Transcript of Aspartame Lecture
UT Southwestern Medical School
[Continuing Education Series]
January 23, 1997 - 12:00 -1:00 PM - Faculty Club
given by Mary Stoddard
Dr. Alan Stewart [Presenter]: Our Speaker today is Mary Stoddard. She is not a physician, but she has an awful lot of good information to give us on the topic of Aspartame. She is Founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, and has spoken rather extensively. She has been a guest on a variety of radio and television news and talk shows. And, I understand she is heading from here to do a 60-Minutes interview in Washington D.C., so we seem to have a "celebrity" among us. She has a wealth of information, as it relates to Aspartame [aka NutraSweet/Equal], to share with you.
Mary Nash Stoddard:
Thank you, Dr. Stewart. Aspartame is the topic we are here to discuss today. What is it? What is it in? And, why should we care? As Founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, I think we should care. Let me tell you a little bit of my story and how I got involved. My youngest child began to use the sweetener in a drink called, Crystal Light. It came in the mail as sample packets to mix with water. She began to develop headaches (migraines), then she developed heart attack like symptoms. I took her to a heart specialist. Finally, they carried her in from a school field trip after she had suffered a grand mal seizure. That certainly got my attention. I did not know what the problem might be, but we went to a number of specialists in search for the answers. In our search, we discovered Aspartame as a possible cause. When I eliminated that from her diet, she got well. That was in 1985. So far, no more grand mal seizures. No more migraines. And, certainly no more heart attack symptoms. This was extremely unusual for a sixteen year old. I learned the cause of her problems and took her off of it (Aspartame).
When I decided to form an organization to study the issue and collect data, I was invited to give testimony about our findings at the third Senate Hearing on the Safety of Aspartame, November 3, 1987. While there, I met with others who had experienced similarly severe health problems.
Aspartame is the generic name for the sweetener commonly known as Equal and
NutraSweet. It's also known as Canderel, Bienvia, NatraSweet, Spoonfuls, Miwon and various other names in other parts of the world. The substance was discovered by a
G.D. Searle scientist, looking for a drug for peptic ulcers. It was first approved by the FDA in 1974, but that approval was rescinded because of scientist's and other's serious concerns about the brain tumor issue. The lab animals in the study, done by the drug company and submitted to the FDA for approval of the substance, developed brain tumors. They developed pancreatic tumors. They developed mammary (breast) tumors. And, they developed uterine tumors. So, the approval was rescinded at that time and it did not go onto the market for general use.
In 1981, Administrations changed. A new FDA Director brought in by President Reagan, approved Aspartame as a food additive, over vigorous objections from the FDA's own scientists and toxicologists. It was approved for use as a food additive and table top sweetener, only after Director, Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., cast a tie-breaking vote. In July of 1983, it was approved for use in aqueous solution (soft drink formulas). Even though the National Soft Drink Association presented strong dissent to Congress, it was widely distributed in sugar free (diet) soft drinks by 1984. Following that second controversial approval, the FDA Director quit his office and went to work for the NutraSweet PR firm, Burson and
Marsteller, for a thousand dollars a day. Now, I have to tell you that may not be a "legal" problem, but it most certainly is an "ethical" one.
Monsanto is the parent company of NutraSweet, as of 1985. I am told Monsanto stockholders vehemently objected to this buyout of
G.D. Searle because of the legal liabilities associated with the company's products. But, our battle is not with Monsanto. Our consumer organization, is asking the FDA to recall and retest this substance as a drug, which is what it was discovered as in the first place. We want them to look at this after a number of years have gone by and the safety issues continue to remain unresolved today.
A.C.S.N. has collected over 10,000 reports of side effects and adverse reactions, many of them primary brain tumors - astrocytomas and
glioblastomas, rare tumors that the lab animals developed in the original tests. We have lots of medical records in our files and even some autopsies. Concerned consumers have sent us their medical records. The primary brain tumors that we are seeing develop in heavy users of Aspartame can be deadly. Some people routinely consume six to eight diet sodas a day and more. In our surveys we find that is not at all uncommon.
Individuals are reporting: brain tumors, seizure disorders such as Epilepsy. They are reporting Chronic Fatigue,
Fibromyalgia, Anxiety/Panic Disorders, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, ALS, Alzheimer's, Mental Disorders, Systemic Lupus,
Tachycardias/Arrhythmias, Eye/Vision problems, Migraines, Numbness, Muscle and Joint pain, Multiple Sclerosis sym., etc.
