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.