlon was then assigned to the Grand Jury investigation (Gordon 1987, page 497 of US Senate 1987).
On July 1, 1977, U.S. Attorney Samuel Skinner left his job to work for the G.D. Searle law firm Sidley & Austin. Thomas Sullivan was appointed as Samuel Skinner’s successor page 497 of US Senate 1987).
Meanwhile, Much like the earlier team, the five-member FDA task force, headed by veteran Chicago inspector Jerome Bressler, assailed the quality of animal tests into whether the substance might cause birth defects and tumors. The report said Searle laboratory employee Raymond Schroeder, who worked on related research, first told investigators the feed in the study of the aspartame breakdown product DKP (diketopiperazine) was so inadequately mixed it appeared the rats could “discriminate” and avoid eating the DKP. Schroeder, who has worked for another company since 1975, later backed off his statement. He told UPI, “I just didn’t feel qualified to speak on something I didn’t work on…There’s no one twisting my arm.”
In August 1977, the Bressler Report pertaining to three key aspartame studies, E5, E77/78 and E89, was released. Some of the findings from the three studies reviewed by the Bressler- led FDA Task Force include.
- In one study, 98 of the 196 animals died but were not autopsied until as much as one year later. Because of the delay, much of the animal tissue could not be used and at least 20 animals had to be excluded from postmortem examinations.
- The original pathology sheets and the pathology sheets submitted to the FDA showed differences for 30 animals.
- One animal was reported alive at week 88, dead from week 92 through week 104, alive at week 108, and finally dead at week 112.
- An outbreak of an infectious disease was not reported to the FDA.
- Tissue from some animals were noted to be unavailable for analysis on the pathology sheets, yet results from an analysis of this “unavailable” tissue was submitted to the FDA.
- There was evidence that the diet mix was not homogeneous allowing the animals to eat around the test substance. This evidence included a picture and statements by a lab technician.
- Fifteen fetuses from animals in one experiment were missing.
- Sections from the animals were too thick for examination.
- There was no documentation on the age or source of the test animals.
- There was no protocol until one of the studies was well underway.
- Animals were not permanently tagged to prevent mix-ups.
- Some laboratory methods were changed during the study, but not documented.
A G.D. Searle pathologist referring to the DKP study was quoted by investigators as saying:
“You should have seen things when this study was run — there were five studies being run at one time — things were a mess!”
The leader of the Task Force, Jerome Bressler, was quoted as saying:
“The question you have got to ask yourself is: Because of the importance of this study, why wasn’t greater care taken? The study is highly questionable because of our findings. Why didn’t Searle, with their scientists, closely evaluate this, knowing fully well that the whole society, from the youngest to the elderly, from the sick to the unsick . . . will have access to this product.”
Howard Roberts, acting director of FDA’s Bureau of Foods, appointed a five-person task force to review the Bressler team’s findings pending a decision on whether to throw out the three tumor and birth-defect studies.
Jacqueline Verrett, a senior FDA scientist on the review team, said members were barred from stating opinions about the research quality. “It was pretty obvious that somewhere along that line they (bureau officials) were working up to a whitewash,” she said.
“I seriously thought of just walking off of that task force.” Verrett, now a private consultant, said that she and other members wanted to “just come out and say that this whole experiment was a disaster and should be disregarded.”
But on September 28, 1977, the panel reported that deviations between Searle’s raw data and its FDA submissions were “not of such magnitude as to alter its conclusion.”
Verrett said the bureau’s intent seemed to be “to tone down what was really found.” She noted the bureau felt pressure because safety concerns also had been raised about cyclamate, another alternative for the cancer-linked sugar substitute, saccharin.
In October, 1978, a year after ordering the review that helped get Searle’s petition back on track, Robert’s (acting Director of Bureau of Foods) quit to become vice president at the National Soft Drink Association. The NSDA’s members later marketed a stream of NutraSweet-flavored diet soft drink products.
Reached at NSDA, Roberts dismissed Verrett’s criticism, asserting the task force report “really was of no importance.” He said he had no concerns about the appearance of his taking the NSDA job, stressing he does not represent NSDA before the FDA. “I sleep well at night,” he said.
For each of the major discrepancies found by the Bressler-led Task Force — those listed above and many others — there was a comment in the FDA Bureau of Foods Report minimizing the problem. It seemed that no matter how serious the mistakes were, the FDA Bureau of Foods was determined to accept the studies by G.D. Searle.
The experimental errors as described above were so bad that it proved difficult to minimize all of the major errors in these key studies.
In some cases, the best that the CFSAN could do was to say that “The Task Force could find no evidence that this was a deliberate attempt to influence the study.” or “It could not be determined if the results would have been altered….”
The Senior Scientist of the FDA Bureau of Foods Task Force, Jacqueline Verrett had left the FDA. Speaking for the UPI Investigation into Aspartame, she said, ‘I seriously thought of just walking off of that task force.’ Verrett, now a private consultant, said that she and other members wanted to ‘just come out and say that this whole experiment was a disaster and should be disregarded.’
In her testimony before the U.S. Senate, Dr. Verrett stated the following (Verrett 1987):
“This authentication was hence intended to verify that the submitted data had not been altered; that it reflected the actual outcome of the study, and that it did not change substantially, particularly in a statistical sense, the various parameters from which the conclusion of safety had been derived.
“Our analysis of the data in this manner revealed that in these three studies, there were really no substantial changes that resulted, although in numerous instances, a definitive answer could not be arrived at because of the basic inadequacies and improper procedures used in the execution of these studies.
“I would like to emphasize the point that we were specifically instructed not to be concerned with, or to comment upon, the overall validity of the study. This was to be done in a subsequent review, carried out at a higher level. . . . . “It would appear that the safety of aspartame and its breakdown products has still not been satisfactorily determined, since many of the flaws cited in these three studies were also present in all of the other studies submitted by Searle. . . . .
“Well, they told us in no uncertain terms that we were not to comment on the validity of it. And I hoped, although having been there at that point for 19 years, I should have known better, that there really would be an objective evaluation of this beyond the evaluation that we did.
“I do not feel that that was done, based on what I have read in the GAO report that I have looked at and so forth. They definitely did not objectively evaluate these studies, and I really think it should have been thrown out from day one.
“We were looking at a lot of little details and easy parameters in this study, when the foundation of the study, the diet and all of these other things, were worthless. We were talking about the jockey when we should have been talking about the horse, that he had weak legs. It is built on a foundation of sand.”
The FDA general counsel wrote a letter to Consumer Attorney, James Turner, Esq. responding to Mr. Turner’s concern about the quality and validity of G.D. Searle’s experiments. The FDA stated, “The Public Board of Inquiry on aspartame should provide a vehicle for definitive resolution, at least for those studies about which you are most concerned.
As will be discussed later, Dr. John Olney and James Turner, Esq. were not allowed to have the quality and validity of the G.D. Searle studies considered at the Public Board of Inquiry.
On December 13, 1978, UAREP submitted its results of their analysis of 12 of G.D. Searle’s aspartame studies. UAREP stated in their report that “no discrepancies in any of the sponsor’s reports that were of sufficient magnitude or nature that would compromise that data originally submitted.” (Farber 1989, page 33) Remember, the Director of UAREP pointed out in an interview that their pathologists did not conduct a comprehensive review of the studies, they only looked at the animal tissues.
As it turns out, UAREP pathologists who examined the test results were discovered to have missed and withheld negative findings from the FDA. In some cases, they completely missed cancerous brain tumors when analyzing the slides. In addition, some of the slides that were to be examined by UAREP pathologists were missing even though they where supposed to have been kept under “FDA seal.” (Olney 1987, page 6-7)
FDA Toxicologist Adrian Gross stated that the UAREP review “may well be interpreted as nothing short of a whitewash.” (Farber 1989, page 114). Given that the UAREP review results was so biased in favor of G.D. Searle, one wonders why the FDA would allow a company being investigated for fraud to pay $500,000 and hire an outside entity to “validate” their studies.
Even though the UAREP report was biased, there were numerous instances in that report which demonstrated that G.D. Searle had not submitted even marginally accurate findings to the FDA of their pre-approval aspartame tests. For example, in one study, twelve animals actually had cancerous brain tumors, yet UAREP reported to the FDA that only three animals had such tumors.
In March of 1979, the FDA somehow concluded that G.D. Searle’s aspartame studies could be accepted. They decide to convene the Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) which was agreed to by Dr. John Olney and Attorney James Turner more than four years earlier (Federal Register 1979).
In April of 1979, the FDA outlined the specific questions which were to be addressed by the PBOI. The FDA limited the scope of the PBOI to (Federal Register 1981):
- Whether the ingestion of aspartame either alone or together with glutamate poses a risk of contributing to mental retardation, brain damage, or undesirable effects on neuroendocrine regulatory systems.
- Whether the ingestion of aspartame may induce brain neoplasms (tumors) in the rat.
- Based on answer to the above questions.
(i) Should aspartame be allowed for use in foods, or, instead should approval of aspartame be withdrawn?
(ii) If aspartame is allowed for use in foods, i.e., if its approval is not withdrawn, what conditions of use and labeling and label statements should be required, if any?
Dr. John Olney, G.D. Searle, and the FDA’s Bureau of Foods were allowed to nominate scientists for the 3-person PBOI panel (Farber 1989, page 34, Federal Register 1981, page 38286).
It is important to note that the scope of the review was very limited in light of all of the various adverse reactions reported to the FDA. The PBOI also disallowed any discussion of the validity of the pre-approval experiments because it accepted the word of certain FDA officials that these experiments had been “validated.” Finally, the PBOI was told not to consider aspartame in beverages, only in dry goods.
In June of 1979, the acting FDA Commissioner, Sherwin Gardner selected the 3-person Public Board of Inquiry. The panelists were Peter J. Lampert, M.D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Pathology, University of California (San Diego), Vernon R. Young, Ph.D., University of Nutritional Biochemistry, M.I.T., and Walle Nauta, M.D., Ph.D., Institute Professor, Department of Psychology and Brain Science, M.I.T.
Dr. John Olney strongly objected to the Commissioner’s selection of one of the panelists, Dr. Vernon Young, on grounds of conflict of interest and lack of qualifications (Olney 1987, page 3). Dr. Young had written nonaspartame- related articles in collaboration with G.D. Searle scientists (Brannigan 1983, page 196).
In addition, Dr. Olney stated that the question of aspartic acid’s neurotoxicity should be looked at by a neuropathologist and that Dr. Young was unqualified since his field was Nutrition and Metabolism. Dr. Olney’s objections were overruled by acting FDA Commissioner Sherwin Gardner and the panelists who he objected to was assigned to study the issue of aspartic acid toxicity.
One of the PBOI members, Dr. Walle Nauta stated (Graves 1984, page S5498 of Congressional Record 1985a):
“It was a shocking story we were told [about Searle's animal testing] but, there was no way we could go after it. We had absolutely no way of knowing who was right. We had to take the FDA’s word.”
Dr. Nauta stated that he would have “definately” considered other tests and factors if he had known that aspartame was planned for use in soft drinks (Graves 1984, page S5503 of Congressional Record 1985a).
The Public Board Of Inquiry voted unanimously to reject the use of aspartame until additional studies on aspartame’s potential to cause brain tumors could be done. The PBOI was particularly concerned about experiment E33/34 where 320 rats received aspartame and a much higher percentage of animals in the aspartame group developed tumors than in the control group (Brannigan 1983, page 196).
In addition, the PBOI was concerned about experiment E70 where 80 rats received aspartame. Both the aspartame group and the control group had an unusually high number of tumors, leading one to suspect that both groups were actually given aspartame (Federal Register 1981).
The PBOI did not believe that aspartic acid presented a neurotoxic hazard. Yet, Dr. Olney pointed out that (Olney 1987, page 3):
“[Dr. Young had a] lack of qualification” and that he “based his decision on a consideration of [aspartic acid] alone without regard to the real issue, i.e., is it safe to add [aspartic acid] to the large amounts of [glutamic acid/MSG] that are already adulterating the food supply?”
In addition, the “conservative” safety plasma level of aspartic acid used by Dr. Young was the level at which half the animals developed brain damage (Brannigan 1983, page 197).
These errors by Dr. Young throw the question of safety of aspartic acid as part of aspartame into doubt. We will address this issue in more detail in a later section.
On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan takes office as U.S. President, G.D. Searle reapplied for the approval of aspartame. G.D. Searle submits several new studies along with their application. It was believed that Reagan would certainly replace Jere Goyan, the FDA Commissioner.
G.D. Searle president, Donald Rumsfeld’s connections to the Republican party were also thought to play a part in Searle’s decision to reapply for aspartame’s approval on the day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated (Gordon 1987, page 499 of US Senate 1987).
According to a former G.D. Searle salesperson, Patty Wood- Allott, G.D. Searle president, Donald Rumsfeld told his sales force that, if necessary, “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved that year.” (Gordon 1987, page 499 of US Senate 1987)
Robert Dormer, a lawyer for the NutraSweet Co., said there was nothing special about the Jan. 21 date or the papers filed that day.
But with Reagan’s election, it was virtually assured that a republican-appointed commissioner would replace Goyan and decide the appeal- and Searle had strong GOP connections with Rumsfeld at the helm.
Goyan had set up a five-member “commissioner’s team” of scientists with no prior involvement in the issue to review the board’s ruling.
In April 1981, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. was appointed FDA Commissioner by Ronald Reagan (Graves 1984, page S5502 of Congressional Record 1985a).
On May 18, 1981, three of the scientists in the 5-member panel sent a letter to the panel lawyer, Joseph Levitt discussing their concerns about aspartame.
Those three scientists were Satva Dubey (FDA Chief of Statistical Evaluation Branch), Douglas Park (Staff Science Advisor), and Robert Condon (Veterinary Medicine). Dubey thought that the brain tumor data was so “worrisome” in one study that he could not recommend approval of aspartame (Gordon 1987, page 495 of US Senate 1987).
In another study, Dubey said that key data appeared to have been altered Gordon 1987, page 499 of US Senate 1987).
In his UPI Investigation, Gregory Gordon went on to describe the unusual events that followed (Gordon 1987, page 499 of US Senate 1987):
“[Douglas] Park said that panel lawyer Joseph Levitt hurried the panel to decide the issue. ‘They wanted to have the results yesterday,’ he said. ‘We really didn’t have the time to do the in- depth review we wanted to do.’
“Park said Levitt met frequently with Hayes and ‘was obviously getting the pressure to get a resolution and a decision made.’
“With three of five scientists on the commissioner’s team opposing approval, it was decided to bring in a toxicologist for his opinion on isolated issues [Barry N. Rosloff]. Goyan said if the decision were his, he never would have enlarged the team.
While the panel did not vote, it ended up split 3-3.
“Levitt, who normally would have been expected to draft an options paper spelling out scientific evidence on key issues, took an unusual tack. He circulated an approval recommendation and only backed off when Dubey, Park, and Condon objected, team members said. Levitt said he was not directed to draft the approval memo, but did so as a ‘tactical’ step to break the team’s weeks-long impasse by forcing each scientist to state his views. ‘It worked, didn’t it?’ said Levitt, who later was promoted to a post as an executive assistant to the FDA Commissioner.”
On July 18, 1981 aspartame was approved for use dry foods by FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. overruling the Public Board of Inquiry and ignoring the law, Section 409(c)(3) of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 348), which says that a food additive should not be approved if tests are inconclusive.
In an article in Common Cause Magazine, Florence Graves states that two FDA officials said that Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. wanted to push aspartame approval through in order to signal reforms of the Reagan Administration.
One team member said that during discussions, Hayes, appeared to be abandoning the agency’s traditional standard of “reasonable” proof of safety and looking for “proof of hazard.”
Hayes’ July 1981 approval decision came in the face of a Searle threat to file a suit challenging the regulatory delays.
His ruling relied in part on a late rat study of brain tumors submitted by Ajinmoto, a Japanese company that manufactures aspartame for Searle. That study, however, tested Wistar rats, a strain that some scientists said is more tumor resistant than the Sprague-Dawley rats used in earlier research.
In his decision, Hayes wrote: “Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and the repeated close scrutiny and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with confidence of its safety.”
Between 1979 and 1982, four more FDA officials who participated in the approval process took jobs linked to the NutraSweet industry: Stuart Pape was the Health and Human Services (HHS) Chief Counsel for Foods; acting FDA commissioner Sherwin Gardner;
Albert Kolbye, who was associate director of the Bureau of Foods for toxicology, and Mike Taylor, an FDA lawyer who represented the bureau before the Board of Inquiry. All four denied any conflict of interest. (Mike Taylor: Deminimus Legislation):
- Mike Taylor was an FDA lawyer who represented the FDA Bureau of Foods at the PBOI and was part of the team that prevented the quality and validity of G.D. Searle’s studies from being considered.
- Sherwin Gardner was the Deputy FDA Commissioner in 1979. In July, 1974, he had signed the initial approval for aspartame’s use in dry foods. (This initial approval was later block by objections from James Turner, Esq. and Dr. John Olney.)
In December, 1979, Sherwin Gardner became a Vice President of Grocery Manufacturers of America, Inc. (GAO 1986). While Mr. Garden claims that he did not discuss aspartame is his 4 meetings with the FDA within a year of leaving that agency or his 20 meetings with the FDA between 1980 and 1986, the organization he worked for does deal directly with aspartame products. It is unlikely that he would have been rewarded with the job had he called for another delay in approval and proposed that safety tests be conducted independently in order to protect the public.
- Stuart Pape was the Health and Human Services (HHS) Chief Counsel for Foods from October 1976 to March 1979. He served as special assistant to the FDA Commissioner from March 1979 to December 1979.
He participated in meetings and discussions on aspartame as well as representing the FDA at the PBOI.
In December 1979, Mr. Pape was given a job by the law firm of Patton, Boggs, and Blow. This law firm provided counsel to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA).
Mr. Pape and Howard R. Roberts of the NSDA (who formerly fought for approval of aspartame at the FDA) met with the FDA twice in 1983 where aspartame was discussed. In 1983, the NSDA inexplicably withdrew their objection to aspartame in diet beverage (GAO 1986).
- Albert Kolbye was the Associate Director of the FDA Bureau of Foods for toxicology.
In late 1982, Searle petitioned for FDA approval to use the sweetener in diet soft drinks and children’s vitamins. On a day when Hayes was away, Novitch approved the petition, increasing the acceptable daily intake level for humans by nearly half, from 34 mg to 50 mg per kilogram of body weight.
Novitch, now in private industry, said he and Hayes had worked together on the matter, but declined to say why he was left to sign the approval.
Just weeks later, Hayes resigned under the cloud of an internal Dept. of Health and Human Services investigation into his acceptance of gratuities from FDA-regulated companies – including free rides aboard jets owned by a major NutraSweet user, the General Foods Corp.