Aspartame is an extremely complex molecule. It is: 50% Phenylalanine, which the head of Brain Science at MIT, Dr. Richard Wurtman says lowers the seizure threshold. It has definitely lowered the seizure threshold in a number of airline pilots I work with each day. We've established an International Pilot's Hotline for reporting of adverse reactions on the part of pilots, after a request for help from F-16 pilot, Major Michael
Collings. We met in Washington D.C. when we were both there to testify at the Senate Hearing in 1987. [And, later when we were both flown in to Washington by Thames Television in London, to be interviewed.] Major Collings was there to testify about his grand mal seizure on the flight line. In a private conversation with me, he said, "Mary, why are you doing this?" And, I answered, "I only want to warn other parents about this danger to children." Everywhere I turned... the FDA, when I called them, said, "no, it couldn't be a problem for anyone. Let your child keep using it." I found the NutraSweet hotline. Their #800. When I called it they said, "No, it isn't a problem. Let your child keep using it." If I had done what the FDA and the NutraSweet spokespersons had told me to do, my child would be (twelve years later) a full-blown epileptic on anti-seizure medication, which she has never had and doesn't need. We are all for medications whenever necessary for good health, but we are against unnecessarily medicating and not searching for the root cause for the condition. Major Collings then said, "Do it to help Pilots, too. We are losing our medical certification to fly, plus our jobs, our marriages, and in some cases, our lives." He went on to tell me about how he had turned down an invitation to join the most elite group in flying - The Thunderbirds - on three different occasions, because although he couldn't tell anyone, he felt unable to fly "wingtip to wingtip" with them, due to his unstable physical condition.
So, 50% of the molecule is Phenylalanine. 40% is Aspartic Acid, which caused holes in the brains of the laboratory animals. You may have seen or heard some of the publicity connected with Dr. John Olney's study in the November '96 Journal of Neuropathy and Experimental Neuropathology. Olney authored the article, which detailed his theory regarding the cause of a phenomenal 10% rise in the incidence of primary brain tumors in the population, since the advent of Aspartame in the American diet in the early 1980s. Many of these, are sixty five and older. We don't know exactly why. One reason could be that they are developing diabetes later in life, and put on the sweetener at that time. They are taking Metamucil, which has Aspartame, and Alka Seltzer Plus, Tums, and using Equal in their coffee and tea. Dr. Jeffrey
Bada, researcher at the University of California at San Diego, writes that when Aspartame is heated above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it breaks down into Methanol. Ten percent Methanol by weight. It then breaks down into Formaldehyde (embalming fluid), Formic Acid (ant sting venom) and Diketopiperazine
(DKP). All highly toxic - but, the DKP may just be the most problematic of all, because it caused brain tumors in the lab tests. He is also concerned about
sterio-isomer effects. And, Dr. Olney states it is nitrosated in the digestive process. Thus creating a potentially carcinogenic condition. So, the 40% Aspartic Acid is probably the least dangerous of the components, and yet, it caused "silent" lesions in the brains of the lab animals. It also changed the DNA, because the third generation of pups were born morbidly obese and sexually dysfunctional.
Most people are using it in an attempt to lose weight. Ironically, we have studies to show that it can sabotage a conscientious weight loss program. One of my good friends has been written up in the fitness journals. As a Bench Blast Aerobics Instructor, she started drinking diet drinks to replace meals. She had it in lieu of lunch, for example, and she developed a condition which her doctor diagnosed as Graves Disease, a hyperthyroid condition. In the hospital she said, "I don't want to have my thyroid irradiated just yet." Against her doctor's wishes, she checked herself out and made an appointment to see a Nutritionist. Together they evaluated what she had been eating and drinking and what had changed drastically in her diet. On the advice of her Nutritionist, she eliminated Aspartame from her diet and got well. No more Graves Disease. Now, this may be pure coincidence and anecdotal, as are many other cases in our files, but I have to believe there is a strong connection.
