NutraSweet Not So Sweet

The FDA has approved the use of 5 artificial sweeteners, but none is as controversial as the approval of aspartame, more commonly known as NutraSweet or Equal. NutraSweet is in all diet sodas, diet drinks (including diet juices and Crystal Light), and most diet foods. Equal is the sweetener in the blue packet.

There are countless books, articles, web sites, and documentaries on the reasons why aspartame should not be consumed. Some site medical studies while others base their claims on industry-related conspiracies. Either way, I certainly don’t want to be involved with this stuff!

Medical Studies
The strongest case against aspartame is the evidence linking it to brain tumors. There is overwhelming evidence that aspartame causes brain tumors in animals (from rats to monkeys), and many scientists believe it is linked to the growing number of brain tumors today.

There is additional evidence that these symptoms can be related to aspartame: headache, dizziness, change in mood, vomiting or nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, change in vision, diarrhea, seizures/convulsions, memory loss, and fatigue.

Along with these symptoms, links to aspartame are made for fibromyyalgia, spasms, shooting pains, numbness in your legs, cramps, tinnitus, joint pain, unexplainable depression, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, blurred vision, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and various cancers.

Industry Conspiracies
With very strong medical evidence indicating the dangers of aspartame, how the heck did it ever get approved by the FDA? Well, this gets long and complicated, so I’ll try to break it down as simply as possible.

Basically, what happened was, back in 1965, someone from the pharmaceutical company GD Searle was working on an ulcer drug when he spilled some on his hand and licked it off, discovering it was sweet.

In 1970, one of the first tests was conducted on aspartame. It was a 52 week study on 7 monkeys. Five of them had seizures and one died of cardiac arrest. Also in 1970, a study showed that oral intake of aspartic acid (an ingredient of aspartame) could cause brain tumors in mice. In 1971, Searle re-created the mice/brain tumor study arriving the same results themselves. Yet, knowing these results, in 1973 Searle applied to the FDA to use NutraSweet as a food-additive sweetener.

Of all the initial studies on the safety of aspartame, about half of them were funded by NutraSweet-related funds (soda companies, diet food companies, etc) and the other half were independently funded (medical researchers, universities, etc). One hundred percent of the industry-funded research attested to aspartame’s safety, whereas 92% of the independently funded research identified a problem. However, Searle only presented the favorable findings to the FDA and gained approval for the limited use of aspartame in dry foods in 1974.

Shortly after this, reports and studies surfaced that linked aspartame to brain tumors and petitions against aspartame were filed. The FDA hired an independent research group to review the Searle studies, but required Searle to pay for this group. So, here is an independent group that makes money by being hired to do studies – why would it be critical of a potential new customer?

The safety controversy continued and in 1977 the FDA recommended, to US attorney Samuel Skinner, that a grand jury investigate Searle for fraud and deletion, manipulation, & falsification of records. Suddenly, Samuel Skinner began employment discussions with Searle’s law firm.

The US justice department urged Samuel Skinner to proceed with the grand jury, pointing out that the statute of limitations would soon expire. Samuel Skinner withdrew from the Searle case, took a position with Searle’s law firm, and US assistant attorney William Conlon was assigned to the investigation. William Conlon let the statute of limitations expire on the case and 15 months later was also hired by Searle’s law firm.

The common denominator for all of this as money. Searle allegedly promised high paying jobs to FDA employees who approved aspartame. Eight of the key FDA decision makers in the approval process for aspartame ended up working for NutraSweet-using companies (soft drinks, etc).

In 1980, the FDA’s Public Board of Inquiry voted unanimously to reject the use of aspartame until further studies were conducted on its safety.

The day after Ronald Reagan was sworn into office (1981), he eliminated the power of the current FDA Commissioner and one month later, appointed a new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes. The fast action on Reagan’s part is assumed to be linked to the fact that Donald Rumsfeld was the president of GD Searle at the time.

In 1981, Searle re-applied for the approval of aspartame. Three of the five FDA scientists on the approval board advised against the approval of aspartame, but the new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, assigned one more panel member to the case, causing a 3-3 split on the decision. Then Arthur Hull Hayes himself overruled the Public Board of Inquiry and approved aspartame for use.

In 1983, the FDA approved the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages. Under charges of improprieties, Hayes left the FDA and was hired as a consultant for $1000 a day by Searle’s PR firm.

Further controversy ensued when Searle made a “business deal” with a member of the UK’s equivalent of the FDA. This individual single-handedly approved the use of aspartame in the UK, inciting debate, but the decision was not revoked. There were no studies done in the UK. Approval in the US and UK ok-ed the use of aspartame for the rest of the world.

And that’s the story, folks!

For more information, visit:
Breakfast: Microwavable breakfast wrap, from the frozen aisle, filled with tofu scramble, fakin bacon, and vegan cheese. And it doesn’t taste like cardboard, I swear!
Lunch: Cheese enchiladas at Anita’s New Mexico Style Mexican Restaurant
Dinner: Asian peanut-ginger noodles, ready-made from Trader Joe’s


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