Shortly after being named Dean of the New York Medical school, Hayes also became a consultant to the New York-based public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller, which represents the NutraSweet Co. and several major users.
Hayes’ former top spokesman, Wayne Pines, who previously had joined the firm, said he approached Hayes because he thought him “an added value” to clients.
Hayes, now president of the E.M. Pharmaceutical Co. in Hawthorne, N.Y., declined comment for this series of articles. He has in the past denied any impropriety in his consulting role, which sources said paid him more than $1000. per day.
Burson-Marsteller vice president, Buck Buchwald stressed that Hayes was not involved in NutraSweet issues and worked but 10 to 15 days a year.
But a former Burson-Marsteller employee, who requested anonymity, said Hayes was hired precisely because of his decision on NutraSweet and other issues affecting company clients.
Sen. Metzenbaum said it was “at the very least…unbecoming, at the very most, it probably was inappropriate” for Hayes to accept the position.
In July 1986, Anthony Brunetti, a FDA consumer product officer who drafted the 1983 notice approving NutraSweet use in soft drinks, also took an industry job, joining the soft drink association as a science advisor. Brunetti said he cleared the move with the FDA’s ethics officer.
“My situation,” he said, “is no different than many, many people…that go through the revolving door. It can be made to look like there is some duplicity going on. In terms of my own conscious, I have no problem.”
Ron Lorentzen, an FDA toxicologist who was asked by current Bureau of Foods chief Sanford Miller to perform a separate, internal review of the agency’s handling of aspartame, described it as a “tortured” story.
But despite the myriad questions and revolving door issues, he asserted the FDA responded to each issue “in a way, perfectly reasonable.”
Other questions have arisen over the company and industry’s funding of researchers who have invariably supported NutraSweet’s safety – with the exception of people with the rare disease phenylketonuria. Independent studies have often raised health concerns.
Dr. Lewis Stegink, a pediatrics professor at the University of Iowa who repeatedly has produced studies, that he says, support aspartame’s safety, has received more than $1.3 million dollars in research grants and gifts, including lab equipment, from the (NutraSweet) company since the early 1970′s, limited university records show.
Metzenbaum said, “If it is a fact that no questions were raised and more than a million dollars was spent, you have to wonder whether their job was done thoroughly as it should be done.”
Stegink’s longtime research collaborator, Dr. Jack Filer, serves as executive director of the ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute), the Washington foundation that funds aspartame research.
Filer said he sees no conflict in his dual roles as ILSI’s executive director and a company researcher, but declined to disclose his ILSI consulting fees.
He said all the Iowa research money has gone to Stegnik. Filer also said the company (NutraSweet) paid him and Setgnik “$2,000. to $3,000.” to edit a book, “Aspartame,” about research on the sweetener, and another $1,000. or $1,500. to each of the contributors, including researchers whose studies helped the company win FDA approval. The book states that “the extensive research program carried out to demonstrate aspartame safety may serve as a new standard for the study of food additives.”
Filer said he had been “maligned over the years for taking money from corporations,” but that the funding source never has influenced his findings.
Dr. David Hunninghake of the University of Minnesota was picked to study aspartame’s effect on the liver by former Searle research director Daniel Azarnoff, once Hunninghake’s mentor at the University of Kansas, a Hunninghake associate said. He said Searle helped design the study.
Susan Schiffman, named to head a Searle-funded Duke University medical School study into NutraSweet’s link to headaches, is a former General Foods and Searle consultant. Her research at Duke, where the medical school has a new Searle Center, has fallen under the office of university vice president William Anylan, a former Searle director. Schiffman said Anylan had no role in Searle’s promise to cover all costs of the study, which is expected to cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” She said she took no salary for her work.
Another industry-backed researcher has been Ann Reynolds, now chancellor of California State University at Long Beach. Dr. John Olney asserted that in a 1971 study, Reynolds confirmed his findings that the sweetener destroyed nerve cells in infant mice, but Searle did not notify the FDA until 1975 or 1976, after the FDA’s initial review.
Dr. Daniel Azarnoff, Searle’s former science director, and other Searle officials have denied withholding any studies from the government.
Reynolds also co-authored a Searle monkey study that contradicted earlier aspartame research leading to seizures in monkeys. Dr. Olney alleged that Reynolds, who did not return phone calls, and several other company-funded researchers “have a pattern of avoiding” scientific peer review. Industry spokesmen contend that few studies by scientific critics of NutraSweet have undergone peer review. But few such clinical studies have been completed because of a funding shortage.
George Liepa, a nutrition professor at Texas Woman’s University said he was required to discuss his findings with Searle before reporting that NutraSweet “is safe” for diabetics on hemodialysis. Dr. David Horwitz, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, who studied NutraSweet and diabetics, said the company did not influence the outcome, but, “The results were favorable…. Obviously, that is perhaps why Searle was eager to fund an additional study of ours.”
Dr. Richard Wurtman was an ardent defender of NutraSweet’s safety at public hearings six years ago (1981). Now he is one of the artificial sweetener’s harshest critics.
“I think the likelihood is very strong that NutraSweet does produce serious and potentially damaging brain effects in a number of people,” the nationally known neuroscientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a recent series of interviews.
Wurtman’s seemingly enigmatic flip-flop from a position as a G.D. Searle Co. consultant to a role as a foe urging restrictions on marketing the firm’s best-selling product appears to be much at the center of the controversy over NutraSweet’s safety.
Wurtman says his views simply changed with the evolution of his scientific studies and his growing skepticism of industries attitude toward research. His sometimes stormy relationships with the company and an industry-funded foundation, the ILSI, provide a glimpse of the maneuverings surrounding research into a major food additive.
Wurtman, a brash-talking, hard-driving head of a major research laboratory, said he unilaterally severed his consulting relationship with Searle in 1985 after he grew concerned about NutraSweet’s effects and the company’s inaction. He said he rejected several approaches by the firm, (the NutraSweet Co.) since its sale that year to the Monsanto Corp., to rekindle the consulting arrangement.
Wurtman accuses NutraSweet Co. officials of “misrepresenting” the nature of company-financed studies into links between the sweetener, generically known as aspartame, and epileptic seizures, of sidestepping key safety issues, and of threatening to veto his grant application to ILSI’s aspartame committee. A spokesman for the NutraSweet Co. described Wurtman’s public attacks as a “political issue,” but declined to elaborate.
Wurtman’s relationship with Searle, The NutraSweet Co., and many of the companies that sell NutraSweet-flavored products dates to 1978. Beginning that year, according to public records, ILSI provided more than $200,000. to finance his research on caffeine, a common beverage ingredient that was under FDA scrutiny.
Wurtman said he found no ill health effects during his caffeine research, and his relationship was “excellent” with ILSI – a spin-off of the National Soft Drink Association.
During the same period in 1978, he said he rejected a Searle offer of financial support for research on amino acids. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two such amino acids, are the main components of NutraSweet.
He said Dr. Sanford Miller, chief of FDA’s Bureau of Foods, later sought his testimony before a 1980 Public Board of Inquiry because he openly stated his belief that neither glutamate nor aspartic acid, a similar compound to that in NutraSweet, would not cause brain damage. Wurtman strongly defended aspartame at the hearing.
He said he did not focus on phenylalanine until about 1983, when he learned the FDA was considering expanding use of the low-calorie sweetener, approved two years earlier for dry foods, to include carbonated soft drinks.
From his caffeine research, Wutman said, he was aware of the exploding soft drink market and concluded “that the use of aspartame was going to go up considerably.”
“I was genuinely concerned that there might be an increase in brain phenylalanine levels.”
Wurtman said that, while phenyalanine is vital to the brain, it can serve as a barrier to 20 other amino acids that provide protein. It is also a well known neurotoxin.
WASHINGTON (UPI) In October 1982, Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala, proposed an obscure amendment altering the laws covering U.S. patent extensions, a move affecting only one company and one product, the artificial sweetener, aspartame.
Without mentioning aspartame, which is sold under the name NutraSweet, the senate passed the amendment to the Orphan Drug Act, extending G.D. Searle Co.’s domestic monopoly on aspartame sales for another five years, 10 months, and 17 days.
“We think it’s an excellent amendment,” remarked Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrapping up a five-minute discussion on the Senate floor.
When the House approved the same language a month later, it all but cinched another $3.5 billion to $4 billion in revenues for the Chicago-based, Searle. It helped Searle’s stockholders sell the company’s assets, including its lucrative NutraSweet division and the two domestic use patents, for $2.7 billion to the Monsanto Corp. in the summer of 1985.
Sponsors of the measure found their campaign committee, enriched.
Heflin’s 1984 reelection committee received contributions totaling at least $9,000. from Searle’s top officers and its political action committee, more than any others among a long list of Searle beneficiaries in Congress, federal Election Committee records show.
Hatch’s committee received at least $3,000 the records show. Heflin defended his sponsorship of the measure, saying Searle had been victimized by regulatory delays that ate up most of its 17-year patent. But a spokesman for the U.S. Patent Office said Heflin’s legislation marked one of only a handful of instances in the last three decades in which a company’s patent has been extended by a private bill in Congress.
It also provided a glimpse of the adeptness with which Searle, Monsanto, and their lobbyists have guided the artificial sweetener through the obstacles of government regulatory bureaucracies to capture big financial rewards.
Headed by Donald Rumsfeld, the former Ford White House Chief of Staff, Searle repeatedly demonstrated its political acumen on other front, too, in the years prior to the sale to Monsanto.
In 1981, the company overcame a controversy-snarled, eight-year review process to win Food and Drug Administration approval for NutraSweet.
In 1984, Searle parried an assault on the sweetener’s safety from Arizona food scientist, Dr. Woodrow Monte, after hiring Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt’s former chief of staff as a lobbyist. Searle officers passed along campaign contributions of $2,000 to a key lawmaker, and the company soon had won passage of legislation crushing Monte’s efforts to force tough state restrictions on the sweetener.
“I don’t know of any company that has apparently covered all of its bases as well as has Searle,” said Sen. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). “Whether it has to do with the scientists or lawyers, or non-profit institutions, or universities, or whatever; in every instance, I have found that they have expended their dollars very carefully and very wisely, but without apparent restraint as to the amount.”
Indeed, besides Searle’s hiring of up to a dozen lobbyists, UPI traced nearly $200,000. in federal campaign contributions between 1973 and 1986 from its officers and political action committee.
The political intervention in the patent process drew the ire of several small companies seeking to enter the aspartame market, triggering charges that a corporate giant benefited from unjustified or preferential treatment. “I think its obvious they (Searle officials) used political muscle,” Alan Kligerman, president of Lactaid, Inc., a New Jersey diet food manufacturer, said of the patent extension. He said his firm had been interested in manufacturing aspartame until the patent was extended, but “Searle was well wired in.”
“It is possible that they (the Senate) did not know what they were passing,” he said. “I don’t know how they got that through, except with the right phone calls.”
“I would not hesitate to say,” Metzenbaum said, “that the manner in which that five-year extension of the patent rights was put through on the floor of the U.S. Senate was totally inappropriate.”
“It should not have been without the entire body being advised that, that issue was going to be on the floor of the Senate.”
Metzenbaum said that the Senate has an “alert” system under which all legislation is cleared with individual senators before it is brought to the floor, but the system was bypassed.
Jerry Ray, a spokesman for Heflin, asserted the offices of key senators, including Metzenbaum, approved the measure before it went to the floor. But Ray offered no explanation for the failure to fully disclose the contents and impact of the measure.
Ray quoted Heflin, Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, is saying Searle representatives never mentioned campaign contributions in asking him to sponsor the amendment.
Heflin said he has “supported all patent restoration bills” because regulatory delays have created “a chronic problem” in which companies get so little use out of their 17-year patents, they are reluctant to put money into research.
Heflin said, in Searle’s case, “almost 35 percent of the patent term had been used on a long series of administrative hearings, trials, and appeals (in) which, in the end, the corporation finally prevailed. To not restore some of the patent term lost would unfairly penalize them.”
G.D. Searle sought an extension of its patent on grounds that the Food and Drug Administration’s handling of its aspartame approval petition was “an unparalleled instance of unnecessary regulatory delay, which worked a great injustice to Searle”.
Critics argue that, to the contrary, the FDA suspended its 1974 approval allowing Searle to market the sweetener because of evidence the company’s animal studies were flawed and the results were misrepresented to the FDA in the early 1970′s.
The evidence prompted FDA chief counsel Richard Merrill to ask the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago to open a grand jury investigation into possible fraud by the company.
While a grand jury investigated similar allegations related to Searle drug products, no such inquiry was ever begun into the aspartame testing. But the FDA was concerned enough about Searle’s research to appoint two task forces, a university research group, and a Public Board of Inquiry to review various studies.
In 1981, shortly after taking office, FDA commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr. overturned the three-man Board of Inquiry and approved sale of NutraSweet in dry foods. Two years later, Hayes’ deputy, Mark Novitch, approved the use of aspartame in soft drinks.
Kligerman dismissed as “crap” Searle’s contention it had been victimized by the FDA bureaucracy, which delayed a decision from 1975 to 1981.
“The FDA had reason for doing this,” Kligerman said of the intense review process. “It was not an unnecessary delay. It was Searle’s fault this happened.” For Purification Engineering, Inc. of Columbia, Md., which raised money from private investors and built a plant solely to manufacture aspartame for Searle, the congressional action ultimately turned out to be devastating.
Searle officials declined to discussed the patent extension, but a company lobbyist, former White House official William Timmons, said the company “felt there was an injustice” in the delays following aspartame’s 1974 approval.
He said the company “took an advocacy role by talking to a lot of members of Congress”.
In May of 1984, FEC records show Heflin’s reelection committee additionally received $1,000 donations each from Daniel Searle, the chief executive officer of the giant pharmaceutical company; his wife, Dain; William Searle, Searle’s brother who was a company director; William Searle’s wife, Sally; Suzanne Searle Dixon, a sister of the Searles; and her husband, Wesley Dixon, who also was a company director.
Heflin also received $1,000 from William Searle prior to the general election, and $2,000 in Searle PAC contributions, FEC records show.
On November 1982, a week after his reelection and a month after praising the amendment in the Senate chambers, Hatch’s committee received $2,000. in contributions from top Searle officers, the records show.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who brought the amendment up for a vote on Heflin’s behalf, also received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Daniel Searle on Sept. 25, 1981.
Hatch received contributions of $1,000 each from Daniel Searle, Wesley Dixon, and William Searle on Nov. 11, 1982, days after he was reelected to a second term in which he continued as chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee that oversees the FDA.
As chairman of the panel until last January, Hatch repeatedly blocked Sen. Metzenbaum’s calls for new hearings into the safety of NutraSweet.
Prior to his reelection, Hatch also received $2,500 in contributions from the soft drink PAC.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Orphan Drug Act covering research for treating rare diseases and who carried Heflin’s patent amendment to the bill in the House, received $1,500 in campaign contributions from the soft drink PAC, including $500 two days before the measure’s introduction in the House.
Like Heflin, Waxman made no mention of aspartame in describing the Senate amendments to the drug act on the House floor.
Searle also flashed its political prowess after Arizona scientist Woodrow Monte stirred up a furor in 1984 by publicly assailing NutraSweet’s safety.
The ensuing events, Monte charged, “reflected exactly what Searle has been doing all along. They’ve been buying their way into the hearts and minds of America. They’ve been using their financial acumen to get their way.”
Within months, legislative rules were swept aside one day in early 1985 and, in a swift, subtle maneuver without notice to the public, Monte’s campaign for state regulations on the sweetener was sidetracked.
Monte was a leading national advocate in the drive to block marketing of NutraSweet until his own credibility was damaged in 1984 with disclosures he had invested in “put options” that would have earned profits if Searle’s stock dropped. He now concedes his options trading was a mistake, but denies it influenced his research.
Monte said he was convinced in 1983, when the FDA okayed use of NutraSweet in carbonated beverages, that the sweetener would break down into poisonous quantities of methyl alcohol in diet sodas left in the Southwest sun.
Monte, director of the Food Science and Nutrition Laboratories at Arizona State, and two consumer groups petitioned the Arizona Dept. of Health Services to ban the sweetener.
Monte said his rat studies had shown that chronic ingestion of methyl alcohol causes brain damage similar to that in humans suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, including seizures, amnesia, optic neuritis, numbness, and dizziness. In the desert heat, Monte said, methanol degrades faster into toxic methyl alcohol.
Searle and FDA officials have argued that aspartame contains too little methanol to pose a health hazard.
When Monte and the consumer groups pressed their legal challenge for more than a year, Searle flexed its muscle:
The company dispatched a coterie of lobbyists to the state capitol, among them Andrew Hurwitz, Gov. Babbitt’s former Chief of Staff; prominent Arizona lobbyist Charles Pine; company lawyer Roger Thies, and another company official, David West.
Between August 23, and Sept. 21, 1984 company officers Daniel Searle and his brother-in-law, Wesley Dixon, each contributed $1,000 to the campaign of State House Majority Leader Burton Barr, later a GOP candidate for governor, reports to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office records show.
Campaign disclosure forms show revealed that, during the same period, several House Republicans received contributions from the Committee to reelect Barr, including State Reps. Don Aldridge, Karen Mills, and Jan Brewer, all among the Health Committee members who voted 13-0 to pass the measure affecting NutraSweet.
The trio received $1,500, $1,000 and $750 respectively from Barr, who for years has enhanced his influence by donating to colleagues’ campaigns. Barr and Arizona State University Regent William Reilly contacted the school’s president, J. Russell Nelson, and Academic Vice President Jack Kinsinger to inquire into Monte’s public attacks on NutraSweet, published reports said. Kinsinger insisted that the issue caused no delay in his decision to grant Monte tenure. Barr did not return phone calls.
When Monte’s first petition was rejected and he filed for reconsideration, Hurwitz (Searle) wrote a letter offering legal advice to the Dept. of Health Services (DHS) about its response, and sent copies to Barr and aides to Gov. Babbitt.
In April of 1985, about the same time Monte and his associates finally were to be granted a hearing before the state agency on their petition, they learned that the Arizona Legislature had used a rare maneuver to change the law, without public notice to bar state regulation of FDA-approved food additives. The measure passed under the misleading title of a toxic waste bill.
Monte’s campaign to ban NutraSweet in Arizona prompted the State Dept. of Health Services to conduct a study to determine how much NutraSweet soft drinks degraded in high-temperature conditions. The study, completed in July 1984, found that methanol levels were highest (9.4 ppm), in Diet 7-Up samples stored the longest time in the warmest temperature, 99o F heat.
Present and former Arizona state officials have told UPI that the study concerned DHS officials enough that they discussed a NutraSweet ban.