My purpose in being here today, is to ask you, as Physicians in clinical practice, to consider Aspartame as a possible cause of any medical condition if the patient is a user. (Especially, a daily user.) Ask about it in your history taking. Go forward with diagnostic testing, if you feel it's needed, but at the same time, ask the patient to refrain from using the sweetener in any form, for a period of four to six weeks. If the symptoms don't greatly diminish, or go away completely, then, of course, you look for another cause. Then go on with your vigorous diagnostic testing. We're finding that most patients become a symptomatic when taken off of it. This means that in some cases, MRIs are done needlessly. We're talking about a lot of money being spent on unnecessary tests. I am not against testing patients. But, I am against it until they are taken off this substance temporarily, for a period of four to six weeks. We feel that is a fair request. And, I am not the only one asking for this. Many of your colleagues are adopting this specific plan of treatment, with great success.
I am not blaming Aspartame for every illness or syndrome in the world today. It isn't the cause of every one of your patient's symptoms. But, again, I ask you, in your history taking, to ask about every patient's use of the substance. If they use it, the fairest thing to you, as well as to them, is for them to get off of it - for a short period of time at least.
The breakdown products, that occur when heated above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, are extremely worrisome to a number of our researchers. Methanol, of course (10% of the molecule) is well known in the literature for doing damage to the eye, liver, brain, and other organs of the body. So that Methanol alone, in my opinion, should send up a red flag in our minds. By the way, Aspartame can exceed the EPA standards for safe levels of Formaldehyde ingestion. But, that hasn't been looked at thoroughly enough either. Some of these things Aspartame may exacerbate or mimic. I'm not saying these syndromes and diseases were not around prior to the advent of Aspartame. But, if you have a patient with any one of these special diseases, or symptom series, you may want to look at that as an exacerbation of their symptoms, if not the root cause. These are not limited to, but can include: Epilepsy, Brain Tumors, Blindness, Chronic Fatigue,
Fibromyalgia, Systemic Lupus, Alzheimer's (affecting long term and short term memory), Lou Gehrig's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis,
Fibromyalgia, Lyme Disease, Graves Disease, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Heart Ailments and others.
Here is a book I think you will find interesting. It's written by a neurologist and it's called: Excitotoxins The Taste That Kills. The author, Dr. Russell Blaylock has done a thorough study of one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body:
Serotonin. He explains how Aspartame blocks production of Serotonin. Specifically, Phenylalanine in Aspartame seems to block or inhibit production of
Serotonin, which regulates our sleep patterns. In females, it regulates the menstrual cycle and it also regulates our moods. So, patients who are heavy Aspartame users may be at higher risk of developing some sort of mood disorder. You might want to consider that when settling on a diagnosis.
A very important point to remember: Aspartame violated the Delaney Clause by causing: uterine, mammary (breast), pancreatic and brain tumors in the laboratory animals.
One of the things people find most interesting whenever I speak publicly is how this is affecting the health of Airline Pilots. One of the people being interviewed by 60-Minutes tomorrow is a commuter airline pilot in Alaska who had a grand mal seizure in flight, in the cockpit. Luckily, his radio was tuned in to the Navy frequency (he was a Naval Reserve Pilot), and there was a Naval Patrol plane in the vicinity to instruct his passenger how to fly the plane... now, I am not making this up... until the pilot regained consciousness about ten minutes later. This made national headlines in 1993. Pilot, Harold Wilson has joined us in our efforts to alert pilots and others in the aviation industry to this danger. He used to be a heavy Aspartame user. He is convinced he has found the cause of his problem. He has had no more grand mal seizures, but guess what. This man, a very good pilot, is no longer able to work in his chosen profession. All that time and money spent on the training and licenses counts for nothing now. He is not alone. Over a thousand pilot-related phone calls have been made to our Pilot Hotline. Pilots call who can't discuss their problems and concerns with anyone else but us, because I keep the information they share with me confidential. I've had several reports of airline pilots who have had grand mal seizures in flight. I logged two reports of the same incident. When I asked the second caller for specifics, he said, "Now, we are not turning this guy in. He's fine and we don't want him to lose his job." I said, "But, why don't you turn the report in if he's not safe to fly with?" And, they said, "Because the situation corrected itself in a matter of minutes." This is a major concern for us. We have more and more airline, as well as general aviation pilots coming to us saying, "Please help me. I can't get my license back." The FAA won't officially recognize this situation. I've met with FAA Deputy Flight Surgeons in Washington and with officials from the FDA, as well. They let us know they have no intention of taking official action regarding this vast problem. As one wise FAA Medical Examiner from Brownwood, Texas said at a University Symposium on this subject, "The FDA has its foot stuck in a bucket and it can't get it out!" Only a Texan could use that kind of terminology and get away with it - but, I think he is right. In fact, in a recent national television interview, the Deputy Director of the FDA admitted, "Yes, there was sloppy testing on the part of the drug company, but what do you expect us to do?" So, they don't know what to do about it and they told me so when I met with them at their agency offices in Washington D.C. Then, the FAA's position is: We can't regulate or recall a drug. And, we can't warn pilots, because it is a legally approved substance. Every now and then we have a little victory: The U.S. Navy and The United States Air Force took our warnings to pilots seriously enough to print warnings [on three different occasions] to military pilots. There is an entire section in our 200 p. report, Deadly Deception - Story of Aspartame, dedicated to Flying and Aspartame.
