Fake sweeteners and their sour effects

The Winnipeg Free Press

Saturday, February 25, 2006, p. a15

Bad news for diet soda fans. A recent study, published last year by Italy’s Ramazzini Foundation, has concluded the worst:

“Our study shows that APM (aspartame) is a multipotential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw, much less than the current ADI [acceptable daily intake] for humans in Europe (40 mg/kg body weight) and in the United States (50 mg/kg bw).”

The Ramazzini Foundation study claims APM causes brain tumors in rats, affirming that artificial sweetener — commonly known as Equal or NutraSweet — deserves a spot alongside such known cancer-causing sugar substitutes as saccharin (banned in Canada, but still around in the U.S.) and cyclamate (banned in the U.S., but still around in Canada). In Mexico, food and drink containing APM comes with ominous warning labelling; in New Mexico, Democratic State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino has introduced a bill that would see the stuff banned.

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, would have us believe APM is safe. But it’s well known that the methyl esters in APM break down into free methanol, and subsequently formaldehyde, at temperatures above 30C.

During the 1991 Gulf War, soft drink manufacturers sent huge quantities of diet soda, which sat on pallets in the blazing Saudi sun before they were cooled. The latest theory on so-called Gulf War Syndrome is that the soldiers — guzzling cola laced with a toxic triple-whammy of methanol, formaldehyde and diketopiperazine — are suffering the after-effects of aspartame poisoning.

What’s remarkable about APM is how it arrived. In 1965, scientist Jim Schlatter of the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle was working on an anti-ulcer drug when he licked his finger and discovered a sweet taste. By 1974, APM was tentatively approved for public use, but accusations of falsified studies and unanswered questions about brain tumours in rats caused the FDA in 1975 to postpone its approval.

In 1977, Donald Rumsfeld, White House chief of staff and secretary of defence during the Ford administration, was hired as the president of G.D. Searle. Patty Wool-Allott, a former Searle salesperson, testified to a 1987 Senate committee that in 1981 Rumsfeld circulated a memo to his sales staff that he would “call in all his markers” to get FDA approval by the end of the year. Indeed, one of the first acts of the newly inaugurated president, Ronald Reagan, was to suspend, via executive order, the authority of FDA commissioner Jere E. Goyan, later replaced by Arthur Hull Hayes. Hayes’s first major decision was to approve APM for use in dry goods; his last major decision was to approve it for use in carbonated beverages, after which he went to work for Burson-Marsteller, Searle’s public relations firm, as a “consultant” at $1,000 a day.

Many consumers have vague notions of APM’s dangers and have switched to other forms of artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, marketed under the brand name Splenda. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a Chicago-area physician who operates a large health-awareness website (www.mercola.com) filled with aspartame warnings, cautions there’s nothing splendid about Splenda.

“Sucralose,” he writes, “is basically chlorinated table sugar and as such, may have many of the risks of chlorine…”

As an alternative, Mercola suggests the natural herbal sweetener stevia, but I’ll stick with raw sugar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup. Xylitol, another natural sweetener derived from plants, has a loyal following also, but for diabetics Mercola advises avoiding sweets altogether and dieting on meat and vegetables.

Closer to home, John Linnell, who runs the Aspartame Poisoning Information Canada website (www.aspartame.ca) out of his Toronto home, remembers the day in 1991 when he walked into a Loblaws supermarket and emerged with a case of Diet Key Lime Cola. “In 23 days I had nipples the size of a nursing mother,” he said to me when I reached him via phone. “I had just bought a pair of size 11 shoes, and 23 days later I needed a size 13.” Memory blanks, dizzy spells, and pains in his legs plagued him until 1995, when he received an e-mail about aspartame poisoning. He decided to abstain from diet soda.

“After three days, the memory blanks, dizzy spells disappeared. And at the end of the week most of the pain was out of my legs.”

