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HEALTH:   The Bitter Truth About Aspartame
By Gailon Totheroh   Science & Medical Reporter  February 13, 2002

The controversial sweetener called aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, has become the subject of a decades-long safety controversy. - The American public's long love affair with sweets has not been good for our health. From obesity to diabetes, sugar has left its mark. In response, Americans came up with artificial sweeteners without all the calories, and a bitter diet of public health safety battles then ensued.

The controversial sweetener called aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, has become the subject of a decades-long safety controversy. It is a war that pits consumer groups and scientists against the food industry and their experts.

The fuel of the aspartame controversy has been the thousands of consumers complaining of mild to serious health problems they attribute to the artificial sweetener.

One of them is Mary Stoddard. She suffered from suicidal depression, a painful blood disease, nerve damage, and a traumatized daughter. "After many months of migraine headaches, heart attack symptoms, she finally was carried in from a school field trip after a grand mal seizure," Stoddard said.

CBN News contacted two major industry groups which advocate aspartame's safety. The International Food Information Council and the Calorie Control Council were unable to find an available expert by our deadline.

They, along with the NutraSweet Company, the major producer of the sweetener, do provide their side of the story on the Internet.

For over 15 years, Stoddard has been fighting aspartame with her Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, asking dozens of government and elected officials to listen, "To listen seriously to what we have to say and the tens of thousands of reports we have in our files," she explained.

While the government may not be listening, some companies appear to the getting the message. [image of Diet Rite soda (from makers of Royal Crown sodas) can with "no aspartame" label]

Soddard says everyone should listen to the brain problems her group has logged: Headaches, seizures, hallucinations, ringing in the ears, memory problems, aggravation of brain diseases like multiple sclerosis and even brain tumors have been reported.

The NutraSweet Company calls those who attack aspartame alarmists using "scare tactics" that have "distorted" public perception.

But whose side is science on?

The industry generally claims over 200 research articles supporting the safety of aspartame. In other words, their research claims it is safe to consume aspartame at will.

Noted psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Walton analyzed the relevant research articles and had a rather different story to tell. "What I found was 100 percent of the industry-sponsored research attested to the safety of the product whereas 92 percent of the studies that had independent funding identified some type of problem," he explained.

Walton's chart of industry-funded research shows 74 articles, and every single one supports safety, while other apparently more objective researchers found adverse reactions in 85 studies. To some, this sounds like corporate tampering with science to deceive the public.

"We need a better process with regards to medical research, that people doing the research should not have a vested interest in the outcome of that research. Unfortunately, with NutraSweet we do have that situation," Walton said.

Walton's analysis finds support from Dr. Woodrow Monte of Arizona State University. Monte was wary of aspartame from the beginning because it contains a toxic alcohol also known as wood alcohol or methanol.

"This never, never, ever should have been approved," Monte said. "It has done tremendous damage to the population and is doing more damage. I am one hundred percent behind stopping it from being consumed,

especially by women that are pregnant and children. Or anyone really. There's nothing good about it, absolutely positively nothing good about NutraSweet."

But industry defenders correctly state that fruits also contain this same alcohol, and fruit is safe.

Walton explained why he disagrees. "In fruit you have the antidote along with it. And also the methanol component is bound to something called pectin, in fruit. We humans don't

have the enzyme to split methanol off from pectin. So, in fruit it's perfectly harmless, but that's not the case in aspartame," he said.

Yet groups from the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association say there is no problem consuming even large quantities.

Walton compares the sweetener to how the medical field used to treat tobacco. "Physicians would indeed urge patients to smoke, so it took quite a long time for there to be, first, medical awareness, then public awareness of the hazards of smoking," he said.
"I think we're in an analogous situation with aspartame."

For consumers, there are a couple of straightforward questions to consider: Who is the most credible on the safety issue? If unsafe, how unsafe? And what are the alternatives? How good are they? All these questions may require a lot more personal thought and investigation, even if the truth is hard to swallow.
Today CBN is a multifaceted institution that comprises several national and international  broadcasting entities, a 24-hour telephone prayer line, and a hotel and conference center. Chief among CBN's broadcasting components is The 700 Club, a daily television program featuring Pat Robertson. On the air continuously since 1966, The 700 Club is one of the longest-running  programs in broadcast history. The show's news/magazine format presents a lively mix of  information, interviews, and inspiration to an average daily audience of more than 1,000,000 viewers.

An international edition of The 700 Club and other CBN television and radio programs air in more  than 90 countries in 46 languages from Chile to Iceland and from the West Indies to the Far East.