But Norman Peterson, manager of the DHS’s Office of Chronic Disease and Environmental Health Services, said that the agency concluded that “the FDA address the methyl alcohol question and had all sorts of supporting data. We had no basis for saying that the data they had presented in support was not correct or adequate.”
Another source said Peterson was distressed enough that, during a meeting attended by DHS director Donald Mathis, he proposed being allowed to recommend that pregnant woman, and children, limit their consumption of NutraSweet.
Peterson would not confirm the episode, but recalled that he “was upset about the fact that there were so many unanswered questions”.
Mathis, who since left the agency, said he was satisfied that it “wouldn’t be humanly possible” to ingest levels of NutraSweet that would produce a toxic reaction.
In September 1984, Monte and his associates file suit to force the DHS to impose storage and labeling requirements or ban NutraSweet altogether. But a proposed settlement under which the agency would hold a public hearing was scuttled because it lacked the approval of Mathis’ successor, Lloyd Novick. After more negotiations, the DHS agreed to hold a hearing. But before it could take place, the issue was killed by the legislative change.
House Speaker James Sossaman later admitted that the GOP-controlled House violated its own rules in passing a so-called “strike all” amendment. Chairman Bart Baker of the Health Committee engineered the action, in which an existing bill was stripped, replaced with the NutraSweet language and brought to a vote without the required 24 hours public notice.
For Monte, the development was all the more staggering after he had gotten into a jam over his stock purchase. Monte said that, after reviewing files at the FDA and consulting with his lawyer in 1983, he invested less than $2,000 on Searle options, hoping to raise money to support his costly legal battles against the sweetener. He said he ended up losing $1,224.
Lawyer Rick Faerber also invested in part, he said, because of Monte’s knowledge of an upcoming CBS story critical of the FDA’s approval of aspartame.
He said stock analysts had phoned Monte inquiring about his Arizona petitions and apparently got the idea the developments would depress the stock value. Faerber said he regrets telling Monte that he “didn’t think there was anything wrong” with investing, particularly because pro-NutraSweet forces apparently learned of their dealings. CBS employees also bought “put options” but a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation did not lead to any charges.
Shortly after news stories about the investment appeared, Rep. Bob McEwen, (R-Ohio), assailed CBS and Monte for “irresponsible reporting and conflicts of interest” in a brief speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
McEwen charged that the “false report” about NutraSweet was aired solely for profit.
But ion his speech, Rep. McEwen did not mention that his top assistant Charles Greener, is the son of William Greener, Jr., Searle’s vice president for corporate communications.
Charles Greener who said he was “unaware” of Rep. McEwen’s floor speech until after it occurred, said his father never has handled NutraSweet matters and that McEwen did not know any Searle officials.
The success of the Searle family business, founded 80 years ago, is all the more astounding when compared to the company’s predicament in 1977 when it plucked Rumsfeld as its president. Facing a company mired in debt, Rumsfeld, a native Chicagoan and former Illinois congressman, quickly hired three other outgoing Ford Administration officials to join him.
As executive vice president, he named John Robson, a former partner in the law firm of Sidley & Austin who had served as President Ford’s chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Robert Shapiro, Robson’s special assistant at the Transportation Department, was tapped as general counsel. Rumsfeld also hired William Greener, Sr., who had been a spokesman in the Ford White House and Rumsfeld’s chief spokesman at the Pentagon.
The pharmaceutical company suddenly was being run by lawyers and politicians. Stomaching a $28 million net loss in his first year, Rumsfeld slashed Searle’s operations, selling off more than 30 subsidiaries worth more than $400 million. Before Rumsfeld could mount a full scale effort to lift a FDA freeze on the sale of NutraSweet, Searle was hit with serious new problems.
Suits filed on behalf of 780 women, alleged the company’s Copper 7 intrauterine device had caused them to develop pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the reproductive tract that can lead to sterility, even death. Before the suits could be settled, Searle sold out to Monsanto.
The huge, St. Louis-based chemical company and its officers were promptly met with stockholder suits alleging they had failed to explore potential safety problems with Searle’s biggest moneymakers- Copper 7 IUD and NutraSweet.
Rejecting criticism of the acquisition, Earl Harbison, Jr., executive vice president of Monsanto and Chairman of the Board of its Searle pharmaceutical subsidiary, said in October 1985, that Monsanto “studied this situation (Copper 7 litigation) very closely prior to acquiring Searle, including consultations with independent physicians”.
“We satisfied ourselves with the safety and efficacy of the product,” he said. Since then, Copper 7 has been pulled off the market. Some lawyers likened the resulting legal morass to the failure of the Dalkon Shield that drove the Richmond-based A.H. Robins Co. into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
But a former Monsanto official, who requested anonymity, said that as part of the sale agreement, Searle set aside reserves to cover the IUD lawsuits. Thanks to NutraSweet, Searle family members Daniel and William Searle and their sister, Suzanne Searle Dixon, to date appear to have walked away unscathed from all the crises and legal battles.
And even if NutraSweet were proved hazardous, the purchase agreement provided “no escrow, reserve or holdback for liability stemming from the potential health hazards attributed to the NutraSweet product line,” says one lawsuit filed by Chicago lawyer Robert Holstein on behalf of a Monsanto stockholder.
And Rumsfeld emerged from his nine years with the company in solid financial condition. Securities and Exchange Commission records show that for his guiding the sweeping turnaround, he earned more than $2 million in salaries and more than $1.5 million in bonuses between 1979 and 1984.
“Banana plants don’t make NutraSweet,” the television announcer noted wryly, and the image of an exotic bird perched in a jungle tree filled the screen. “Neither do cows,” said the voice, as the camera cut to a robust-looking heifer wagging its tail. “But they might as well. If you’ve had bananas and milk, you’ve eaten what’s in NutraSweet.”
True, bananas, milk and NutraSweet all contain phenylalanine, one of 21 amino acids that form the “building blocks” of protein. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Dr. Richard Wurtman, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that because NutraSweet lacks other important amino acids normally found in foods, the brain absorbs unusually high levels of phenylalanine that could increase the likelihood of epileptic seizures.
Referring to an ad proclaiming that the body treats the ingredient of the artificial sweetener “no differently than if they came from a peach or a string bean or a glass of milk,” Wurtman said, “That’s not true.”
Dr. Louis Elsas, director of medical genetics at Emory University, groans at the industry arguments that eating or drinking NutraSweet (aspartame) is just like eating a hamburger.
“Phenylalanine is a known toxin to the brain,’ Elsas said. “Aspartame is phenylalanine, and drinking aspartame is like drinking phenylalanine as an individual amino acid.”
A spokeswoman at the New York offices of Ogilvy and Mather, the lead ad agency on the sweetener account for the Chicago-based NutraSweet Co., declined comment on the allegation.
The drumbeat of NutraSweet advertisements has been steady. Beverage Industry, a trade publication, labeled the NutraSweet blitz “probably the largest advertising campaign ever designed around a product ingredient.”
Industry sources say that since 1984, The NutraSweet Co. alone has spent $30 million to $40 million per year on advertising, and ads by diet soft drink manufacturers and other companies, who’s products carry the swirl trademark of the sugar-free sweetener, would easily send that the figure past $100 million a year.
Reprinted with Permission
Originally printed in Townsend Letter for Doctor and Patients, January, 2000 (pp. 52-57)
H. J. Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.C.C.P.
The habitual consumption of “diet” products containing the chemical aspartame not only risks aspartame disease but also clinical addiction. Thirty-three (5.6 percent) of 540 aspartame reactors in the author’s recent series found it difficult or impossible to discontinue them because of severe withdrawal effects. They or their reporting relatives (especially parents of afflicted children) specifically used the terms “addict” and “addiction.” Others who used comparable terms were excluded even though they experienced similar withdrawal symptoms. The FDA and members of Congress have been repeatedly urged by me and thousands of outraged aspartame reactors to declare aspartame products an “imminent public health hazard,” and remove them from the market. The mounting evidence for their causation or aggravation of headache, seizures, depression, many neurologic disorders (most notably multiple sclerosis), visual difficulty, allergies, diabetic complications, and a host of other conditions – coupled with the potential for addiction – can be ignored no longer.
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by the right names.” Chinese Proverb
“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.” Patrick Henry (Speech to the Virginia Convention, 1775)
Over half the adult population currently consumes products containing aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®). A multibillion-dollar industry aggressively promotes thousands of items containing this chemical sweetener that consumers use in prodigious amounts to avoid sugar or lose weight… even though the latter intent often proves a delusion.
I have described many serious side effects and medical/public health hazards attributable to aspartame products (1-4). The neurologic, psychologic, eye, endocrine, metabolic and pediatric ravages in my data base of over 1,200 aspartame reactors, comprised of both patients and correspondents, are impressive. Additionally, it is my increasing conviction that aspartame products can cause, aggravate or accelerate migraine (5), seizures (6), multiple sclerosis (3), diabetes and its complications (7), Alzheimer’s disease (8,9), and even brain tumors(10). The clinical and scientific basis for these assertions have been detailed previously.
Unfortunately, another tragic problem has been neglected: addiction to aspartame products. Persons consuming large amounts not only may suffer aspartame disease, but also have difficulty stopping them because of violent and prolonged withdrawal reactions… the hallmark of addiction. Recovered alcoholic patients repeatedly stated that they felt worse after avoiding aspartame than alcohol, and asserted that they had traded one addiction for another. My experience, coupled with more than 10,000 consumers who volunteered their complaints to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and manufacturers, reflects the magnitude of this widespread unrecognized affliction.
In view of the controversial nature and implications of this subject, clarification of my status at the outset is relevant. I practised many years as a primary care internist and medical consultant prior to encountering aspartame disease. I continue to remain corporate neutral – that is, no grants, monies or other inducements were received from industry, government or other institutions.
This report focuses on 33 persons (5.6 percent) among the most recent 540 aspartame reactors in my series. The terms “addict” or “addiction” were specifically used either by patients or reporting relatives and friends – notwithstanding the absence of these words in my 9-page Aspartame Reaction Questionnaire Survey (3). Persons using other terms implying addiction (e.g., “severe craving”) were excluded notwithstanding the suffering of withdrawal symptoms.
There were 22 females and 11 males. Most were between 25 and 50 at the time of consultation or correspondence. Four children – ages 2-1/2, 3, 6, and 9-1/2 – were included (see Discussion).
The amounts of aspartame products consumed daily ranged up to six liters or 12 cans of sodas, 20 or more tabletop packets, and considerable gum. A number of persons gave the history of ingesting considerable iced tea mixes containing aspartame, especially in hot weather, prior to the onset of clinical aspartame disease.
The manifestations of aspartame disease and the pathos of such addiction appear in the case summaries. The withdrawal symptoms (e.g., severe irritability, tension, depression, tremors, nausea, sweating) usually abated promptly on resuming aspartame, along with an intense craving for these products. One woman noted: “This was as bad as when I quit smoking 13 years ago.” Examples of other pertinent clinical aspects are briefly cited.
• As with other addictions, denial and distortion were encountered. The mother of two young children stated: “I didn’t want to believe aspartame was the cause of my problems. Even though anything with it made me crave carbohydrates, I dismissed this as my imagination.”
• Several patients experienced severe withdrawal symptoms when they traveled abroad and were unable to purchase aspartame sodas. On the possibility these features represented caffeine withdrawal, they tried drinking more caffeine… but to no avail.
• Some developed severe reactions when they also drank alcohol. One stated: “My memory would just go completely.”
A. The anguished friend of an aspartame addict stated: “She could hardly walk. She could hardly see. She was already going to a neurologist because they thought she had multiple sclerosis. But she told me not to talk about it even though her physician already told her that aspartame was the problem, especially after he started researching its role in brain tumors – because two persons in her family died from brain tumors! When told aspartame would kill her, she said: ‘I’m addicted to it and can’t live without it. If they try to take it off the market, I’ll get it on the black market!’”
B. The wife of an addicted aspartame reactor wrote: “I’ve told my husband over and over again, as have several physicians, that his problems would probably go away if he got off aspartame. But he says he is addicted and can’t.” Provoked by her continued purchase of aspartame sodas, the daughter-in-law asked whether she would hand him a gun if he said he wanted to commit suicide. She responded: “Please don’t say anything else. It’s hard enough to watch him lose his memory, fall, and hardly be able to walk. I just want to make him happy.”
C. A mother stated: “My children are no longer allowed to drink diet sodas or anything else with aspartame in it. Unfortunately, I am addicted to it. I will try and wean myself – but boy, oh boy, it’s not going to be easy!” D. A previous alcoholic patient expressed concern that he had traded alcoholism for aspartame addiction. He observed in a letter: “There are MANY just like me. You will rarely see a recovered alcoholic without a drink in hand, day or night, whether it be coffee or soda… usually DIET. We can hardly keep sweeteners on hand at our meetings. MANY of us suffer from tremendous mood bouts. If aspartame has contributed to the difficulties I have had with depression and mood swings, I WANT TO KNOW!”
E. The wife of a man consuming up to six liters of diet cola daily concluded: “He is truly addicted and unable to help himself… When not drinking it, he is like a new person, or at least the person I once knew. But when he then drinks it after abstaining for a week (as a result of incredible determination), I see depression, verbal aggression, a sense of hopelessness, inability to sleep, poor concentration, trouble with eyesight, chest problems, and weight gain.”
F. A female correspondent with aspartame-related panic attacks and palpitations wrote: “I heard about this problem and will be taking the abstinence test. It will be hard because I am addicted to diet cola. Something has to be done! It seems to me that capitalism is getting in the way of our lives.”
G. A woman with an “addiction to diet cola” refused to admit the “ridiculous amounts I have been using, even to my husband. I have the symptom of always being thirsty from aspartame. What do I do?”
H. A woman with aspartame disease was misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. She stated: “I am convinced that aspartame was at the root of my problem. It is hard to convey just how much of this stuff I was using. I used at least one large box of aspartame a week… for myself! After my husband heard on a radio broadcast that it was bad, he told me not to use it, and refused to buy it for me any longer. I then literally bought it weekly, hid it in the kitchen, and used it when he was out of the room. And people still don’t believe it is addictive???”
I. An addicted young man with longstanding symptoms he ascribed to aspartame sodas wrote: “I drank a lot of pop with aspartame when I was a kid in the 1980s, and felt bad. After reading a page on the net about insomnia, being lightheaded, having ringing in the ears, and feeling unreal ‘like I was on something,’ I stopped. But it’s hard to make yourself stop. It took about two months before I felt better. I think most people who drink diet pop get addicted to it… like me. At first you don’t seem to like the taste; then you crave it.”
J. A 28-year-old woman previously drank as much as two liters of an aspartame cola daily. She stated: “I was ‘addicted’ to it, and suffered terrible muscle spasms, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, depression, slurred speech, etc. I stumbled across an article about the dangers of aspartame, and was absolutely horrified. Within seven days after stopping, most of these symptoms disappeared. I have had no recurrences to date.”
K. A hospital pharmacist with considerable knowledge about addictive substances and drug abuse wrote: “I have been a chronic user of diet drinks for years, and always joked that I was ‘addicted’ to aspartame. Recently, I decided to stop them, but I can’t do it no matter how hard I try. When I’m not drinking these drinks, the people I work with and my family have all commented that I act as if I’m going through heroin withdrawal. I also experience many problems while drinking them, the most profound of which is joint pain” (see 11).
L. The mother of an aspartame addict gave a poignant followup of her daughter’s case, which I described previously (1, p. 98), when her addiction recurred. She had been incapacitated with aspartame disease as a 23-year-old student. In her own words, “My epileptic-type seizures, and drastic personality and intellectual changes were so severe as to end my marriage, nearly ruin my academic standing, and caused me to lose my job.” After stopping her excessive consumption of aspartame sodas, she evidenced clinical normalization, and then bought a beautiful home. The mother described her subsequent relapse.
“About eight months ago, unknown to me, she began drinking considerable diet soda. I learned a few days ago that she started drinking alcohol, plans to leave her fiance, and bought a motorcycle – exactly as she had done 12 years previously when drinking diet soda. Her aspartame addiction makes her totally irrational. She crusaded against aspartame for 12 years, and is now drinking it. I don’t know where to go for help, especially because most doctors I know think aspartame is just wonderful!”
M. A woman wrote: “I am probably one of the many ‘aspartame addicts’ you have come in contact with. I have had a terrible diet cola habit of drinking at least a 12-pack/day for many years. I would love to change because I believe my particular ailments could be related to aspartame. Where do I go from here? Please help!!”
N. The brother of a “recovered aspartame addict” related the details of his sibling’s case to a neighbor who was beginning to drink excessive amounts of diet sodas. He stated: “I am hoping that he doesn’t face severe withdrawal the way my brother did. After 5 or 6 bad bouts of withdrawal, he was finally able to kick the habit.”
O. An aspartame reactor invited her neighbors to a block party aimed at urging them to avoid aspartame which would not be on the premises. A “very addicted” woman with severe dermatitis and fatigue had tried to do so previously at the urging of her daughter, but resumed diet cola in two weeks. She went to the block party with a can hidden under her jacket… but was promptly spotted. She confessed: “I’m sorry, I just can’t break the addiction. I can’t get off of it!”
P. A 36-year-old computer programmer experienced many symptoms attributable to aspartame disease after he began using “a line of products containing aspartame.” He would ingest as much as three or four quarts of an instant iced tea in several flavors on weekend afternoons during the summer. Nearly one month of abstinence was required before his symptoms abated.
Q. A 47-year-old female sought consultation by the author for increasingly severe problems over the previous 1-1/2 years, during which time she consumed large amounts of aspartame. She began the day by drinking three cups of coffee to each of which an aspartame tabletop sweetener was added. She then ingested 10-12 glasses or cups of aspartame-sweetened beverages, and ate considerable amounts of aspartame puddings.
This patient gave a history of alcoholism and excessive amphetamine use decades earlier. (Amphetamines had been taken for extreme fatigue and weight reduction.) She joined Alcoholics Anonymous 20 years previously. She was now happily married, and had taken only a single social drink in five years.
Her main concern was increasing confusion and memory loss over the past year — especially because she prided herself on a “photographic memory.” During this time, she also suffered severe headaches (“never a problem before”), hearing difficulty (“as if my ears were covered”), “lightheadedness with staggering,” vertigo on lying down (“the room was actually spinning”), attacks of severe nervousness and agitation, intense hunger, a craving for sugar and sweets, intense muscle cramps, pains in the legs and thighs, aching and stiffness of various joints, marked intolerance to cold, and elevation of her blood pressure (noted for the first time). Dryness of the eyes became so bothersome that she required one bottle of artificial tears a week.
Another distressing symptom was severe depression. The patient considered committing suicide on several occasions. She had the good fortune of belonging to a circle of caring friends who thwarted such an action.