In 2000, Linnell ate a piece of pre-packaged lemon pound cake, and his symptoms returned. His wife, aware of his sensitivity, ensured him that aspartame wasn’t among the ingredients. But when Linnell contacted the manufacturer, he discovered that in one of the cake’s ingredients, the lemon flavouring, aspartame was indeed present.

Linnell, who from 1991 to 1991 was drinking diet beverages at the rate of about a litre per day, admits what many have said about diet drinks: They are a hard habit to break. “Methanol,” he says, “is highly addictive.”

Full text, Ramazzini report: http://tinyurl.com/8hxty

Category: MiscellaneousUniform subject(s): Laws and regulations

Length: Medium, 660 words © 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

Franklin: The enlightened American



Shortly before the new year, I attended my first public auction, where my winning bid of $15 made me the owner of a collection of old books, the contents of which were unknown to me at bidding. Among the gems in my new collection was a 50-volume set of Harvard Classics, the first book of which was the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, whose 300th birthday on Jan. 6 was in tandem with my first efforts toward a hopeless resolution to read the entire 50 volumes before year’s end.

Even had Franklin not invented bifocals, swim fins, the Franklin stove and the lightning rod; even had he not paved and lit Philadelphia’s streets and founded that city’s public library, university and fire department; even if he hadn’t signed the Declaration of Independence, he would have been remembered as a master of English prose, as an anecdote from 1755, in which he warns an overconfident British general of the dangers on the road through Iroquois country, demonstrates. The heedless general, however, dismissed Franklin’s advice:

“These savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the king’s regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible that they should make any impression,” Franklin quotes the general as saying.

“I was conscious of an impropriety in my disputing with a military man in matters of his profession, and said no more.”

Franklin’s assessment proving correct — over 700 of the general’s 1,100 men were killed in a forest ambush — he later opined: “This whole transaction gave us Americans the first suspicion that our exalted ideas of the prowess of British regulars had not been well founded.”

For those who, like myself, lack a keen interest in early American history, Franklin’s memoirs can be construed as the ultimate self-help reader. Apprenticed to his brother, a Boston printer, at age 12, Franklin at 17 ran away broke to Philadelphia to become a man of his own making. There he found work with one of the city’s two printers, both of whom were, in Franklin’s estimation, “poorly qualified for their business.” In the American spirit, Franklin resolved to go into business on his own.

“Reading was the only amusement I allow’d myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu’d as indefatigable as it was necessary.”

His 13-step program for self-improvement came out of his identifying 13 cardinal virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. Attached to each was a short precept expressly defining the meaning. Silence, for example, was appended with the precept, “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” Or tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.” (These examples have been particularly beneficial to me.) Franklin then drew a table with the 13 virtues running down and the seven days of the week running across. Focusing upon one virtue at a time — Week 1 would be temperance — he would review his conduct at the end of each day and mark with a black dot “every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.”

Week 2 would focus upon silence, and so forth, so that he would cover all the 13 virtues thrice a year, eventually clearing his daily record of any black spots.

Initiated into the Freemasons at 25, he became Grand Master of Pennsylvania before 30, and later enjoyed the bacchanalian goings-on at Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club headquarters. Franklin is also known to have sired a number of illegitimate children. An anecdote from his autobiography gives a glimpse of his caddish side. Visiting with the wife of a friend who was indebted to him, he reminisces, “I grew fond of her company, and, being at the time under no religious restraint, and presuming upon my importance to her, I attempted familiarities (another erratum) which she repuls’d with a proper resentment, and acquainted him with my behaviour. This made a breach between us; and… he let me know he thought I had cancell’d all obligations he had been under to me.” Then there is the question of the human skeletons found beneath his London home in 1998, dated to the years he was living there. (The prevailing theory now is that they were the byproducts of experiments by his flatmate, surgeon William Hewson.)

It should not surprise us that one so individually accomplished would have subscribed to a spirituality of the self.

By continually improving his own public standing, Franklin was able to affect positively the lives of many — even three centuries beyond his birth.