Reprinted with Permission
Originally printed in Townsend Letter for Doctor and Patients, January,
2000 (pp. 52-57)
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.”
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
• 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.”
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
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).
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 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.
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.”
1. Roberts HJ. The Aspartame Problem. Statement for Committee on Labor
and Human Resources, U.S. Senate Hearing on “NutraSweet”-Health
and Safety Concerns, November 3, 1987. 83-178, U.S. Government Printing
1988:466-467. 2. Roberts HJ. Reactions attributed to aspartame-containing
products: 551 cases. J Appl Nutr 1988; 40:85-94.
3. Roberts HJ. Aspartame (NutraSweet®): Is It Safe? Philadelphia, The
Charles Press, 1989.
4. Roberts HJ. Sweet’ner Dearest: Bittersweet Vignettes About Aspartame
(NutraSweet®). West Palm Beach, Sunshine Sentinel Press, 1992.
5. Roberts HJ. Aspartame and headache. Neurology 1995; 45:1631-1633.
6. Roberts HJ. Aspartame (NutraSweet®)-associated epilepsy. Clin Res
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13. Department of Health & Human Services: Summary of adverse reactions
attributed to aspartame. April 20, 1995.
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for Doctors 1993; February:201-202.
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26. Roberts HJ. Testimony: Analysis of Adverse Reactions to Monosodium
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