The family history was also pertinent. Both parents had been alcoholics. Her mother was “a potential diabetic,” and her nephew a juvenile diabetic.
After learning of the possible cause or aggravation of similar problems in other persons from aspartame, she promptly stopped all such products. She emphasized, however, that the ensuing “withdrawal symptoms” were far worse than those experienced after discontinuing alcohol or amphetamines. On a regimen of an appropriate diet, supportive measures and continued aspartame avoidance, her symptoms improved. She no longer needed the artificial tears. An entire subsequent visit was devoted to discussing her lifelong “fear of fat” that had initiated the use of aspartame products.
Addiction to aspartame products is as real as abuse of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. The foregoing experience of a single alerted physician attests to this clinical phenomenon. In effect, the United States has been the innocent victim of regulatory shortcomings related to the initial and continued approval of aspartame products.
To my knowledge, this is the first report that addresses aspartame addiction. I have challenged colleagues to cite comparable instances of gross denial in contemporary medicine concerning widely used drugs or chemicals classified “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS). (Aspartame was developed initially as a drug to treat peptic ulcer.) Moreover, I have repeatedly asserted that aspartame should not have been approved for human use in view of the high incidence of brain and other tumors found in animal studies, and the absence of long-term trials in humans using “real world” products exposed to prolonged storage and heat.
The plight of aspartame addicts has been compounded by (a) footdragging of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite its own data base (12, 13), (b) the brainwashing of health professionals (especially doctors and dieticians) from constant reiteration by pro-industry advocates that aspartame disease does not exist, and (c) the refusal of some addictionologists even to consider this issue. The thousands of complaints volunteered to the FDA, along with my independent data on over 1,200 aspartame reactors, indicate the gravity of such disinformation.
Exclusion of Related Terminology
This report clearly underestimates the prevalence of aspartame addiction. I purposely excluded aspartame reactors who continued to consume large amounts despite debilitating symptoms because they used expressions other than “addict” and “addiction.” Some examples:
• Many aspartame reactors described their “unnatural craving” for aspartame products. It was not limited to diet sodas – e.g., a woman with a severe “craving” for aspartame chewing gum, especially after meals. In fact, the habitual chewing of such gum poses a unique great threat (see below).
• ”Recovered alcoholics,” and former smokers and substance abusers tended to use considerable amounts of aspartame products. One chain smoker averred that he became a “chain drinker” of diet sodas in this switch of addictions.
• An aspartame reactor referred to herself as “a 10-year-plus aspartame junkie.” Another stated she had been “a diet colaholic for 12 years.”
• Three women indicated that each was “hooked” on diet sodas for over a decade.
This correspondence from a 29-year-old woman with severe aspartame disease, who was referred by her physician to confirm the diagnosis, bridges the terminology of “addiction” and “craving.”
“As I do not use any sugar, I have used aspartame and saccharin. The disturbing phenomenon is that I now have intense and abnormal cravings for aspartame, and find myself using more and more of it… like an addictive cycle. Without it, food seems flat. I have tried eliminating it altogether, and find that this actually intensifies the cravings even a week later! I would like to know if you have ever heard of anything like this before, or have advice as to dealing with it. Besides the aspartame cravings, I have also continued to have inexplicable bouts of itchy skin, hives, and quite a bit of swelling in the face and legs. The legs are often numb, and I am extremely fatigued most of the time.”
The enormous consumption of aspartame products by these individuals also could be considered as part of their addiction.
• A 54-year-old woman was phoned by her daughter who had just learned about aspartame disease. “When I called her with the information, she had already taken 15 aspartame packets. Mother told me this was usual for her since the product came on the market.”
• One “huge consumer of aspartame” conjectured that such sodas are ideal for addiction because “they first quench thirst, and then cause thirst.” His side effects of dry mouth and dry eyes are experienced by many aspartame reactors (2-4, 14), even in the absence of marked sweating or hot weather.
The Female Preponderance
Female aspartame reactors consistently outnumbered men in prior analyses of both my data (2,3) and that of the FDA (12, 13). Some of the metabolic and endocrine factors that may contribute to this gender vulnerability have been discussed (2,3,8).
More women are trying to avoid aspartame during pregnancy on the advice of peers, chiefly out of concern for fetal harm (1-3). Obstetricians increasingly concur, albeit partly to avoid medicolegal situations predicated on the absence of informed consent. Unfortunately, some pregnant women in this series resumed aspartame products, notwithstanding their great misgivings, after experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms during attempted abstinence.
A 27-year-old woman with an “addiction” to aspartame products, especially a popular lemonade, suffered headache, irritability and dizziness. Attempting to become pregnant, she stated: “It will be the hardest to let go.”
The apparent addiction of four children was disconcerting. Their case histories warrant summary.
• A 9-1/2-year old boy exhibited “extreme hyperactivity.” Every time he opened the refrigerator and found only regular cola sodas, he would exclaim: “I can’t believe they didn’t get even one diet cola!”
• A 2-1/2-year-old girl had been weaned off baby fruit juices and begun on aspartame drinks to prevent sugar-induced dental problems. She developed an extensive rash that subsided after stopping aspartame. Her mother wrote: “For the first five days, she was like someone in withdrawal – aggressive and craving the substance.”
• A 6-year-old girl was diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist as having attention deficit disorder and a “mild encephalopathy of unknown origin.” Her mother drank an aspartame beverage during the pregnancy because of marked morning sickness and a severe yeast infection. She wrote: “Little did I realize what I was doing to myself, let alone my fetus who also developed the yeast infection. By the time she was three years old, we were both using sugar-free products – including yogurt, popsicles, gum, soda pop, candy, ice cream, pies, puddings and hot chocolate. (She also sneaked them in.) I developed a brain tumor (oligodendroglioma), and underwent surgery and radiation. Fortunately, my mom came across two articles on aspartame a year ago, after which we quit these products.”
• A 3-year-old girl repeatedly developed a rash and behavior problems after taking aspartame products. Her mother stated: “For at least five days after stopping them, she craved the former drink, and was extremely hyperactive and aggressive.”
Comments on Addiction
The continued heavy consumption of aspartame in these reactors qualifies as “substance abuse” relative to causing, aggravating or prolonging their physical, mental and behavioral disorders. As with other forms of chemical dependency, aspartame abusers are likely to deny or distort symptoms. The assertion that the addiction solely represents caffeinism is erroneous.
Health professionals and other groups recognize the numerous psychologic, sociologic, economic, medical and environmental complexities of substance abuse and addictive behavior. Unlike the well-known addiction to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, aspartame products continue to be marketed aggressively to uninformed consumers by a multibillion dollar industry. Most regard this “supplement” as safe because of its approval by the FDA. They include pregnant women, the fetus, young children, and patients with many diseases who are highly vulnerable to the ravages of this potent neurotoxin. Anthropologists could equate the matter with “our intoxicated destiny” (15).
In his classic description of “addictive eating and drinking,” Randolph (16) also emphasized that small quantities of a specific excitant can perpetuate an addiction response owing to the extreme degrees of specific sensitivity commonly involved. He included various sugars, alcoholic beverages and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Consumer Pleas For Help and Outrage
As noted in the case summaries, aspartame addicts have pleaded for help because of their suffering. Some additional examples:
• A 39-year-old mother wrote: “How in the world do you get off aspartame? I’ve wanted to get off of the stuff for years.”
• A 40-year-old receptionist had consumed 4-6 cans of a caffeine-free diet cola plus two large diet colas with caffeine daily since their introduction. Every time she tried to stop, she experienced “terrible” withdrawal anxiety – with associated exhaustion, dizziness, palpitations, and presumed hypoglycemia attacks. She summarized her dilemma: “I just can’t seem to get off the treadmill!”
The outrage of these aspartame victims has been intense (3,4). Indeed, it generated several groups of consumer activists.
• A 28-year-old mother concisely expressed her anger: “In a sentence, I could say that aspartame effectively ruined my physical and emotional health for the better part of ten years.”
• A 28-year-old Australian woman “addicted” to diet cola wrote: “It is an absolute crime that this substance has been offered to an unsuspecting and ill-informed public. It must be stopped!”
• A male aspartame reactor reflected: “I guess it IS going to take a bloody epidemic of blindness, diabetes and multiple sclerosis to get this poison off the market.”
• A 43-year-old woman with multiple aspartame reactions – notably joint pain, loss of hair, severe fatigue, aggravated hypoglycemia, allergies, and mouth lesions – expressed extreme concern “about this unnerving ‘addiction’ to aspartame.”
Each of the three components of aspartame — phenylalanine (50%), aspartic acid (40%), and the methyl ester (10%) that promptly becomes free methyl alcohol (methanol) after ingestion – and their multiple breakdown products following exposure to heat or during storage are potentially neurotoxic and addictive (1 – 4). (They also have been invoked relative to the allergenicity and carcinogenicity of aspartame and its metabolities.) Some of the mechanisms may involve dopamine, cerebral cholecystokinin (CCK), serotonin, endorphins, other important neurotransmitters, insulin, and the unique permeability of the blood- brain barrier to phenylalanine.
The transformation of phenylalanine to dopamine and dopamine metabolites assumes relevance in addictive states. Addictive drugs flood synapses with dopamine, which carries a “pleasure message” from one nerve cell to another in the “reward pathway”… thereby creating a “high.” For instance, cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine, thereby acting as an indirect dopamine agonist. Such repeated rushes can result in desensitization of the brain to dopamine.
• During et al (17) demonstrated that changes in brain phenylalanine may selectively affect production of the dopamine molecule that becomes preferentially released into synapses.
• Myers and Melchior (18) found that a dopamine-dopaldehyde condensation product (tetrahydropapaveroline) caused rats to drink increasingly large amounts of alcohol solutions which they normally reject.
• Researchers have advanced the concepts that increased dopamine influences the addiction effects of cocaine; and that dopamine-receptor agonists themselves might be addictive in cocaine users (19).
The habitual chewing of aspartame gum poses a unique threat, as evidenced by the dramatic development of generalized symptoms in some aspartame reactors. Its flavor and sweetness can last 30 minutes, compared to about five minutes for sugar-sweetened gum. The chemical may be absorbed through the mucosa of the mouth (as used therapeutically with nitroglycerin), and via simple diffusion from the oropharynx directly into the brain. The latter phenomenon has been demonstrated with small molecules such as glucose, sodium chloride and ethyl alcohol (20).
The Methanol Issue
The chronic intake of free methanol in significant amounts is highly germane to aspartame disease and addiction, particularly for alcoholics. Six years before FDA approval of aspartame, Dr. Herbert S. Posner (21) of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences wrote a review titled, “Biohazards of Methanol in Proposed New Uses.” He stressed the failure to recognize the “delayed and irreversible effects on the nervous system” of methanol… at widely varying levels of exposure and at rather low levels.” Furthermore, he suggested “…when a safer compound is available, methanol should not be utilized.”
The daily intake of methyl alcohol from natural sources averages less than 10 mg (22). Aspartame beverages contain 55 mg methanol per liter, and nearly double as much in some carbonated orange sodas. Persons ingesting five liters a day can therefore consume over 400 mg methanol. These facts are pertinent: • Methyl alcohol is probably the first component of aspartame released within the small intestine, and rapidly absorbed. Blood and methanol concentrations correlate with aspartame intake. “Abuse doses” (100 mg/kg or more) ingested by normal subjects significantly elevate blood methanol concentrations, remaining detectable for eight or more hours (23).
• Humans are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of methanol than animals because several enzymes required for its metabolism have been lost during evolution.
• The toxicity of methanol is enhanced by its slow rate of oxidation – only one-seventh that of ethyl alcohol – occurring chiefly in the liver and kidneys. Even though the half life in human volunteers ingesting small amounts (1-5 ml) is about three hours, complete oxidation to carbon dioxide usually requires several days.
• The body attempts to detoxify methyl alcohol by oxidizing it to formaldehyde (a deadly neurotoxin and Class A carcinogen), and then to formate or formic acid within minutes. Formate and formaldehyde each may contribute to toxicity and nervous system/immune dysfunction through various mechanisms. One is the conjugation of formaldehyde with human serum albumin (F-HSA) to form a new antigenic determinant. Patients with multiple health complaints who had been exposed chronically to formaldehyde develop anti F-HSA antibodies and elevated Tal cells (antigen memory cells), consistent with sustained antigenic stimulation of the immune system (24).
• Concerning the methyl alcohol component of aspartame, Hugh C. Cannon, Associate Commissioner for Legislative Affairs of the FDA, wrote in a letter dated September 8, 1986: “The Agency has recently become aware, however, of clinical data that indicate that the toxic effects of methanol are due to formate accumulation and not to formaldehyde or methanol itself. Formate is the oxidation product of formaldehyde which is itself formed from the metabolism of methanol.”
The eye manifestations experienced by one-fourth of aspartame reactors (1 – 4) are probably at least partly due to methanol and its breakdown products. It is of interest that several persons had severe visual deterioration diagnosed as toxic amblyopia (including transient blindness diagnosed as optic neuritis) on different occasions following the excessive intake of either aspartame or alcohol.
Responsibility of the Health Professions
The medical profession must pursue this concern in conjunction with consumer advocates, elected officials and regulatory agencies. Such a commitment also extends to challenging the safety of proposed sweeteners being developed by food technologists, some up to 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose. My objection to the petition for approval of Neotame (25) provides a case in point.
Health professionals must protest the unbridled consumption of “diet” sodas and other aspartame products by children. The potential consequences include interference with brain development, abnormal behavior, cognitive problems, depression, seizures, headache, allergic disorders (asthma; severe eruptions), gastrointestinal complaints, anorexia with marked weight loss, and cross-sensitization to other chemicals such as monosodium glutamate (26). The use of aspartame- sweetened foods and beverages by young children, especially those with a morbid obsession about weight gain and obesity, incurs another risk: a life-long preference for sugars and sweets.
• A number of concerned teacher-correspondents attributed the increased frequency of attention deficit disorders and decline in school grades to the consumption of aspartame products. In my opinion, several prior industry-sponsored studies that concluded neither sugar (sucrose) nor aspartame affect children’s behavior and cognitive performance (27) are misleading because of the nature of their protocols.
• Neuropsychiatric reactions to aspartame candy and gum in children occurred within a unique social context: their consumption of Halloween gifts from thoughtful neighbors concerned about giving them conventional candy. The most frequent were headache, vomiting and tremors.
• Most physicians do not realize the aspartame content of many over- the-counter and prescription drugs and vitamin products intended for use by young children. They include tasty suspensions, and chewable tablets of antibiotics or analgesics.
ALL pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid aspartame products (28). In addition to risking addiction, the reasons include:
• Exposure of the fetus to considerable phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and free methyl alcohol
• Maternal malnutrition associated with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and reduced caloric intake
• The transmission of aspartame and its components via the mother’s milk
• Increasing the “allergic load”… thereby risking future hypersensitivity diseases
The FDA and elected officials have been warned repeatedly about the potentially disastrous effects of aspartame consumption by pregnant women and young children… but to little avail. Indeed, the FDA disregards its own data (12, 13). Alfred North Whitehead aptly asserted: “Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice.”
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11. Roberts HJ. Joint pain associated with aspartame use. Townsend Letter for Doctors 1991; May:375-376.
12. Tollefson L, Barnard RJ, Glinsmann WH. Monitoring of adverse reactions to aspartame reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In Proceedings of the First International Meeting on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, ed by RJ Wurtman and E Ritter- Walker, Washington, D.C., May 8-10, 1987, 347-372.
13. Department of Health & Human Services: Summary of adverse reactions attributed to aspartame. April 20, 1995.
14. Roberts HJ. Aspartame-associated dry mouth (xerostomia). Townsend Letter for Doctors 1993; February:201-202.
15. Rudgley R. The Alchemy of Culture: Intoxicants in Society. London, British Museum Press, 1998.
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19. Koob G. Cited by The Lancet 1998; 352:1290.
20. Maller O, Kare MR, Welt M, Bohrman H. Movement of glucose and sodium chlorine from the oropharyngeal cavity to the brain. Nature 1967; 213:713.
21. Posner HS. Biohazards of methanol in proposed new uses. J Toxic Envir Health 1975; 1:153-171.
22. Monte WC. Aspartame: Methyl alcohol and the public health. J Appl Nutr 1984; 36:42-54.
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24. Thrasher JF, Broughton A, Micevich P. Antibodies and immune profiles of individuals occupationally exposed to formaldehyde. Six case reports. Am J Indust M 1988; 14:479-488.
25. Roberts HJ. Submission to FDA regarding Docket No. 981F-0052 (Food Additive Petition for Neotame), March 3, 1988.
26. Roberts HJ. Testimony: Analysis of Adverse Reactions to Monosodium Glutamate. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Bethesda, April 8, 1993.
27. Wolraich ML, Lindgren SD, Stumbo PJ, et al. Effects of diets high in sucrose or aspartame on the behavior and cognitive performance of children. N Engl J Med 1994; 330:301-307.
28. Roberts HJ. Aspartame effects during pregnancy and childhood. (Letter) Latitudes 1997; 3 (Number 1): 3.
It has long been known that memory declines with age, and that people who are active – people who exercise more – have less cognitive decline.
Now we have a clearer picture of why. It’s about the sugar.
A 2008 Columbia University study showed that rising blood sugar levels, a common occurrence with aging, affect a part of the brain critical to making new memories. [1,2],
Researchers looked at measures that typically change during aging: blood sugar and insulin levels rise, cholesterol levels rise, and obesity settles in. Researchers looked specifically at the impact of those factors on the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped section of the brain that is critical for memory and learning. Researchers found that of all these factors, a rise in the blood glucose levels was the only one closely tied to decreasing activity in a memory-critical part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus.
Using high-resolution brain imaging, researchers showed that rising blood sugar levels selectively target the dentate gyrus. They mapped brain regions in 240 elderly subjects. They found a correlation between elevated blood glucose levels and reduced cerebral blood volume, or blood flow, in the dentate gyrus. Reduced blood flow is an indication of reduced metabolic activity and function in that region of the brain.
Researchers found the same association in aging rhesus monkeys and in mice.
“The paper identifies an etiology [cause] for normal age-related memory decline,” said senior study author Dr. Scott Small, an associate professor of neurology at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “Elevations in blood glucose levels differentially target the dentate gyrus part of the hippocampus implicated in aging and, as we age, we develop a slight but gradually worsening difficulty in handling blood sugar levels.”
Exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels, which is why older people who are more active, have less cognitive difficulties. With exercise, the muscles use up glucose in the bloodstream.
It’s not enough to deliver blood sugar to the brain efficiently. The sugar must get into the cells where it can be used. If you have become insulin resistant, your brain cells may not be efficient at taking up the glucose that’s delivered. About 1 in 3 Americans have at insulin resistance, which if it gets bad enough can lead to type II diabetes.
