Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sweet Deception for Valentine's Day?

FDA INTRIGUE:   Ajinomoto, the current manufacturer of Aspartame (aka Nutrasweet, Equal and Canderel), launches a product name change to AminoSweet to promote the fact that the product is derived from two naturally occuring amino acids.  Meanwhile, two recent studies strongly linking aspartame to cancer place aspartame within the provisions of the 1958 Delaney Law, which, according to Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor emeritus of Environmental & Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, requires an automatic ban on carcinogenic food additives. 

Excerpts from an Huffington Post article by Dr. Epstein about the two studies:  "In 2006, based on highly sensitive and life long feeding tests in groups of about 200 rats and at doses less than usual human dietary levels, the prestigious Italian Ramazzini Foundation confirmed that aspartame is unequivocally carcinogenic. A high incidence of cancers was induced in multiple organs, including lymph glands, brain and kidney...

This evidence on the carcinogenicity of aspartame was strongly reinforced in a unique 2007 feeding test, based on maternal feeding of rats in early pregnancy, resulting in their lifelong exposure to aspartame, beginning in fetal life. This resulted in a still higher increase in the incidence of cancers at sites including those previously reported. In April 2007, the results of this study were presented by Ramazzini scientists at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York."
Expect this not to be an easy row to hoe for the new FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.  The first comment below Dr. Epstein's article, written by a commentor identifying herself as Bethh09, an employee of the Calorie Control Council, foreshadows the coming knock-down, drag-out: 

"As a dietitian working in the area of nutrition communications, I am disappointed by this article. In the essence of full disclosure, I work with the Calorie Control Council (an association representing the low-calorie and low-fat food and beverage industry). However, as a health professional and mother, I take nutrition seriously and believe sound science should always be the cornerstone of nutrition communications. Unfortunately, there is a lot of nutrition "misinformation" and this is one example. Aspartame's safety has been confirmed on many occasions by both democrat and republican administrations. One of the most recent studies evaluating aspartame was published in 2007 in Critical Reviews in Toxicology. The study authors, experts in the fields of toxicology, epidemiology, metabolism, pathology, biostatistics, etc., reviewed over 500 studies conducted on aspartame and found that aspartame is safe. In regards to the Ramazzini study, health and regulatory authorities worldwide disagree with their findings (and have criticized the methodology/protocol of the study) and continue to re-affirm aspartame's safety.

In a world with obesity and diabetes epidemics, let's not take away tools that can help people reduce calories and manage their weight and carbohydrate intake. Aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners can be tools in the fight against overweight and obesity. As with anything, there must be many tools in the toolbox -- such as portion control, increased fruits and vegetables, exercise, etc. If someone chooses to include aspartame as part of their toolbox, they can be confident in its safety."

The confidence-building research Bethh09 refers to has serious detractors.  The history of Aspartame's FDA approval is riddled with controversy.  The following is an excerpt from an article on Natural,

"Aspartame was an accidental discovery by James Schlatter, a chemist who had been trying to produce an anti-ulcer pharmaceutical drug for G.D. Searle & Company back in 1965. Upon mixing aspartic acid and phenylalanine, two naturally-occurring amino acids, he discovered that the new compound had a sweet taste. The company merely changed its FDA approval application from drug to food additive and, voila, aspartame was born.

G.D. Searle & Company first patented aspartame in 1970. An internal memo released in the same year urged company executives to work on getting the FDA into the "habit of saying yes" and of encouraging a "subconscious spirit of participation" in getting the chemical approved.

G.D. Searle & Company submitted its first petition to the FDA in 1973 and fought for years to gain FDA approval, submitting its own safety studies that many believed were inadequate and deceptive. Despite numerous objections, including one from its own scientists, the company was able to convince the FDA to approve aspartame for commercial use in a few products in 1974, igniting a blaze of controversy.

In 1976, then FDA Commissioner Alexander Schmidt wrote a letter to Sen. Ted Kennedy expressing concern over the "questionable integrity of the basic safety data submitted for aspartame safety". FDA Chief Counsel Richard Merrill believed that a grand jury should investigate G.D. Searle & Company for lying about the safety of aspartame in its reports and for concealing evidence proving the chemical is unsafe for consumption.

Despite the myriad of evidence gained over the years showing that aspartame is a dangerous toxin, it has remained on the global market with the exception of a few countries that have banned it. In fact, it continued to gain approval for use in new types of food despite evidence showing that it causes neurological brain damage, cancerous tumors, and endocrine disruption, among other things."

The AminoSweet people don't raise any of this,  Instead, they publicize a white paper put out by the dieticians' professional association, the American Dietetic Association, promoting the use of "non-nutritive sweetners" including aspartame as a way of getting people to eat a healther diet, based on the increased enjoyment and palatability of foods.  That, however, is a bit circular, since the ADA did not conduct independent safety research, but rather, relied upon the old FDA safety data - prior to the 2006 and 2007 studies.  You can see the ADA white paper here:

I've included a YouTube video with interviews of several medical researchers, including some former FDA scientists talking about aspartame and the effects of ingesting aspartame products.  Obviously, I am not a medical researcher, but these reports make me very nervous. I hope Dr. Hamburg will get to the bottom of this. 

In the meantime, consider doing what I did.  Choose to sweeten foods naturally, e.g. add pineapple, banana or raisins to foods to add sweetness.  And for those times you really need sweetner, consider the Stevia, a leafy plant from the aster family, originally found in brazil and considered to be many, many times sweeter than sugar.   Of course, nothing is perfectly safe.  Here's an article by Naomi Starkman on Stevia's own rocky road to FDA approval,, and another listing the few known side effects.

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