Over the years, CBN viewers have come to recognize reporter Gailon Totheroh as a valuable authority on current health and science issues. Among his most recent stories were his in-depth reports on cancer and arthritis; each multi-part series focused on prevention, nutrition, and alternative treatments.

                  He has also done several investigative reports on such controversial medical and moral issues as the development of "designer" embryos and the use of such excitotoxins as MSG and aspartame.

                  Before working for CBN News, Totheroh served in various areas throughout the Christian Broadcasting Network. As a graduate student, he was hired by CBN's human resources department in 1984. He later worked as a specialist in the media and public relations departments  for four years. In 1988, he joined the news department as a field producer, and shortly thereafter was promoted to reporter. His emphasis on science and medicine earned him the official title of medical reporter in 1996. His work has earned him
CBN's President's Award for Excellence in 1990 and 1997.

                  When he arrived at CBN, Totheroh brought experience in a variety of fields, including business management, education, and journalism. While living in Phoenix, Arizona, he worked as an employment manager for Manpower Services, a researcher for The Trilateral Observer, an employment specialist for Coca-Cola, and an apartment manager for the Royal Suites Hotels. He also obtained his teacher certification in 1981, and traveled to the Soviet Union for a study tour.

                  A native of Arizona, Totheroh earned an A.A. in chemistry from Phoenix College in 1972 and a B.A. in German from the University of Arizona two years later. In 1988, he earned an M.A. in Public Affairs Journalism from Regent University.

                  According to Totheroh, whose favorite scriptures include Psalm 19 and Revelation 21:1-4, his  greatest asset as a journalist is "the sovereign and loving Lord who has given me the support of a wonderful wife and great children."

Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Pilot Hotline [1987-2001]
Mary Nash Stoddard, Founder & President
P.O. Box2001 Dallas, TX 75034 .
Toxicology Sourcebook: "Deadly Deception Story of Aspartame"
Mary Nash Stoddard, author [Odenwald Press 1998]

Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, "Aspartame: Methanol, and the Public Health,"
Journal of Applied Nutrition, Volume 36, No. 1, pages 42-54, 1984.
(62 references)   Professsor of Food Science
Director of the Food Science and Nutrition Laboratory
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287
6411 South River Drive #61 Tempe, Arizona 85283-3337
The methanol from 2 L of diet soda, 5.6 12-oz cans, 20 mg/can, is 112 mg, 10% of the aspartame.  The EPA limit for water is 7.8 mg daily for methanol (wood alcohol), a deadly cumulative poison. Many users drink 1-2 L daily. The reported symptoms are entirely consistent with chronic methanol toxicity. (Fresh orange juice has 34 mg/L, but, like all juices, has 16 times more ethanol, which strongly protects against methanol.)

Ralph G. Walton, MD, Prof. of Clinical Psychology, Northeastern Ohio
Universities, College of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry, Youngstown,
OH 44501, Chairman, The Center for Behavioral Medicine,
Northside Medical Center, 500 Gypsy Lane, P.O. Box 240 Youngstown,
OH 44501 330-740-3621

Monte's prescient warning was published sixteen years ago. Many symptoms of methanol toxicity are present in the many case reports. One would hope that all experts involved would focus on identifying all vulnerable populations and the exact toxic biochemistry, and,
of course, act to eliminate aspartame, but, sadly enough, entrenched financial interests, just as in the case of tobacco, lead to corruption of the scientific process, as Walton elucidates in this 66-page report:

Walton found 166 separate published studies in the peer reviewed medical literature, which had relevance for questions of human safety. The 74 studies funded by industry all (100%) attested to aspartame's safety, whereas of the 92 non-industry funded studies, 84 (91%) identified a problem. Six of the seven non-industry funded studies that were favorable to aspartame safety were from the FDA, which has a public record that shows a strong pro-industry bias.

Moreover, 33 pro-aspartame studies were, with slight changes, published repeatedly in different journals from 2 to 6 times each. Walton comments, "Virtually all journals require that an affidavit be signed by all authors to the effect that neither the manuscript nor the data it contains have been previously published or concurrently submitted elsewhere for publication. Violation of this policy may have a detrimental impact on scientific progress and ethics."

Ann Pharmacother 2001 Jun;35(6):702-6
Relief of fibromyalgia symptoms following
discontinuation of dietary excitotoxins.
Smith JD, Terpening CM, Schmidt SO, Gums JG.
Malcolm Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Gainesville, FL, USA.