The findings suggest that maintaining blood sugar levels, even in the absence of diabetes, helps maintain aspects of cognitive health.
 Small, S.A., Annals of Neurology, December 2008, 64, 698-706
 American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists factsheet, accessed January 2009 at http://www.aace.com/meetings/consensus/irscc/irsfs.php
For several million years, humans existed on a diet of animals and vegetation. It was only with the advent of agriculture a mere 10,000 years ago – a fraction of a second in evolutionary time – that humans began ingesting large amounts of sugar and starch in the form of grains (and potatoes) into their diets. Indeed, 99.99% of our genes were formed before the advent of agriculture. In biological terms, our bodies are still those of hunter-gatherers.
Quantities of refined sugar came into the human diet after the process of making sugar by evaporating juice from sugar cane was developed in India about 500 BC.
Today’s average American teenager slurps down more than 120-170 pounds of sugar a year, depending upon whose statistics you believe.
We call sugar “empty calories,” but it is actually worse than that because sugar leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals. The sudden shock of a heavy intake of sugar disrupts the pH balance of the blood which has a very narrow range of acceptability. The body then mobilizes neutral acids and minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium in an attempt to correct the pH balance. Eating sugar every day exacerbates the problem – producing a continuously over-acid condition, which means that more and more minerals are required from deep within the body to rectify the imbalance. Ultimately, so much calcium is taken from the teeth and bones that decay and general weakening begin.
Meanwhile, because the sugar intake produces a surge in insulin production, the body assumes that plenty of energy is readily available, so it stops burning fat and starts storing it. High insulin levels suppress the hormone glucagon and growth hormones that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively. When the insulin surge causes too much blood sugar to be transported out of our blood, then blood sugar levels drop below normal. We feel tired and hungry, and are tempted to reach for another candy bar. Over time, the drain on the body from having to produce so much insulin to regulate blood sugar level leads first to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from having to produce so much insulin, then to insulin resistance (high insulin but normal blood sugar) from the excessive production of insulin, and then to type II diabetes, when insulin production can no longer keep up with demand.
Yet we are drawn to sugar because of a predisposition for sweet foods.
Seventeenth century Doctor James Hart warned that “sugar rots the teeth, making them look black, and, withal, causes many times a loathsome stinking breath.”
Sir Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin, noticed in 1929 in Panama that diabetes was common among sugar plantation owners who ate large amounts of their refined sugar. Among native cane-cutters he saw no diabetes; they chewed the raw cane that still had all the inherent nutrients.
In 1975, William Dufty wrote a landmark book, Sugar Blues, warning us that our sugar habit was deadly:
”Excess sugar eventually affects every organ in the body. Initially, it is stored in the liver in the form of glucose (glycogen). Since the liver’s capacity is limited, a daily intake of refined sugar (above the required amount of natural sugar) soon makes the liver expand like a balloon. When the liver is filled to its maximum capacity, the excess glycogen is returned to the blood in the form of fatty acids. These are taken to every part of the body and stored in the most inactive areas: the belly, the buttocks, the breasts and the thighs. When these comparatively harmless places are completely filled, fatty acids are then distributed among active organs, such as the heart and kidneys. These begin to slow down; finally their tissues degenerate and turn to fat. The whole body is affected by their reduced ability, and abnormal blood pressure is created.
“The parasympathetic nervous system is affected; and organs governed by it, such as the small brain [cerebellum], become inactive or paralysed. (Normal brain function is rarely thought of as being as biologic as digestion.) The circulatory and lymphatic systems are invaded, and the quality of the red corpuscles starts to change. An overabundance of white cells occurs, and the creation of tissue becomes slower. Our body’s tolerance and immunising power becomes more limited, so we cannot respond properly to extreme attacks, whether they be cold, heat, mosquitoes or microbes.
“The ‘quick’ energy we feel after eating sugar is based on the fact that refined sucrose is not digested in the mouth or the stomach but passes directly to the lower intestines and thence to the bloodstream. The extra speed with which sucrose enters the bloodstream does more harm than good.
“When sugars are eaten with other foods – perhaps meat and bread in a sandwich – they are held up in the stomach for a while. The sugar in the bread and the Coke sit there with the hamburger and the bun waiting for them to be digested. While the stomach is working on the animal protein and the refined starch in the bread, the addition of the sugar practically guarantees rapid acid fermentation under the conditions of warmth and moisture existing in the stomach. When starches and complex sugars (like those in honey and fruits) are digested, they are broken down into simple sugars called ‘monosaccharides’, which are usable substances-nutriments. When starches and sugars are taken together and undergo fermentation, they are broken down into carbon dioxide, acetic acid, alcohol and water. With the exception of the water, all these are unusable substances – poisons.
“When proteins are digested, they are broken down into amino acids, which are usable substances – nutriments. When proteins are taken with sugar, they putrefy; they are broken down into a variety of ptomaines and leucomaines, which are nonusable substances — poisons. Enzymic digestion of foods prepares them for use by our body. Bacterial decomposition makes them unfit for use by our body. The first process gives us nutriments; the second gives us poisons.”
Today around the world, diabetes is called the sugar disease.
“I’m concerned for virtually every country where there’s modernization going on, because of the diabetes that follows,” said Dr. Paul Zimmet, the director of the International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “I’m fearful of the resources ever being available to address it.”
Sugar is addictive, and addictive substances are never easy to address.
We could easily list 100 ways sugar is destructive to the body – here are ten:
- Sugar consumption requires the body to produce more and more insulin to keep blood sugar levels in balance which eventually exhausts the body’s ability at which point we give a diagnosis of diabetes.
- Sugar dehydrates newborns.
- Sugar can suppress the immune system and impair defenses against infectious disease.[4,5],
- Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in the body: causes chromium and copper deficiencies and interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
- Sugar can cause can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.
- In Los Angeles juvenile rehabilitation camps, when children were put on a low sugar diet, there was a 44 percent drop in antisocial behavior.
- Sugar feeds cancer cells. Otto Warburg, Ph.D., won the Nobel Prize in medicine when he discovered that cancer cells use glucose (sugar) for growth. All cells have a requirement for glucose, but cancer cells consume as much as 4 to 5 times more glucose than normal, healthy cells. In fact, they’re unable to multiply rapidly without it.
- Sugar makes us stupid. The key to orderly brain function is glutamic acid, a vital compound directed by B vitamins. B vitamins are manufactured by symbiotic bacteria which live in our intestines. When refined sugar is taken daily, these bacteria wither and die, and our stock of B vitamins gets very low. Too much sugar and our ability to calculate and remember is lost.
- Sugar can elevate glucose and insulin responses in women who use oral contraceptives.
- Sugar can impair the structure of DNA.
One reason for everyone over 35 to avoid sugar: It is the most significant physical factor that accelerates aging. Call it the anti-fountain of youth. How? Sugar attaches itself to proteins and then forms new substances called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). The higher the AGE levels, the faster we age. Sugar also produces free radicals which accelerate the aging process. And, rising blood sugar levels affect a part of the brain critical to learning and memory. It has been known that people who exercise don’t have as many cognitive problems as they age because exercise helps stabilize blood glucose levels. But new research confirmed that rising blood sugar is directly associated with decreased activity in the area of the brain’s hippocampus which controls memory and learning.
Where is refined sugar found? In the sugar bowl, the icing on the pastry, spaghetti sauce, candy, soda pop, flavored bottled waters, fruit juice, salad dressings, ketchup, in the coating on the French fries, baked beans, soups, cereals, cough syrup; these are obvious places. We also find it in some not so obvious places:
- MILK. Chances are better than 90% that the container of milk in your refrigerator is from the grocery store and it has been pasteurized and homogenized. Raw milk has sugar in the form of lactose which is absorbed slowly. In fact, drinking raw milk actually can reduce blood sugar levels. Heating milk however changes the lactose into beta lactose, an unnatural form of sugar which is absorbed very quickly, triggering a release of insulin. Pasteurized milk is mucus forming, raw is not.[14,15].
The thought of drinking milk straight from the cow probably horrifies you. “The germs will kill me!” you’ve been taught to think. Well, consider that for tens of thousands of years, that is exactly how mankind drank milk from animals. It wasn’t until people moved into the cities in the early 1900s that cows were shoved into confinement dairies with city filth and unnatural feed. “Sterilizing” milk seemed to have merit. But no longer. Since 1970, there are more documented cases of illness from pasteurized milk than from raw milk.
Dr. William Campbell Douglass wrote a book well worth reading entitled “The Milk Book” where he explains how pasteurization and homogenization creates a food with almost no positive nutritional value, and one high in a bad form of sugar. He also makes a compelling case that 80 years of pasteurized and homogenized milk set the stage for the rise in many chronic diseases we see today.
- BREADS, PASTAS & PASTRIES. Next time you see a hamburger, picture the meat patty sandwiched between two disks of sugar. Highly processed carbs like “enriched” breads (including hamburger buns) are so stripped of nutrients, fiber – anything that slows absorption – that the body processes them like sugar. Processed breads, etc., cause insulin levels to surge just as a candy bar would. So, think outside the bun and ask for that hamburger to be served on a plate please, with lettuce, onions and tomato on the side.
- LOW FAT FOODS. Fat gives taste. Remove the fat, and, well, the food is tasteless. So food manufacturers add sugar. Compare the labels for example as to sugar content on regular peanut butter with “low fat” peanut butter. There will be more sugar in the low fat version. Next, do the comparison with the low fat salad dressings. Low fat food will cause you to gain weight, not so much because of the calories in the extra sugar, but because of the insulin surge triggered. Also, without fat to give the stomach that “I’m satiated, I’m full” feeling, you want to eat more. Low fat foods can actually make you hungrier.
- ALMOST ALL MANUFACTURED FOOD. If you look on the label of almost any manufactured food, sugar appears somewhere in the list of ingredients. It may be called sugar, sucrose, glucose, galactose, or almost any other –ose, but it’s still sugar.
- NO SUGAR ADDED. The use of concentrated fruit juice is still another form of fructose (sugar).
All baby formulas contain added sugars; babies need the sugar to digest the proteins in cow’s milk or soy. Lactose as is the natural sugar in milk. Most organic brands use lactose extracted from organic milk, but global supply and demand has driven up the price. “Similac Organic” made headlines because it came out in 2006 using cane sugar, also called sucrose.
“I would be very concerned about this as a pediatrician,” said Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert in risk factors for childhood obesity. “The issue is that sweet tastes tend to encourage consumption of excessive amounts,” Dr. Caballero said. Evidence shows that babies and children will always show a preference for the sweetest food available, he said, and they will eat more of it than they would of less-sweet food.
In Europe, where sudden increases in childhood obesity are a pressing public health issue, sucrose-sweetened formulas will be banned by the end of 2009.
The Danish government has banned fortification – the addition of vitamins and minerals – of sugary breakfast foods so that manufacturers cannot appear to make sugary and fatty foods appear more healthy by merely sprinkling a few (usually synthetic) vitamins around.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Perhaps more ubiquitous in processed foods than refined sugar is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Although the industry’s television ads say it is natural, made from corn, and fine in moderation, experts strongly disagree. HFCS does not exist in nature, nor is it the fructose naturally found in fruits and honey. And the way it is used in so many products, most people far exceed moderate use.
Making HFCS requires a number of labor intensive steps, including high-velocity spinning and the introduction of three different enzymes to incite molecular rearrangements. The steps convert corn starch to glucose and then to fructose to form a clear, sweet syrup. Despite the lengthy process, it’s still cheaper than sugar because corn is such a highly subsided crop. Due to federal agribusiness subsidies, every dollar of profits earned by Archer Daniels Midland – the largest producer of HFCS – costs consumers $10 by some estimates. Of the $113.6 billion in taxpayer commodity subsidy payments distributed by the USDA between 1995 and 2004, corn drew $41.8 billion – more than cotton, soy, and rice combined. That leads people like author Michael Pollan to comment,
“You have high-fructose corn syrup showing up where sugar has never been – in bread, in pickles, in mayonnaise, in relish, in all these products – that they basically have found that if you sweeten anything, we will buy more of it. HFCS is a very convenient, cheap ingredient, because we subsidize the corn from which it’s made.”
And much of the corn from which HFCS is made is likely to be genetically modified. Additionally, two of the enzymes used to make the syrup – alpha-amylase and glucose-isomerase – are genetically modified (GM) to make them more stable at higher temperatures.
In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium on GM food, and mandatory labeling of GM food. The group said, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects.” The group’s White Paper cited numerous animal studies linking GM foods to altered structure and function of the liver, kidney, pancreas and spleen; decrease in infertility; an increase in asthma, allergy, and inflammation; and a difference in the way some 400 genes work that control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation.
Since HFCS’s widespread introduction in the 1980′s, American obesity rates skyrocketed. The occurrence of new cases of type 2 diabetes has doubled over the past three decades. The rise in diabetes since 1980 is almost parallel to the increase in use of HFCS. The rise in diabetes since 1980 is almost parallel to the increase in use of HFCS. The percentage of overweight children in the United States has tripled since 1980.[21,22] Many people point the finger of blame at HFCS because it is in so many foods and beverages, and because the body must struggle to process it. The state of Florida even went so far as trying to ban HFCS from schools in 2006, but the legislation was never signed into law.
High fructose corn syrup is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar. HFCS blunts the body’s ability to recognize when it is full and increases a person’s appetite. The temporary spike of HFCS blocks the action of insulin, which typically regulates how body cells use and store sugar and other food nutrients for energy. There is a rise in uric acid in the bloodstream that occurs after fructose is consumed. If uric acid levels are frequently elevated, over time features of metabolic syndrome may develop, including high blood pressure, obesity and elevated blood cholesterol levels.
A key 2010 Princeton study found that when rats ate HFCS, they gained significantly more weight than those that ate table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. And long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup led to abnormal increases in abdominal body fat, causing a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides and triggering risk factors for heart disease.
Researchers at Rutgers University discovered that beverages made with high fructose corn syrup contain high levels of reactive carbonyls, a free radical linked to tissue damage, the development of diabetes, and the occurrence of diabetes complications. A single can of soda contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes.
HFCS also triggers the “browning reaction” where certain carbohydrate molecules bind with proteins and cause aging. It’s sometimes called the Maillard reaction. It changes the structure of enzymes and other proteins, resulting in tissue and organ damage. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the browning reaction occurs with any sugar, but with fructose it happens seven times faster than it does with glucose.
As consumers learn more about HFCS, they are saying in surveys that they don’t want it. A 2007 International Food Information Council Foundation study found that 60 percent of American consumers said they were trying to consume less high fructose corn syrup. In January of 2009, consumers learned of another reason to avoid it – mercury. The scientific journal, Environmental Health, reported that nearly 50 percent of the commercial HFCS tested contained mercury, a neurotoxin. Products with mercury-laced HFCS included those by Quaker, Hershey’s, Kraft and Smucker’s. Mercury was most prevalent in HFCS-containing dairy products, followed by dressings and condiments. Consumption by teenagers can be up to 80 percent above average levels.
For decades, HFCS has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda produced in industrial chlorine (chlor-alkali) plants. While the FDA had evidence that commercial HFCS was contaminated with mercury four years ago, the agency did not inform consumers, help change industry practice, or conduct additional testing.
In 2009, researchers went looking for what has killed about one-third of the honey bees in the U.S. They looked at HFCS because it is fed to bees. They found that when HFCS is heated, it forms a toxin called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). It is toxic to bees, and, studies in Sweden have linked HMF to DNA damage in humans. In addition, HMF breaks down in the body to other substances – daughter metabolites – potentially more harmful than the original substance.
High fructose corn syrup masquerades under the name crystalline fructose in Glaceau Vitamin Water and some energy drinks.
It pays to read labels.
As the American waistline enlarged, food producers came up with “no-calorie” sweeteners. A public relations war unmatched since the introduction of fluoride in city water supplies was begun.
Today, you can see the results of it fairly clearly.
Today, you’ll see endorsements for artificial sugars from various mainstream groups saying they are “considered ‘free foods’ because they don’t count as a carbohydrate, a fat or any other exchange.” Take for example the American Diabetes Association (ADA). This organization gives its endorsement to:
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
The December 2006 issue of the ADA’s journal Diabetes has an article on a research study showing that an intake of 200 grams of sugar per day has no effect on insulin sensitivity.
Let’s look a bit behind the scenes
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) receives some of its funding from the aspartame manufacturers. So, too, do many medical journals which carry reports on the subject. The ADA’s corporate sponsors include Cadbury-Schweppes (the world’s largest candy maker), General Mills, Kraft Foods, and too many pharmaceutical companies to count. Conflicts of interest? That study which said there was no effect on insulin was conducted in 6 weeks time. Insulin sensitivity takes years to develop. And 13 people made up the study. Steven Hunter, lead researcher for the Belfast team, told Food Navigator USA, “Sugar has traditionally been linked to the development of diabetes. These findings challenge that thinking.” Does that sound like a valid study or a public relations ploy?
The ADA was founded in 1940 to provide “diabetes research, information and advocacy.” Since 1940 the number of people who have developed diabetes has skyrocketed. The effort does not sound very successful, does it? On their website, the ADA states the idea that eating sugar leads to Type II Diabetes is a myth. What does the ADA make of the September 2006 New York Times piece on how sugar is creating an epidemic of Type II Diabetes in India and around the world? The “sugar disease” they call it.
In November 2006, the New York Times front page questioned the ADA’s ethics. The organization took $23 million in 2005 from drug and food companies, especially food companies whose primary business is selling products high in calories. “Maybe the American Diabetes Association should rename itself the American Junk Food Association,” said Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, a consumer advocacy group.
Perhaps someone should inform the ADA that carbohydrates turn into sugar when digested.
It’s not just the ADA. Many of the so-called health organizations are beholden to corporate sponsors who are often big food and pharmaceutical companies. Public Relations or advertising masquerading as research keeps the messages confusing. People don’t know what change to make for the better, so they keep doing the same thing and that keeps the bottom line intact for the big food and pharmaceutical companies.
If the ADA won’t speak clearly about the dangers of refined sugar, it’s no wonder it endorses sugar substitutes.
Watch the full movie,
“Sweet Misery,” about
diet soda’s hidden secret.
The FDA has received more complaints about aspartame than any other food additive. Groups have demanded its recall. In 2006, the Ramazzini study – peer reviewed by 7 world experts – showed conclusively aspartame is a multipotential carcinogen causing leukemia, lymphoma, kidney cancer and cancer of the cranial peripheral nerves.
