The Inappropriate and Unsubstantiated Alarm Over Aspartame - by David Squillacote, MD
The Inappropriate and Unsubstantiated Alarm Over Aspartame
David Squillacote, MD
Senior Medical Advisor, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
January 12, 1999
In the 1960's, before the advent of satellite communications, gold
workers in the interior of South America knew the closing price of gold on
the London market within an hour of the closing. The final leg of the
communication was over jungle drums. Before the Internet, information moved
through the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) community in a similarly informal, but
high fidelity, fashion. Now, within minutes of a breaking story or rumor,
the first question appears on the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF)
Internet forum. Such is the case with the recent alarm over aspartame
(NutraSweet and similar dietary sweetening agents).
In a recent article by Nancy Markle, allegedly based on talks at the
"World Environmental Conference", wild and inaccurate information
about aspartame is being spread. I have no problem with information
dissemination, even when it is wrong, but Ms. Markle has crossed the line.
The MSF has asked me to look into the allegations raised and report on them.
||There is no connection between the
MSF and Ms. Markle. The MSF has no knowledge of Ms. Markle's
professional credentials (none are cited), and a MEDLINE search
shows no contributions to the world medical literature by her.
||The MSF has/had no connection with
the "World Environmental Conference".
||Neither the MSF nor myself have any
connection with Monsanto (producer of NutraSweet). We do not support
any of the inflammatory allegations about NutraSweet made at this
conference, but neither do we in any way formally endorse or condemn
I ran a number of MEDLINE searches on aspartame.
||There are 377 citations in the world
medical literature (all languages) from 1966-1998.
||There is no information whatsoever
about deleterious effects of aspartame on MS, systemic lupus
erythematosis (SLE or lupus), or fibromyalgia.
||There is no evidence that aspartame
in any way causes, provokes, mimics or worsens MS.
||There is no evidence of any
||Repeated studies in peer reviewed
journals show no adverse effects of aspartame on seizures (rats,
children, adults), weight gain, body temperature,
brain/intestinal/liver hormones or enzymes, brain tumors, cancer,
birth defects (rats and humans), Parkinson's disease, allergic
responses, blood pressure, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, etc.
||It has not been shown to be dangerous
to diabetics in any way.
||One small study (which has not been
repeated) did find some worsening of depression when depressed
patients took large doses of aspartame.
||Several small reports have appeared
showing that there may be a subset of migraine patients who worsen
with aspartame. Other studies show no connection in patients who
have claimed to have aspartame-related headaches.
Ms. Markle's claims regarding the metabolism of aspartame
are wildly inaccurate. Her understanding of pharmacology and metabolism is
||Aspartame does cause the production
of small amounts of methanol, but no more than normal consumption of
fruits and vegetables.
||There are about 200 mg of aspartame
in 12 ounces of most diet drinks. Even with greater than 2000 mg of
aspartame, there is no change in the levels of methanol in normal
adults. Normal volunteers have taken 600 mg/hour of aspartame for 8
hours without significant increases in serum methanol. Normal men
have taken 10,000 mg of aspartame without any side effects.
||Infants who have received
equivalently enormous doses of aspartame show no increase in serum
||Methanol itself is not the problem in
"methanol poisoning". It is the generation of formic acid
when the methanol is very high that causes the dangerous acidosis
and the blindness. Normal volunteers have taken 14,000 mg of
aspartame. Even though their methanol levels rose, the formic acid
did not. The methanol levels returned to normal within 8 hours.
||When aspartame-containing beverages
are left at high storage temperatures, the aspartame can degrade and
form small amounts of methanol.
||Diketopiperazine (DKP) is another
breakdown product of aspartame. It has not been show to be
carcinogenic (causes cancers).
||There is no connection between
"Desert Storm Syndrome" and aspartame.
Ms. Markle cites the work of Dr. H.J. Roberts. I do not
know if she is citing Dr. Roberts with or without his knowledge. Dr. Roberts
is apparently an Australian physician who has 77 citations in MEDLINE. He is
a prodigious letter writer and most of his citations are letters to the
editors. He has published a number of case reviews in second and third tier
journals, and in addition has produced a few articles on clotting problems
and diabetic complications. He has produced no original research that I can
find on aspartame.
In summary, this series of allegations by MS. Markle are
almost totally without foundation. They are rabidly inaccurate and
scandalously misinformative. I have found no basis for alarm about
aspartame, but would recommend (based on one study) those patients who are
being treated for depression let their physicians know that they are using
aspartame. Patients who have a documented, evaluated adverse reaction to
aspartame should avoid its use. There is no connection between the Multiple
Sclerosis Foundation and Ms. Markle or her writings.
Reproduced, with kind permission, from www.aspartame.net.
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