Often, people ask where we get our funding. The sugar lobby? The saccharin people? No, no, I promise you we don't. The Deadly Deception is our fund raiser. My mother and sister are here with me today and will attest to the fact that we spend many midnight hours addressing and stuffing envelopes... all for no pay. I have used the small amount of money I received from my husband's death in 1985 to keep this effort going. I also have a full time job that pays the rent. I do it because I believe this substance is hurting people. I believe the research that shows it is capable of causing brain tumors. And, I have firsthand knowledge of the devastation a brain tumor can cause. Not only to the patient, but to the family. My husband's brain tumors were from metastasized melanoma - not from Aspartame ingestion. However, I believe it would be doing a disservice to his memory not to tell others one way to possibly keep from developing a brain tumor is to avoid the diet sweetener.
I always plead with people to not give it to children. According to Dr. Louis
Elsas, head of Genetics at Emory University in Atlanta, the Phenylalanine in Aspartame can quadruple on the side of the placenta during pregnancy, thereby causing a possible 10% drop in I.Q. scores of the child born under these conditions. There is a warning on every label to people with PKU not to use the product containing Aspartame. But, what about the 20 million carriers of the PKU gene [who do not know of their condition] who are also at risk? And, what about the pregnant woman carrying a PKU fetus? PKU children may avoid the substance which puts them at risk for mental retardation, at home. But, what about when they are out in the community or at a neighbor's home? The Head of Brain Science at MIT and others say the components of Aspartame are capable of crossing the blood brain barrier as well. And, based on our research, in no way does the body treat Phenylalanine and Aspartic Acid produced synthetically in the lab in the same manner as it does that which is found in nature. In their natural state, these amino acids are found in perfect balance with all the other ameliorating amino acids. Methanol, when found in nature, is always accompanied by Ethanol, which neutralizes the toxic effect. There is no Ethanol in Aspartame. Only Methanol. So, right there you have a prescription for disaster.
Parents, Pilots, Scientists and others all over the world are concerned about the ubiquitous and harmful nature of this substance. They don't know what to do about it. It is not our style to "picket" anyone such as the makers of Aspartame, for example. We don't break any laws. We attempt to educate people with our information. To do that, we use our 200 page Syllabus, Deadly Deception, which is solid documentation of all I've said here today and more. It is simply reprints from the literature. Peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Neurology and Experimental Neuropathology, Biological Psychiatry, Association of Birth Defect Children, Dermatology Rounds, Neurotoxicology and Teratology, to name just a few.
What would I like to see happen? We are asking the FDA to recall and retest Aspartame as a drug, which is how it was discovered - as a drug for peptic ulcers. You, as doctors, know that the testing for a drug is far more rigorous than the testing for a food additive. We believe it could never pass the drug test.
I am asking you as physicians to carefully consider Aspartame as one possible cause - not even a probable cause, but a possible cause when you are diagnosing a patient. We believe that to neglect to do so is unfair to both patient and doctor. We are suggesting a four to six week period of total abstinence from Aspartame for your patient, in order to obtain a clear diagnosis. Thousands of people have reported to us and to the FDA, that when they get off the substance, their symptoms go away. Upon
reexposure, either intentional or accidental, they begin to experience symptoms again. We believe them when they say that. ACSN is collecting adverse reactions to Aspartame in the form of Case History Reports. Keep that in mind whenever you run across someone in your practice who fits the profile of an Aspartame Reactor. My doctor believes that I have had an adverse reaction. He's a good doctor. He truly listens to his patient. And, he works in partnership with patients to find solutions to a medical problem.
In closing, I do not expect you to suddenly become Aspartame Activists. I suppose that is to be my role for the time being, anyway. But, please do consider Aspartame as a possible cause of symptoms, when caring for your patients. That is all we're asking.