Dr. James Bowen recalls, “I was one of only two independent scientists who ever read the original aspartame toxicity studies from FDA files. They were done at only 1/1000th the legally requisite dose. In that minuscule dosage the rat brain cancer was the worst ever caused by any chemical ever tested at any dosage! When they marketed aspartame for soft drinks in 1983, the next six months saw a 10% jump in the US brain tumor rate, and also a 30% jump in the incidence of new cases of diabetes.”
Food and beverages containing phenylalanine, the major ingredient in aspartame, must be labeled due to the genetic disorder, phenylketonuria (PKU). People with this genetic disorder lack the enzyme needed to metabolize phenylalanine and therefore it accumulates in the body and, according to Dr. H. J. Roberts, can cause severe mental retardation.
Dr. H. J. Roberts has researched and written extensively about aspartame. He feels the so-called early-onset of Parkinson’s disease, Gulf War syndrome, and other neurological disorders are triggered by a generous consumption of diet soda.
Saccharin, cyclamate and acesulfame-K have all been shown to cause cancer in animals. For a time, the government required a label on saccharin, warning consumers that it could cause cancer.
The newest sugar substitute on the block is Splenda. To make Splenda, a molecule of sugar is chemically manipulated to accept three chlorine atoms. Natural sugar when turned into Splenda becomes a chlorocarbon, in the family of chlorodane, lindane and DDT. &”Splenda shares many similar characteristics to pesticides like DDT that can accumulate in your body fat and tissues,” warns Dr. Joseph Mercola. “It is impossible to predict the long-term consequences of ingesting this substance over many years. If you think that just because the FDA approved it, that it is safe … think again. I can assure you that it had far less review than Vioxx, which was approved by the FDA and that drug killed 55,000 people.”
In September 2008, James Turner, chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health, publicized a report from scientists at Duke University. “Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study, published this past week in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A, confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label,” said Turner.
Among the results in the study is evidence that, in the animals studied, Splenda reduces the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50%, increases the pH level in the intestines, contributes to increases in body weight and affects the P-glycoprotein (P-gp) in the body in such a way that crucial health-related drugs could be rejected. Turner noted that the P-gp effect “could result in crucial medications used in chemotherapy for cancer patients, AIDS treatment and drugs for heart conditions being shunted back into the intestines” rather than being absorbed by the body as intended.
“It is like putting a pesticide in your body,” Turner said. “A person eating two slices of cake and drinking two cups of coffee containing Splenda would ingest enough sucralose to affect the P-glycoprotein, while consuming just seven little Splenda packages reduces good bacteria.” The side effects occur after accumulated use. Turner also noted unmistakable evidence that Splenda is absorbed by fat, contrary to the claims of Johnson & Johnson. “The new study makes it clear that Splenda can cause you to gain weight and lose the benefits of medications designed to improve and protect your health,” he said. “The FDA should not continue to turn a blind eye to this health threat.”
On April 7, 2006, Citizens For Health filed a formal Petition with the FDA, demanding that the FDA revoke its approval of sucralose. The Federal Food and Drug Administration acknowledged receipt of the petition the day it was received, but has taken no action.
Refined sugar is the lesser of the evils.
To put it another way, if you must have a soda, don’t make it a diet soda. Remember that the typical 12-ounce can of soda pop has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it.
Fortunately, there are some safe sweeteners to choose from including stevia, lo-han, Just Like Sugar, and xylitol. For further reading on these sweeteners, see
Kicking the Sugar Habit
Stopping the sugar habit isn’t something most people can do cold turkey. Your best intentions can be defeated by sugar’s addictive impact on your brain.
In analyzing how rats react to sugar consumption, scientists have found similarities to the response to drugs like heroin and cocaine. When humans and rats eat sweets, their brain level of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that regulates reward and is at the heart of many addictive behaviors – increases.
If you have candida, it is almost impossible to kick the sugar habit until you knock down the fungus. Saying no to sugar when you have a candida overgrowth is like trying to put out a raging fire with a squirt gun.
If you want to give yourself a new lease on life without sugar, work with us to help you navigate the very real obstacles to quitting.
 Sugar Blues, by William Dufty, © 1975
 N.R. Kleinfield, “Modern Ways Open India’s Doors to Diabetes,” New York Times, September 13, 2006
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 Sanchez, A., et al. Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nov 1973;261:1180_1184. Also, Bernstein, J., al, Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1997;30:613
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 Quillin, Patrick. Cancer’s Sweet Tooth, Nutrition Science News. Ap 2000 Rothkopf, M.. Nutrition. July/Aug 1990;6(4).
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 Small, S.A., Annals of Neurology, December 2008, 64, 698-706
 Dr. William Campbell Douglass, Real Health Breakthroughs, March 2006 newsletter and The Milk Book-The Milk of Human Kindness is not Pasteurized, © 2003, page 42
 Armchair Science, London, April 1938
 Dr. William Campbell Douglass. The Milk Book-The Milk of Human Kindness is Not Pasteurized. 2003
 Julia Moskin, For an All-Organic Formula, Baby, That’s Sweet, New York Times, May 19, 2008
 May 14, 2009 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, accessed at http://www.democracynow.org/2009/5/14/omnivores_dilemma_author_michael_pollans_new
 Fox, Caroline S; Pencina, Michael J. et al. Trends in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus From the 1970s to the 1990s: The Framingham Heart Study. Circulation, Jun 2006; 113: 2914 – 2918.  Bray, G; Nielsen, SJ; Popkin B. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543
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 Bocarsly ME, Powell ES et al. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. February 26, 2010
 Soda Warning? High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked To Diabetes, New Study Suggests. Science Daily. August 23, 2007
 Sanda, Bill. The Double Danger of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts. Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2003.
 B LeBlanc, G Eggleston et al. Formation of hydroxymethylfurfural in domestic high fructose corn syrup and its toxicity to the honey bee (Apis mellifera), Journal of Agriculture and Food Science, 2009, 57, 736907376, DOI: 10.1021/jf9014526
 LJ Durling, L Busk, BE Hellman. Evaluation of the DNA damaging effect of the heat-induced food toxicant 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) in various cell lines with different activities of sulfotransferases. Food Chem Toxocology, January 20, 2009.
 Black RN, Spence M. Effect of Eucaloric High- and Low-Sucrose Diets With Identical Macronutrient Profile on Insulin Resistance and Vascular Risk. Diabetes, Vol. 55, No. 12, December 2006.
 Kleinfield, NR. Modern Ways Open India’s Doors to Diabetes. New York Times, September 13, 2006
 Santora, Marc. In Diabetes Fight, Raising Cash and Keeping Trust. New York Times, November 25, 2006
 www.dorway.com Also see the documentary “Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World,” available at amazon.com
 Abou-Donia, M; El-Masry E et al. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part A, January 2008;71(21):1415-29.
The New York City Health Department launched a new ad campaign in September 2009, targeting liquid calories. In an attempt to get New Yorkers to think twice about what and how much they drink, the ads go right for the gross-out effect, showing soda and other sugary drinks turning into revolting frothy chunks of fat.
The press release says, “It’s hard to overeat without noticing it. By contrast, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can sneak up on you, adding hundreds of calories to your diet each day without ever filling you up. In a new effort to highlight the health impact of sweetened drinks, the Health Department is confronting New Yorkers with a bold question: Are you pouring on the pounds? The agency’s new public-awareness campaign includes posters in the subway system and a multilingual Health Bulletin.” The ads are scheduled to run for three months.
The campaign’s signature image – in which a bottle of soda, “sports” drink or sweetened iced tea turns to a blob of fat as it reaches the glass – is a stark reminder of how these products can lead to obesity and related health problems. The ads urge New Yorkers to cut back on sugary beverages and quench their thirst with water, seltzer or low-fat milk instead. Many people may stir a teaspoon or two of sugar into their coffee, but few realize that a 20-ounce bottle of soda can contain 16 ½ teaspoons of sugar.
“Sugary drinks shouldn’t be a part of our everyday diet,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley. “Drinking beverages loaded with sugars increases the risk of obesity and associated problems, particularly diabetes but also heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer.”
On average, Americans now consume 200 to 300 more calories each day than we did 30 years ago. Nearly half of these extra calories come from sugar-sweetened drinks. When Health Department researchers surveyed adult New Yorkers about their consumption of soda and other sweetened drinks, the findings showed that more than 2 million drink at least one sugar-sweetened soda or other sweetened beverage each day – at as much as 250 calories a pop.
Rethink Your Drink
It’s no secret that soft drinks have gotten bigger over the years. Soda used to come in 6.5-ounce bottles. Today, 12-ounce cans are considered small and 20-ounce bottles are typical. A single super-sized soda can pack as many calories as three to four regular cans of soda.
Fruit juice is more nutritious than soda, and rarely consumed in such large portions, but it is just as rich in calories. Whole fruit has fewer calories and has plenty of fiber.
The NYC Health Department advises parents not to serve their kids punch, fruit-flavored drinks or “sports” and “energy” drinks. Most of them are low in nutrients and high in empty calories. The best way to stay hydrated while exercising is to drink water. Coffee and tea drinks also pack more calories than many consumers realize. New Yorkers are often surprised when they see how many calories are listed on menu boards for these popular drinks.
The Health Department recommends these simple strategies to avoid pouring on the pounds: If you drink coffee or tea, order it plain and flavor it yourself. If you order a sugar-sweetened beverage, ask for a “small.” When you shop for beverages, read the labels and choose products with fewer than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving. And if you enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages, make them an occasional treat and not a daily staple.
“When people count calories, they too often forget to include the liquid ones, said Cathy Nonas, director of the NYC Health Department’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Programs. “We need to start thinking of the sugar in sweetened drinks as unwanted, wasted calories. These calories provide no nutritional benefits and can lead to weight gain. Water and other zero-calorie beverages are a better choice.”
Soda and sweetened beverages are often the most common source of young people’s sugar intake. The average teenage male drinks an estimated 868 cans of soda pop each year. Overall, Americans are consuming twice as much soda pop as they did 25 years ago. And they’re spending $54 billion a year on it. That’s twice what we spend on books.
Soda is the subject of bans at schools and higher sales taxes for good reason, not just for the sugar content.
Weak Bones and Mineral Loss and Free Radicals
Soda drinkers are less likely to get sufficient vitamin A, calcium, or magnesium. Sugar depletes magnesium, and the high levels of phosphoric acid in soft drinks can combine with calcium and magnesium in the gut to cause a loss of these vital minerals.
Doctors are now seeing young people engaged in sports break their femur – also known as the thigh bone and the strongest bone in the human body – and some are questioning if the phosphorus in soda pop has weakened the bones more than anyone expected. Phosphoric acid gives that tangy aftertaste. Ever used Naval Jelly for removing rust? That’s phosphoric acid at work. There is some research suggesting cola consumption increases the amount of calcium measured in urine, meaning cola triggers calcium leaching out of bone.
Researchers at Rutgers University discovered in 2007 that beverages made with high fructose corn syrup contain high levels of reactive carbonyls, a free radical linked to tissue damage, the development of diabetes, and the occurrence of diabetes complications. Reactive carbonyls are elevated in the blood of individuals with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease. Eating fructose can block the ability of insulin to regulate how body cells use and store sugar and other nutrients for energy, leading to obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
The Plastic Connection
A chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make plastics hard, and in 2008, Health Canada banned it from baby products. News reports prompted many people to trade in their polycarbonate #7 water bottles for glass, stainless steel, or “BPA-free” plastics. However, maximum exposure to BPA is thought to come from the linings of canned food, especially acidic foods like soda pop and tomato sauce.
Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi officials use BPA in the epoxy resin linings of their soda cans.
Evidence is accumulating that ongoing exposure to BPA might be contributing to a boatload of medical maladies. Effects at even low BPA exposure appear to include: prostate cancer, breast cancer, early puberty onset, alterations in gender-specific behavior, decreased sperm count, effects on fertility, effects on obesity and insulin resistance, behavioral issues including hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, impaired learning and others. BPA mimics naturally occurring estrogen, a hormone that is part of the endocrine system, the body’s finely tuned messaging service.
The Endocrine Society concluded in 2009 that because of BPA’s hormonal action at trace levels, there may be no safe level of exposure.
University of Missouri biologist Fred Vom Saal explains the concern:
“It’s like putting a time bomb into the organs of your baby that later on in life are going to cause those organs to malfunction.”
Ninety-five percent of Americans were found to have BPA in their urine in a 2004 biomonitoring study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Southampton Study – Food Colorings and Hyperactivity
A much anticipated British study came out in September, 2007, looking at whether the colored dyes added to so many soft drinks, fruit drinks, and junk food, trigger hyperactivity in children. The connection has been suspected for decades.
Scientists from Southampton University tested more than 300 children, aged 3 and 8, by giving them fruit drinks containing a common mixture of food colorings and preservatives (sodium benzoate).
This was a double-blind-placebo-control study; the mixtures were designed to reflect what a typical child might eat in the course of a normal day. It is the largest trial of its kind to date.
Results clearly demonstrated an increase in hyperactivity. Most importantly, the study confirmed deterioration in behavior occurs in children in the general population, not just in those identified as suffering from hyperactivity.
As reported in one of Britain’s largest newspapers, The Guardian, September 6, 2007:
“Parents are to be warned of the dangers of giving their young children drinks, sweets and cakes containing specified artificial additives, as a result of new findings being made public for the first time today which confirm their link with hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour. “The government’s Food Standards Agency is taking the significant step of issuing revised guidance to consumers recommending that they steer clear of products containing certain E-numbers if their children are showing signs of hyperactivity or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). “The release of the new public health advice follows the results of the biggest UK study into the links between hyper-activity and chemical food additives, which was commissioned by the government and published today in the medical journal The Lancet.
“But the move has confounded experts and health campaigners, who say the government had missed an opportunity to take a tougher line by banning the additives completely instead of placing a huge burden on parents. Adults are being advised to check for additives by scrutinising labels, yet many sweets and cakes are sold loose without labels, as is ice cream.
“… Professor Jim Stevenson, who headed the Southampton study, said: “We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children…”
“Dr Andrew Wadge, the FSA’s chief scientist, said: “We have revised our advice to consumers: if a child shows signs of hyperactivity or AD/HD then eliminating the colours used in the Southampton study from their diet might have some beneficial effects.” “A spokesman for the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group said: “This research confirms what many of us have known for 30 years. But we seriously question the implementation of the new advice. Is it practical to expect parents to quiz headteachers about additives in school meals, or to ask parents about the contents of party bags?”
Other concerned parties were quick to pile on:
“… Such additives are derived from industrial textile dyes and are used entirely for cosmetic purposes; to make junk food appealing. These additives are completely unnecessary and are banned under organic standards. … The FSA’s reaction is totally inadequate. It is surely time for the agency to take a lead role in addressing this issue through new policies to prevent the use of food additives unless they are required for food-safety reasons.
“As with the issues of pesticide residues and genetically modified food, the FSA is still giving the benefit of the doubt to the food industry over artificial food ingredients, even when there are rising public health concerns.”
Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, also chimed in:
“The overwhelming majority of our additive intake today has been part of the diet of humans for generations: yeast, salt, sugar, baking powder. But thousands of other additives, derived from both natural and synthetic sources, have recently become commonplace in western eating. What are these substances doing to our bodies and our minds? We are just beginning to find out. …
“The packaged food industry and the fast food industry are dependent on the use of such additives to prevent spoilage, to allow the transport of products long distances, and to maintain uniformity. Any finding that such additives pose a threat to human health will threaten the financial health of these industries. And that is why so few large-scale studies have been conducted. The absence of adequate information greatly benefits the producers of industrial food. In the United States there is an extremely cozy relationship between the food industry and the government agencies that are ostensibly regulating it.”
Back in the United States, the Feingold Association, an advocacy group concerned with children and diet, reminded its members that food colorings are not just in soda and fruit drinks:
“Children also consume food dye in their toothpaste, their shampoo (through the scalp), their hand lotion (through their skin), their cereal, their juice drinks, their mac ‘n cheese, etc. In fact, in 1977 the National Academy of Sciences did a huge study on 12,000 people and determined that most people in the United States eat up to an average of 317 mg of food dyes per day. The amount children in the UK consume is likely to be close to that.
“As far as we know, the reason that they did not use BHA, BHT, or TBHQ, is that these preservatives have already been removed from most food for children in the UK. Possibly, therefore, the children consume much more sodium benzoate than American children.
A Norwegian study in 2006 showed that teenagers who drank the most soda (an average of four or more glasses a day) scored highest on measures of behavioral difficulties, hyperactivity, mental distress and overall mental health problems. The researchers pointed out that children with high soda consumption are more likely to skip meals and eat less nutrient-dense foods than children with lower consumption, thus making them more likely to develop nutritional deficiencies. “These findings make a strong comment about the need to make soft drinks less available in schools, homes and events for kids,” said lead researcher Lars Lien. “Together with all the other compelling evidence of detrimental effects of sugar, I think the evidence from this study strengthens the call to make changes as a society.”
Preservatives and DNA Damage
Sodium benzoate is a preservative. It prevents mold and thereby gives a product a long shelf life. Because so many food “products” are no longer fresh, preservatives are widely used in the processed food industry. It is most often found in soft drinks, vinegar, and mouthwash.
Sodium benzoate has already been the subject of concern about cancer. When mixed with the additive vitamin C in soft drinks, it forms benzene, a carcinogenic substance. Benzene damages bone marrow and can cause anemia because of a decrease in red blood cells. It can also cause excessive bleeding and depress the immune system. Surveys have found unlawfully high levels of benzene in some soft drink brands.
Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at Sheffield University, rang a loud warning bell about it in 2007. He tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells known as the mitochondria.
“These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether. The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it – as happens in a number if diseased states – then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA – Parkinson’s and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing. The food industry will say these compounds have been tested and they are completely safe. By the criteria of modern safety testing, the safety tests were inadequate. Like all things, safety testing moves forward and you can conduct a much more rigorous safety test than you could 50 years ago.”[12,13]
Food colorings in soft drinks are there solely for cosmetic reasons – they make the product look appealing.
A large, non-industry sponsored study published in 2010 found that people who had a sugary drink or two a day, compared to people who one sugary drink a month, had a 26 percent increased risk of diabetes, and a 20 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
When researchers adjusted for body mass, those numbers fell – but only by about half, which means even slim people can get diabetes if they regularly consume sugary drinks: soda, sweetened tea, sports drinks, “juice” drinks, vitamin waters, and “energy” drinks.
In fact, drinking just one 12-ounce serving of soda per day increased a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes by about 15%.
This meta-analysis pooled data from 11 studies that involved more than 300,000 participants who were followed from four to 20 years.
“What’s really important is a very clear, significant positive association with the risk of type 2 diabetes,” said researcher Vasanti Malik, ScD, a fellow in the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “There are a lot of factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes, but this is one modifiable factor that would be very easy for people to change.”
