Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in both foods and beverages. It was discovered in 1965 by another chemist, James M. Schlatter.
It is a type of compound called a “methyl ester,” consisting of two amino acids: L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine.
Under very acidic conditions, such as are found in a healthy stomach, aspartame can be converted into the toxic metabolite methanol.
Aspartame was initially approved by the FDA in 1974, and was originally manufactured by G.D. Searle & Company. However, there was controversy about the sweetener from the beginning; serious questions were raised about the legitimacy of the tests that had been submitted to the FDA. In 1975, the FDA withdrew its approval of aspartame.
The studies Searle had conducted on aspartame were criticized by the acting FDA commissioner as misrepresenting the truth.
In fact, a 1976 report from an FDA task force found that Searle’s studies on aspartame were “poorly conceived, carelessly executed, or inaccurately analyzed or reported.”
In response to that report, the FDA asked the Justice Department to open a grand jury investigation into whether the data from the aspartame studies had been fabricated.
Samuel Skinner, then the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, stated that “[Searle was] concealing material facts and making false statements in reports of animal studies conducted to establish the safety of . . . the food additive aspartame.”
Unfortunately, the grand jury was never convened. Shortly after Skinner sent that letter, he left the Justice Department to join a law firm that represented Searle. Because one of the initial studies on aspartame found that it accelerated development of brain tumors, approval was withheld.
But in 1981, a new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes, finally granted approval for the sweetener. Hayes left the FDA one year later to take a job as a consultant for — you guessed it — Searle’s public relations agency.
Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is often blended with other artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium or saccharin to make it taste more like sugar.
When aspartame is exposed to heat similar to human body temperature or higher, it can convert into methanol and formaldehyde. Needless to say, there is no reason to ingest anything that metabolizes into those toxic substances.
I tell my patients to avoid all products that contain aspartame.
Posts by David Brownstein, M.D.
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