The kinds of drinks or the kinds of sugar – sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrates – were not studied separately, but the authors say their metabolic effects are essentially the same. A 100 percent juice drink is not considered sugar-sweetened.
The American Beverage Association disputed the study’s results. “It is overly simplistic, and simply misleading, to suggest that reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages from the diet will uniquely lower incidence of serious health conditions such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Maureen Storey, senior vice president for science policy for the American Beverage Association, said. “There is a critical flaw in the design of this meta-analysis in that the authors focus solely on the impact of one calorie source – sugar-sweetened beverages – on weight, rather than looking at all sources of calories.”
Malik said the individual studies accounted for known differences between the two groups of people that might explain the different rates of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
“Sure, people who drink soda tend to be less physically active, they might eat more saturated fat,” she said. But even after the researchers accounted for weight differences, the association between sweetened drinks and diabetes persisted, she said.
As word starts to reach the mainstream about the negative health affects of soda, more people are turning to “flavored water” which is seen by the global drinks industry as the latest “super-product.”
“This is the beginning of the end for colas,” said Mark Ritson, a marketing professor at the Melbourne Business School. “And Coca-Cola knows it. … All beverage companies are desperately getting into this market. They are offering a sweeter, ‘better’ alternative to water.” 
Perceptually, flavored waters seem healthier than soda. But consumer beware: they are usually loaded with sugar and problematic additives.
A study by a group of British dentists into the corrosive effects of flavored sparkling water drinks was published in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry in 2007.
” ‘We are seeing an increase in children with tooth tissue loss associated with erosion,’ says Catriona Brown, a consultant paediatric dentist at the Birmingham Dental Hospital. Although the group looked at flavoured sparkling waters – carbonated water contributes more to erosion than still water – it wasn’t the carbonation that caused the biggest problem with erosion, but the fruit flavouring and acids, such as citric and malic acid, that were added to the drinks. ‘We were surprised at how low the pH we found was,’ says Dr Brown. (The lower the pH, the more acidic something is.) Different flavourings made a difference, the dentists found – the worst was lemon-and-lime flavouring. ‘But they all showed acidic tendency,’ says Brown. ‘There is an indication that these drinks are potentially erosive and people should recognise that.’ “
Diet Sodas Are Anything But
The worst choice among the offerings in the soda pop shelves is the diet soda. “But I don’t want to gain weight,” you say. Think again. Diet sodas actually contribute to weight gain. This is a prime example of the triumph of marketing over knowledge.
The findings of eight years of solid research on diet soda and weight gain was reported to the American Diabetes Association at its annual meeting in 2005.
Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, looked at eight years of data from 1,550 people aged 25 to 64. “What didn’t surprise us was that total soft drink use was linked to overweight and obesity,” Fowler reported. “What was surprising was when we looked at people only drinking diet soft drinks, their risk of obesity was even higher. There was a 41 percent increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day.”
A Purdue University study released in 2008 reported that rats on diets containing the artificial sweetener saccharin gained more weight than rats given sugary food. The rats appeared to experience a physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories, which drove them to overeat.
Other researchers have found that any kind of sweet taste signals body cells to store carbohydrates and fats, which in turn causes the body to crave more food.
Sweet tastes promote the release of insulin, which blocks the body’s ability to burn fat. This is an adaptive response, because for millions of years sweet tastes have meant that blood glucose levels are about to rise, and when there is excess sugar, it ought to be stored for times when food is not readily available. Artificial sweeteners have the same effect on insulin: sweet diet drinks will increase insulin and thus the storage of fat. In diet sodas though, no sugar is provided by the beverage, so the consumer stores away glucose already present in the blood. Now that glucose is not available for energy. Blood sugar takes a dive, the person likely feels lethargic, and then feelings of hunger kick in. The consumer eats more, and gains weight. The consumer may reach for another diet soda or even a candy bar to get that pick-me-up feeling.
No published study has demonstrated that drinking diet soda will cause a person to lose weight.
There are a few other bad actors at work too. Diet soda often contains sodium, which exacerbates thirst. Caffeine is often added to provide that sugar rush – you are trading a sugar high for a caffeine buzz. But the complications of caffeine consumption and addiction are well documented – fatigue due to adrenal exhaustion, insomnia, chronic anxiety, hormonal imbalance, etc.
Watch the full movie,
“Sweet Misery,” about
diet soda’s hidden secret.
Aspartame and Splenda
Perhaps most importantly, diet soda contains a synthetic sweetener, most likely aspartame or Splenda.
One 12 ounce diet soda contains about 180 mg of aspartame, or 15 mg of aspartame per ounce, which equals approximately 4 and a half packets of NutraSweet.
In 1991 the National Institutes of Health listed 167 possible side-effect symptoms of aspartame. It is in soda pop, over the counter medicines, chewing gum, breath strips and many more edible products. The FDA receives more complaints about aspartame than any other food additive. But it has never been banned. The reasons for that lay in a tangled web of politics and money woven throughout the history of aspartame approval.
At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we order pure aspartame with which to make antigens. Note on the far right of the label – “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.” (click image to enlarge)
Unfortunately, all the current attention on obesity has caused many people to think that diet sodas are a better alternative than regular soda. Even the William J. Clinton Foundation has recommended diet soda as an alternative in schools. Unfortunately, this is an uninformed approach, given the well-documented dangers of sugar substitutes.
For those of us who live in hot climates like Arizona, diet sodas may present a special danger if they have been exposed to hot temperatures, such as sitting outside the back door of a convenience store in summer. There is some evidence that storing diet soda in elevated temperatures promotes rapid deterioration of aspartame into poisonous methyl alcohol (methanol) as well as formic acid and a brain tumor agent called diketopiperazine (DKP). Methanol is better known as wood alcohol, a deadly poison. According to the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, when ingested, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde which is “known to cause cancer, accumulating slowly without detection in the body.”
Methanol is a deadly poison that can cause serious tissue damage. Some of the symptoms of methanol poisoning are headaches; numbness of the arms, hands, legs, or feet; dizziness; depression; blurred vision; nausea; and stomach pain. The body lacks the specific enzymes necessary to detoxify it. A 12 ounce aspartame-sweetener soft drink is said to have about 10 mg of methanol.
Dr. H. J. Roberts, a physician and renowned aspartame researcher, explains that when the amino acids in aspartame are consumed in their natural state in foods, they are digested and released into the bloodstream slowly, buffered and balanced by other amino acids. However, especially when aspartame is consumed in beverages, the body is suddenly flooded with phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which can cross into the brain unimpeded and cause significant disturbances. Dr. Richard Wurtman, Professor of Neuroendocrinology at MIT, notes that an adult drinking four to five aspartame-sweetened soft drinks a day is getting enough phenylalanine into the brain to disrupt neurotransmitter function, which can produce can produce depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, headaches, high blood pressure, increased appetite and possibly seizures.
Sandra Cabot, MD, author and international lecturer, explains it this way:
“When you ingest the toxic chemical aspartame, it is absorbed from the intestines and passes immediately to the liver where it is taken inside the liver via the liver filter. The liver then breaks down (metabolizes) aspartame to its toxic components-phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. This process requires a lot of energy from the liver making less energy available for fat burning and metabolism, which will result in fat storing and elevated blood sugar levels. Excess fat may build up inside the liver cells causing ‘fatty liver’ and when this starts to occur it is extremely difficult to lose weight. In my vast experience any time that you overload the liver you will increase the tendency to gain weight easily. … The Trocho Study in Barcelona (l998) showed that the formaldehyde converted from the free methyl alcohol accumulates in the cells and damages DNA with most toxicity in the liver but substantial toxicity in the adipose tissue (fat cells). … So as far as product liability is concerned, you have companies selling an excitoneurotoxic carcinogenic drug to the population as a sugarfree diet product knowing full well this government-approved artificial sweetener is actually causing the obesity it’s marketeers claim to be preventing. They also know that aspartame is addictive and that the methanol component is classified as a narcotic.”
Dr. Morando Soffritti, received the Irving J. Selikoff Award in April, 2007 for outstanding contributions to the identification of environmental and industrial carcinogens
Dr. Morando Soffritti and researchers at Italy’s Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences performed several studies on aspartame. One study was conducted for 36 months using 1,800 rats. It concluded that aspartame is a multipotential carcinogen, with effects evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw. Cancers produced included leukemia, lymphoma, kidney, and cranial peripheral nerves. This prodigious work was peer reviewed. Most recently, researchers gave aspartame to pregnant rats and to their offspring. Researchers found that after the dose was adjusted for the smaller body weights of the rats, there was a slightly increased risk of cancer among those rats which were given about 40 percent of what the FDA has deemed a maximum accepted daily dose of aspartame. And when life-span exposure to aspartame begins during fetal life, its carcinogenic effects are increased. 
These studies were done on rats, but suggest a danger to unborn babies and especially to children, including the newly identified risk of breast cancer as the child ages. Dr. Philip Landrigan, Chairman of Community and Environmental Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, says, “Exposures occurred at relatively low doses. If a 20 kg child drinks two cans of diet soda a day the child is bringing into his body a 400 mg of aspartame. Just two cans of drink we’re already exposing the child to a biologically significant dose. Parents of young children should think very, very carefully about giving drinks and other foods to their children that are sweetened with aspartame and for that matter other artificial sweeteners.”
With little fanfare, Ajinomoto, the Japanese company that makes aspartame, announced in 2010 the sweetener would now be called “AminoSweet.” The company said, “the name AminoSweet is appealing and memorable.”
As public awareness grew that aspartame is dangerous, a new artifical sweetener, Splenda, began to replace aspartame as the “sugar-free” additive of choice in soda pop.
Dr. James Bowen, researcher and biochemist, has reported:
“Splenda/sucralose is simply chlorinated sugar; a chlorocarbon. Common chlorocarbons include carbon tetrachloride, trichlorethelene and methylene chloride, all deadly. Chlorine is nature’s Doberman attack dog, a highly excitable, ferocious atomic element employed as a biocide in bleach, disinfectants, insecticide, WWI poison gas and hydrochloric acid. In test animals Splenda produced swollen livers, as do all chlorocarbon poisons, and also calcified the kidneys of test animals in toxicity studies. Chlorocarbon poisoning can cause cancer, birth defects, and immune system destruction.”
Can Diet Soda Cause Heart Attacks?
Research presented at the 2011 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference concluded there could negative consequences associated with consuming too many sugar substitutes.
“This study suggests that diet soda is not an optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, and may be associated with a greater risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, or vascular death than regular soda,” the researchers said. This is the first time diet soda has been officially linked to vascular events.
Some critics argued that since the participants voluntarily reported how much diet soda they consumed, the results did not come from a rigorously controlled setting.
“There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that diet soda uniquely causes increased risk of vascular events or stroke,” said Dr. Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association. Storey pointed out that this information comes from a research paper abstract presented at a conference, and was not in a study reviewed for publication by experts in the field. Also, the study authors did not control for weight gain or for family history of stroke.
The study did not say what exactly about diet soda may be responsible for heart disease. Enough associations lead one to suspect a causative association, but cause and effect are definitely tricky to prove. Some experts point to aspartame as being the problem. Dr. H. J. Roberts has said that aspartame causes an irregular heart rhythm and interacts with all cardiac medications. He says it damages the cardiac conduction system and can cause sudden death. He says aspartame also can be responsible for “numerous misdiagnoses include arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.”[26,27]
A 2007 study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation looked at more than 6,000 healthy people, who showed no signs of metabolic syndrome, and then followed up. After four years, 53 percent of people who drank an average of one or more soft drinks per day developed metabolic syndrome. Those who drank one or more diet soft drinks a day were at a 44 percent higher risk. Metabolic syndrome is often a forerunner of heart disease.
The American Beverage Association disputed the study’s results, saying that the study proves no link between soft drinks and increased risk of heart disease.
Benzene and Pesticides
Exposing soft drinks to heat can also raise levels of benzene. This chemical has been identified as a Class A carcinogenic by the Environmental Protection Agency causing both acute and chronic health effects. Its use as an additive in gasoline is now limited, but it is an important industrial solvent and precursor in the production of drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber, and dyes.
Many who served in the Gulf War drank diet sodas that had been exposed to hot temperatures in Kuwait and Iraq; questions have been raised whether soda pop played a role in the sickness called Gulf War Syndrome that plagued so many returning vets.
And in related news, there may be more chemicals in that aluminum can of soda than one would think. The sale of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo soft drinks have been banned in parts of India because the beverages contained pesticide residues more than 20 times the “acceptable” amounts.
Common sense tells you there is a problem with diet foods. Despite how much of them America has consumed in the last 15 years, obesity has become epidemic. Read the labels on so-called “health food” bars and you will find they too are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners. The belief that these bars and diet sodas are healthy for you demonstrates how clearly marketing hype dictates what people are willing to believe.
Teens Consume Twice as Much ‘Liquid Candy’ as Milk
Sodas represent a mixed bag of problems – the sugar, caffeine, acid, preservatives, food colors, empty calories. But let’s look a little more broadly at how they can undermine health. Researchers often suggest that soda use is indicative of an overall pattern of poor food choices. And that can show up in many different ways. One child many be diagnosed with AD/HD when she is actually suffering from severe nutritional imbalances that demand nutrient dense food. Another child may break his femur on the soccer field.
Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes, a bone-disease expert at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, said, “I’m particularly concerned about teenage girls. Most girls have inadequate calcium intakes, which makes them candidates for osteoporosis when they’re older and may increase their risk for broken bones today.”
Truth is, soda is bad news, no matter how you look at it. Consumer beware.
So, where does that leave parents who want to break their kids of the soda habit? With an easy alternative! Use club soda; it is inexpensive, effervescent and does not have the sugar of tonic water. Then add some fruit juice for taste – this is like making a fruit-flavored sparkling water. A member of the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine staff successfully switched her kids over years ago to club soda with freshly squeezed citrus – you can always find fresh citrus at the grocery store. When you use lemon or lime, if it tastes a bit too tart, add a few drops of stevia or xylitol to taste, to balance the tartness with a little sweetness. Stevia and xylitol are truly natural sweeteners that do not spike insulin levels like refined table sugar, and do not have the dangerous make-up of the synthetic sweeteners.
The press release from the University of Southampton can be found athttp://www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/news/2007/sep/07_99.shtml
The Southampton published study in its entirety can be found at
McCann, Barrett, Cooper, et al; Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial The Lancet DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61306-3
 Center for Science in the Public Interest, Liquid Candy
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 Eric Schlosser, The Guardian, September 6, 2007
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 Lars Lien, MD, MSc, Nanna Lien, PhD, et al; Consumption of Soft Drinks and Hyperactivity, Mental Distress, and Conduct Problems Among Adolescents in Oslo, Norway, American Journal of Public Health, October 2006, Vol 96, No. 10
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 Martin Hickman, Caution: Some soft drinks may seriously harm your health, The Independent, May 27, 2007
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 News Release. American Beverage Association Statement on Diabetes Care Paper. October 27, 2010
 Emine Saner, The new formula for H20, The Guardian, July 11, 2007
 Fowler, S.P. 65th Annual Scientific Sessions, American Diabetes Association, San Diego, June 10-14, 2005; Abstract 1058-P. Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, University of Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine, San Antonio.
 S.E. Swithers, T.L. Davidson. A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. February 2008, Volume 122, Number 1, doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.00.0.000
 Lim, Unhee; Subar, Amy. Consumption of Aspartame-Containing Beverages and Incidence of Hematopoietic and Brain Malignancies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. September 2006;15(9):1654–9
 Position statement from Sandra Cabot, MD, of Mission Possible, Australia, posted at http://www.dorway.com/missionpossiblemain2.html, Accessed July 2007
 Morando Soffritti, Fiorella Belpoggi, et all; First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 114, Number 3, March 2006 And, Morando Soffritti, Fiorella Belpoggi, et al; Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats , Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 9, September 2007
 James Bowen, M.D., The Lethal Science of Splenda, May 2005, accessed at http://www.wnho.net/splenda_chlorocarbon.htm
 Amy Rolph. A diet-soda stroke? Study says zero-calories equals risk. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. February 10, 2011
 Press Release. There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that diet soda uniquely causes increased risk of vascular events or stroke. American Beverage Association. February 9, 2011
 Roberts HJ. Reactions to aspartame containing products: 551 cases. J Appl Nutr. l988;40:86-94
 Roberts HJ. Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic. West Palm Beach, Sunshine Sentinel Press, 2001
 Dhingra R, Sullivan L et al. Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic syndrome on middle-aged adults in the community. Circulation. 2007;116:480-488
 Diet, sugary sodas alike linked to heart disease factors. CNN. July 24, 2007
 Press release. Liquid Candy. Center for Science in the Public Interest. October 21, 1998
These two foods get a boatload of press these days. But consumer beware: Many times reporters and “nutrition experts” repeat the same old mantra over and over. For years you heard eggs were bad, then the experts changed their mind. For years they said a high carbohydrate diet was good, then it was bad. And so on. Doesn’t anyone really know? Yes, but it is hard to cut through all the marketing hype.
Machete in hand, lets get down to what you need to know about red meat and salmon.
Salmon is supposedly chock-full of healthy omega-3s, and you can’t eat enough of it. Right?
Most of the salmon you get in restaurants is farmed because it is cheaper than wild caught. Since September 2004, U.S. supermarkets have been required to label salmon as farmed or wild. Many supermarkets carry just farmed salmon because the wild caught can cost $20 a pound or more.
What are you getting when eat farmed salmon?
- In 2003, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report demonstrating the dangers of higher levels of PCBs in farmed salmon compared to wild salmon. When farmed salmon samples from U.S. grocery stores were tested, the farmed salmon was found to contain 16 times the PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the levels found in other seafood. Other studies done in Canada, Ireland and Britain have produced similar findings. EWG warned that farmed salmon pose an increased risk for cancer.1 PCBs are persistent, cancer-causing chemicals that were banned in the United States in 1976. They end up in animal fat. Farmed salmon tend to have up to twice the fat of wild salmon.
- In 2004, it was reported that levels of persistent, organic contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins, and several chlorinated pesticides are significantly higher in farm-raised salmon than in wild Pacific salmon and that salmon raised on European farms have significantly greater toxic contaminant loads than those raised on North and South American farms.2 It was also reported that farm raised salmon contain significantly higher levels of PBDEs than wild salmon. PBDEs are flame-retardant additives used widely in electronics and furniture. PBDEs are endocrine disrupters, and are also suspected to play a role in cancer formation.3 We tend to store these toxins in our fatty tissues. Since most of us are getting fatter rather than leaner, we are accumulating more of these toxins all the time.
- In 2005, it was reported that health risks (based on a quantitative cancer risk assessment) associated with consumption of farmed salmon contaminated with PCBs, toxaphene, and dieldrin were higher than risks associated with exposure to the same contaminants in wild salmon.4
- In 2009, it was reported that consumption of farmed fish may provide a means of transmission of “mad cow disease” to humans because some farmed fish are fed byproducts from rendered cows, an unnatural source of food for fish. University of Kentucky neurologist Robert P. Friedland and colleagues called for government regulators to ban feeding cow meat or bone meal to fish until this common practice can be shown to be safe. 4a
Where does the chemical contamination come from? Some, like the PBDEs, have become ubiquitous in the environment. Others tend to be concentrated in the food fed to farmed fish.
Farmed fish are typically fed a diet of fish flakes made from corn, cereal grains, oil, ground up fish – and sometimes ground up cow parts – plus additives like red dye to give them a stronger orange color.
Farmed fish are raised in the watery equivalent of a feedlot; they call them aquafarms and there is much discussion about how aquafarming may be polluting the oceans and therefore the wild fish as well. What we do know is that the crowded conditions require farmed fish to be dosed with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Sulfa drugs and tetracycline used to prevent infectious disease epidemics are added to food pellet mixes.
In the wild, salmon absorb carotenoids from eating pink krill. In the aquafarm, their color comes from canthaxanthin, a synthetic pigment manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche.5
It is an unnatural diet which causes the farmed salmon’s omega-3 levels to drop way off. And here is a very important piece of information to take away from this discussion: farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats than wild fish.
Inflammation plays a big role in many of today’s chronic illnesses including arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, stroke, lupus and cancer.
When you have an injury or when germs get to you, the body responds with inflammation to sanitize and heal. Nature designed inflammation to be a valuable coping mechanism for those few occasions you would need it in life. Mankind was originally a hunter-gatherer society and he routinely ate lots of omega-3s which kept inflammation in check.
But today, we eat far too many omega-6s. How many salads did you eat in the last 20 years thinking you were doing a good thing? Chances are, the salad dressing was made with a vegetable oil and these oils are naturally high in omega-6s. So, too, are many fried foods and convenience foods. So our omega-6/omega-3 balance is way off. Most researchers agree that if you have been eating the Standard American Diet, you have an omega-6/omeg-3 ration of 20:1. The hunter-gatherers of long ago had something much closer to 2:1 or 1:1.
When your body is constantly irritated, there is a proliferation of white blood cells that eventually starts to attack organs and tissues. Inflammation takes on a life of its own and becomes a permanent condition. This type of chronic inflammation often has no outward symptoms that conventional medicine will detect for you. You may never know you have problem until one day you are diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or suffer a heart attack. But in the meantime your body looks around for something to help you – and it chooses cholesterol.
Inflammation at work inside your blood vessels is a bit like hitting a golf ball in a tile bathroom. Lots of nicks. The body says, “Quick, we need Band-Aids here, send out the nurse!” And the nurse arrives in the form of cholesterol to lay a soothing layer over those nicks. Now you have a situation where all those omega-6s you ate in your salmon and salad dressing are raising your cholesterol level. Too often, conventional medicine prescribes a statin drug to merely stifle the body’s ability to produce cholesterol. Better to look at why the body needs so much cholesterol and lessen the need.
Red meat is supposedly bad for you because it is full of saturated fat and “gives you cholesterol.” There are two very fundamental facts to keep in mind:
- Cattle, like all other ruminants, developed eating green leafy plants, mostly grass. They ate virtually no grain. Omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from grains. Grain-fed beef can have omega-6/omega-3 ratios that exceed 20:1. Grass-fed beef ratios are about 1:1.
- White saturated fat develops when cattle are fed grain.
Those who blamed beef for health problems overlooked the implications of feeding of grain to the animals we eat – red meat, fowl, and fish. Grain causes a dramatic reduction of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet. You could say saturated fat is a modern man-made creation. The much-reviled but naturally-occurring saturated fat found in red meat and eggs is what mankind has eaten for centuries. It has no strong links with disease, while industrially produced trans fats do.
Cholesterol levels are also wrongly blamed on naturally occurring saturated fats. Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids or arachidonic acid, like farm-raised salmon or commercially raised beef, irritate the lining of blood vessels. This triggers an inflammation response and the body sends white blood cells and other immune fighters to the scene.
As early as 1906, Upton Sinclair’s classic book The Jungle made many people realize the shameful way in which animals raised for human consumption meet the end of their lives. Some would say it hasn’t gotten much better.
In 2006, Michael Pollen gave us a first-hand account of a modern day feedlot and its impact on human health in his wonderful book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
“Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and the modern meat industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef calf’s allotted time on earth. What gets a steer from 80 to 1,100 pounds in 14 months is enormous quantities of corn, protein and fat supplements, and an arsenal of new drugs. … The feedlot is a city built upon America’s mountain of surplus corn – or rather, corn plus the various pharmaceuticals a ruminant must have if it is to tolerate corn. … Cows fed corn get fat quickly. Yet this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass. A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn fed beef. Modern day hunter-gathers who subsist on wild meat don’t have our rates of heart disease. In the same way ruminants are ill adapted to eating corn, humans in turn may be poorly adapted to eating ruminants that eat corn. … The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm there is no other kind. Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market. Of course it was the same industrial logic – protein is protein – that made feeding rendered cow parts back to cows seem like a sensible thing to do, until scientists figured out that this practice was spreading mad cow disease. … Compared to all the other things we feed cattle these days, corn seems positively wholesome. And yet it too violates the biological or evolutionary logic of bovine digestions. … Virtually all of the cows are sick. Between 15 and 30 percent of feedlot cows are found at slaughter to have abscessed livers; Dr. Mel told me that in some pens the figure runs as high as 70 percent. … Most of the antibiotics today end up in animals feed. … In this new man-made environment, new acid-resistant strains of E. coli have evolved. … The problem with these bugs is that they can shake off the acid bath in our stomachs – and then go on to kill us.”6
Pollen does a very artful job of connecting the dots that reveal how the health of these animals is inextricably linked to human health. A growing body of research suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn fed beef. As Pollen says, “In the same way ruminants have not evolved to eat grain, humans may not be well adapted to eating grain-fed animals.”
“Nutrition experts” blame the rise in heart disease on red meat because of saturated fat. But other cultures who ate meat from grass-fed cattle didn’t know what heart disease was. Red meat is not bad, it’s the grain-fed, commercial cattle with 20:1 ratios of omega-6s to omega-3s that are the problem.
A landmark study reported by Harvard researchers in 2010 [i] found that eating processed meat such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, is associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.
Processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives. “This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats,” the study’s authors wrote. Dietary sodium (salt) is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease. In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote atherosclerosis and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase risk of heart disease and diabetes
For the first time, the research establishment is clearly being told they need to study natural meats and adulterated meats as two different entities. You can’t paint ‘em all with the same brush of blame.
Additionally, conditions in big feedlots are also breeding grounds for E.coli and superbugs, especially in the resulting hamburger where a single animal infected with E. coli can contaminate tens of thousands of pounds of ground beef.
The hormones fed cattle for growth are also very suspect. It is thought children are entering puberty earlier than ever before because of all the hormones they consume from commercial cattle and chicken.
Corn fed, commercial beef also has lower levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). You might notice when you go into the health food store, CLA is something they sell you for weight loss. The meat of grass fed cattle contains CLA; the meat of grain-fed cattle does not. It is thought this is one of the many links in the obesity epidemic.
So…. Before the days of modern industry, meat and fish had abundant supplies of omega-3s. But these days, most of the available salmon and the grain fed beef have but a tiny amount of this important nutrient. The Essential Fatty Acids like omega 3 are sort of like Vitamin C – your body can’t make it so you must get it from what you eat. And without it, your risk of disease skyrockets.
If your health is important to you, think twice before you say that grass fed meat or wild salmon is too expensive. What is good health worth to you?
Analysis of PCBs in Farmed versus Wild Salmon, Environmental Working Group, July 30, 2003
2Hites, R. A.; Foran, J. A.; Carpenter, D. O.; Hamilton, M. C.; Knuth, B. A.; Schwager, S. J. Science 2004, 303, 226-229.
3 Ronald A. Hites, Foran, Schwager, et all, Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon, Environmental Science and Technology, August, 2004
4 Jeffery A. Foran, Carpenter, Hamilton, et all, Risk-Based Consumption Advice for Farmed Atlantic and Wild Pacific Salmon Contaminated with Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 113, May 2005
4a Robert P. Friedland, Robert B. Petersen, Richard Rubenstein; Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Aquaculture, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Volume 17, Number 2, June 2009, pages 277-279
5 George Mateljan Foundation, Is there any nutritional difference between wild-caught and farm-raised fish? Is one type better for me than the other?, http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=96
6 Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma-A Natural History of Four Meals, Penguin Press, 2006, pages 72-82
In October, 2008, General Mills announced plans to remove added monosodium glutamate, MSG, from all 80 of its Progresso soups. Its major competitor, Campbell Soups, began airing commercials promoting the absence of MSG from its soups. It’s a new battle in the soup wars, and it reflects on-going consumer concerns about this common flavor enhancer and preservative.
Critics, by the way, point out the soup companies are using “yeast extract” instead of MSG. And what’s found in yeast extract? MSG.
It’s tough for food manufacturers to give up MSG because it makes food taste sooooo good.
Cooks around the world remain dedicated to MSG, even though they may not know it by that name. As hydrolyzed soy protein or autolyzed yeast, it adds flavor to the canned chicken broth, to packs of onion soup mix, to cheese Goldfish crackers and low-fat yogurts. In regions of the world where meat and meaty flavors have been out of reach for most cooks, MSG has long filled the gap because meat and MSG work beautifully together. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the fallback rub for pork shoulder or flank steak is Goya Sazón: MSG and salt, cut with garlic, cumin and annatto. Accent, which is largely MSG, was introduced in 1947 and quickly became a staple for American home cooks.
If you have ever wondered what makes spicy tuna rolls so much tastier than plain California rolls, the MSG in it is likely why.
MSG is made by fermenting starch, corn, sugar beets, molasses, or sugar cane to free naturally occurring glutamate. Sodium salts of glutamate are then created that can be used to make foods more intensely flavorful. Glutamate itself is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many protein-rich foods, including cheese, milk, meat, walnuts, and mushrooms. Broccoli is naturally rich in MSG. So are mushrooms and parmesan cheese. This amino acid is also produced by the body and used in metabolism. MSG is also one of the 20 amino acids contained in our bodies. Without MSG, we would be very different creatures, or not exist at all.
But Mother Nature never reckoned that we would add so much processed free glutamic acid to our foods.
In the late 1960s, people began connecting their “Chinese restaurant headache” with having eaten food with MSG. The additive was blamed for problems ranging from brain lesions, Parkinson’s, headaches, flushing, and heart palpitations. In 1978, MSG was supposed to have been removed from baby food after the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Academy of Sciences expressed concerns.
An international research review in 1987 by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded MSG was safe. In 1995 the FDA issued a large-scale review by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the conclusion was that glutamates are not a health risk for the vast majority of consumers.
“There was simply no clinical evidence for any of (the fears),” said Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition at New York University.
Exciting Brain Cells to Death
But many do not agree. Many believe, and have non-industry sponsored studies to back it up, that MSG is a slow poison.
MSG is blamed for a range of serious neurological and physiological disorders. Studies have identified both MSG and aspartame as excitotoxins, substances that overstimulate the neurotransmitters to the point of cell damage.
Dr. Russell Blaylock, author and international expert on the subject of excitotoxins explains:
“Excitotoxins have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth and metastasis. In fact, one aspartame researcher noticed that, when cancer cells were exposed to aspartame, they became more mobile, and you see the same effect with MSG. When you increase the glutamate level, cancer just grows like wildfire, and then when you block glutamate, it dramatically slows the growth of the cancer.
“We discovered that outside of the brain, there are numerous glutamate receptors in all organs and tissues. The entire GI tract, from the esophagus to the colon, has numerous glutamate receptors. The entire electrical conducting system of a heart is replete with all sorts of glutamate receptors. The lungs, the ovaries, all the reproductive systems and sperm itself, adrenal glands, bones and even calcification are all controlled by glutamate receptors. They act and operate exactly like the glutamate receptors in the brain. So, when you’re consuming MSG, the level of glutamate in the blood can rise as high as 20-fold. You get very high glutamate levels in the blood after eating a meal containing MSG. You’re stimulating all of the glutamate receptors. That’s why some people get explosive diarrhea, because it stimulates the receptors in the esophagus and small bowel. Others may develop irritable bowel, or if they have irritable bowel, it makes it a lot worse. If they have reflux, it makes that a lot worse. The thing about the cardiac conduction system glutamate receptors is this may explain the rise in sudden cardiac death.
“(Baby food manufacturers) said they would (remove MSG), but they didn’t. What they did is take out pure MSG and substitute it with hydrolyzed protein and caseinate. If you look at most toddler foods, they all have caseinate hydrolyzed protein broth, a significant source of glutamate. We’re destroying the nervous systems of these babies.
“Soybeans, naturally, have one of the highest glutamate levels of any of the plant products. When you hydrolyze it, you release the glutamate, in the soy protein isolates. The glutamate levels are higher than a lot of what you’ll find in MSG products, yet the vegetarians are just eating it like it’s the healthiest thing in the world. There was a 25-year study done, which looked at people who consumed the most soy products, and they followed them for 25 years and did serial CT scans. They found out that the people who consumed the most soybean products had the greatest incidence of dementia and brain atrophy.”
Dr. Blaylock also understands how excitotoxins fuel chronic inflammation, the underlying mechanism of most chronic diseases:
“When you are eating a lot of glutamate, it makes pesticides more neurotoxic, it makes mercury more neurotoxic, so you are magnifying the toxicity of every environmental toxin by eating these foods.
“And this is what moms need to hear: early exposure alters the genetic activation of the inflammatory process. The glutamate is long gone, but it turned on a free-radical-generating process that lasts for a long period of time. A recent study showed that if you fed an animal MSG early in life for about six doses, when it reached adolescence, these animals were still generating high levels of free radicals in the walls of their arteries at an age equivalent in humans to ages twenty and twenty-four. This explains why we are seeing ‘adult’ diseases in young people.”
It has been suggested that the growing incidence of autism may be related to the processed free glutamic acid, MSG, found in vaccines. MSG is used in some vaccines as a stabilizer. Some vaccines include thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury. Both mercury and MSG are suspected of being causative factors in autism, and, they may be interactive. A 2000 study concluded that:
“In the absence of glutamate, neurons are unaffected by acute exposure to mercury, suggesting that neuronal dysfunction is secondary to disturbances in astrocytes (Brookes, 1992). Co-application of nontoxic concentrations of MeHg [methyl mercury] and glutamate leads to the typical appearance of neuronal lesions associated with excitotoxic stimulation (Matyja and Albrecht, 1993).”
Jack L. Samuels, President of the “Truth in Labeling Campaign,” is one of the advocates against MSG. He says it is as if MSG finds the weak link in one’s body:
“It appears that once people experience an adverse reaction from MSG, they are MSG-sensitive from that point forward. Furthermore, it appears that once people become MSG-sensitive, their tolerance for MSG becomes less and less over time. It is almost as if overexposure to MSG destroys some protective mechanism in the body. Clearly, as the level of MSG increases in our food supply, more and more people are becoming MSG sensitive.
“Glutamic acid is associated with the recent increases in neurodegenerative disease. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Scerosis (ALS), Multiple Sclerosis, and Huntington’s Disease. Research links MSG to migraine headaches, heart irregularities, seizures, asthma, sudden death of young athletes, ADD, ADHD, and more. There appears to be no question that MSG is the main contributor to the obesity epidemic, primarily due to the brain damage that MSG causes, and there is growing evidence that it is the probable cause for the diabetes epidemic, and the high incidence of autism. A recent study by He et al. also confirms that daily use of MSG will lead to weight gain.
“MSG, in my opinion, is the cause of the epidemic of irritable bowel syndrome, and before long, will be shown to be directly related to neurodegenerative diseases.”
As Mr. Samuels points out, the FDA seems hypocritical in regards to MSG. In one room, the FDA is approving glutamate blocking drugs, while down the hall, another arm of the same agency “is busy approving food ingredients that contain MSG, and disregarding the mislabeling of MSG on many products.”
Drugs to Block Glutamate versus Not Eating It
The glutamate blocking drug, Namenda, is actively being used to treat moderate to severe cases of Alzheimer’s Disease. Glutamate plays a key role in memory and learning, but excess glutamate can lead to the disruption of nerve cell communication or nerve cell death. So the drug attempts to block the brain’s reception of glutamate.
There is another glutamate blocking drug, Rilouzole (Rilutek), being used for ALS and Huntington’s Disease. A glutamate blocking drug will be introduced in the relatively near future for treatment of Schizophrenia. These drugs all come with side effects.
MSG is also blamed, in part, for the obesity epidemic. In 1969, John W. Olney, M.D. published a study in which he found that monosodium glutamate, given to mice, resulted in obesity and other neuroendocrine disorders due to lesions in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. In studies around the world, scientists create obese mice and rats to use in diet or diabetes test studies. They inject them subcutaneously (under the skin) with 4 mg of MSG per gram of body weight every other day from the first day they are born until they are two weeks old. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing rats to become obese. Want a fun Google exercise? Go to the National Library of Medicine at www.pubmed.com and type in the words ‘MSG Obese.’ Read a few of the 150 or so medical studies that appear.
|MSG shows up in:
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
Autolyzed Plant Protein
Vegetable Protein Extract
MSG is simply hiding in plain sight. It thrives in the industrial food world, where it is known affectionately to scientists as E621. According to USDA guidelines, “labeling is required when MSG is added as a direct ingredient.” But other glutamates – the hydrolyzed proteins, the autolyzed yeasts and the protein concentrates, which the USDA acknowledges are related to MSG – must be identified under their own names.
Alternatively, they may also be included under umbrella terms, like vegetable broth or chicken broth. Thus, these ingredients are now routinely found in products like canned tuna, canned soup (vegetable broth usually contains hydrolyzed soy protein), low-fat yogurts and ice creams, chips, and virtually everything ranch-flavored or cheese-flavored.
No large-scale clinical research has been done since the FDA’s 1995 review.
 Interview September 27, 2006, with Mike Adams of Natural News. Go to the source at www.BlaylockReport.com
 Aschner et al. Methylmercury alters glutamate transport in astrocytes. Neurochem Int. Aug-Sep, 2000; 37(2-3):199-206.
 Jack Samuels, MSG’s EFFECT ON NEUROLOGICAL FUNCTION, Paper presented at the Weston A. Price Annual Convention, San Francisco, California November 8, 2008
 Olney JW. Brain Lesions, Obesity, and Other Disturbances in Mice Treated With Monosodium Glutamate. Science, 1969, 164: 719-21.
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