Aspartame. It’s a name that maybe you have heard around, especially in the 90’s. It has found its way into cereals and all sorts of “sugar-free” products at that time. You may still have them in older packaged goods hanging around your grandparent’s house. Or that weird little store behind the corner.
So why we should be concerned? There are hundred of other ingredients that are on the back list to use. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The true problem of aspartame is that it has been put down by the FDA not once, but twice. But later, it was allowed in the market, despite a mountain of evidence that it wasn’t good for us. Not good at all. It doesn’t sound like something worth taking a risk on. But because of the controversy, the official stance on the sugary-substitute is still unsure.
Aspartame was discovered in the 1960’s by a company called G.D. Searle, and it already had a bit of a bad time at the beginning. While trying to make a cure for stomach ulcers, a researcher from the company happened to make the aspartame. Thinking that it could possibly be a product worth its mettle, Searle put it through some more tests to see if it was viable and good for humans.
These tests eventually were reviewed by the FDA, who decided it was safe enough to place it on the market. Not too long after, it became clear that aspartame wasn’t made to be, it was cracked up to be. Side effects, including a possible link to the brain tumor, were discovered after three other independent studies were conducted on the sweetener. This brings to a criminal investigation in 1977 into the apparently abominable research environment at Searle. The FDA makes action and decided to ban the product in 1980.
Shortly after, the chairman of Searle decided to apply for aspartame approval again. This was in 1981, and there were elections going on at that time. Ronald Reagan comes into office in 1982 and appointed a new commissioner of the FDA. Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr. was his name, and he appointed 6 persons of Scientific Commission to check the product all over again. The commission was thinking that aspartame was no good, but Hull decided to add another person on the review panel, reaching a tie. So, Hull himself, put aspartame back on the shelves. He later resigned and went to be a representative for both Monsanto and G.D. Searle.
And then what? Well, after a few years, Monsanto decides to buy the patent for producing aspartame from Searle. This and the debates over GMO’s products and scientifically modified products are just beginning to heat up. The problem is that Monsanto just doesn’t care about anything. He still stays behind aspartame saying aspartame as a product is worth producing.
Studies shown in the years that aspartame is possibly linked to a whole slew of health issues. It has been shown to cause leukemia, cancer, headaches, seizures, fibromyalgia, and epilepsy. This is just a handful of the over 90 possible negative side effects of the sweetener. It’s scarry how far this has gone, and that it hasn’t been pressed as a higher issue.
Timeline of events
When James Schlatter was working on an ulcer drug at G.D. Searle, he discovered the aspartame as a substance that is 180 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories.
Searle starts safety tests on aspartame that are necessary for applying for FDA approval of food additives in everyday use.
Dr. Harold Waisman, a famous biochemist made safety tests on infant monkeys from the Searle Company. Of the seven monkeys that ate aspartame mixed with milk, one died and five others got seizures.
Cyclamate, the reigning low-calorie artificial sweetener — is taken out of the market because some scientists associate it with cancer. A lot of questions were raised about the safety of saccharin, the only other marked sweetener on the market, leaving the field wide open for aspartame.
December 18, 1970
Executives make out a ‘Food and Drug Sweetener Strategy’ that they feel will put the FDA into a different frame of mind about aspartame at the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. John Olney informs Searle that some of his studies show that aspartic acid (one of the ingredients of aspartame) caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle’s small researchers confirmed Dr. Olney’s findings in a similar study.
After spending millions of dollars conducting safety tests, the G.D. Searle Company applied for FDA approval and submits over 100 studies claiming aspartame’s safety.
March 5, 1973
One of the first FDA scientists states that “the information provided (by Searle) is inadequate to permit an evaluation of the potential toxicity of aspartame”. She says in her letter that in order to be certain that aspartame is safe, further clinical tests are needed.
July 26, 1974
The FDA grants aspartame its first approval for using in our daily food.
Jim Turner and Dr. John Olney file the first letter to the government against aspartame’s approval.
March 25, 1976
Dr. Olney investigates the laboratory where aspartame was produced. The investigation finds “manipulated” test data.
January 10, 1977
The FDA requests from the U.S. Attorney’s office to start jury proceedings to check whether indictments should be filed against Searle for knowingly misrepresenting findings and making false statements in aspartame safety tests. This is the first time in the FDA’s history that they request a criminal checking of a manufacturers work.
January 26, 1977
The law firm who was representing Searle begins negotiations for work with the U.S. Attorney in charge of the investigation, Samuel Skinner.
August 1, 1977
FDA investigators issued a report. The findings were that 98 of the 196 animals died and weren’t autopsied until later dates, in some cases over one year after death.
October 15, 1982
The FDA makes a petition for showing that aspartame is approved to be a sweetener in carbonated beverages and other liquids.
July 1, 1983
The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) urges the FDA to delay approval of aspartame for carbonated beverages pending further testing because aspartame is very unstable if is liquid.
August 8, 1983
Consumer Attorney, Jim Turner who was working for Community Nutrition Institute and Dr. Woodrow Monte, Arizona State University’s Director of Food Science and Nutritional Laboratories, made a note with the FDA objecting to aspartame approval based on unresolved safety issues.
The first carbonated beverages containing aspartame are sold for public out of the laboratories.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) “Evaluation of consumer complaints related to aspartame use.” (summary by B. Mullarkey)
December 8, 1977
U.S. Attorney Skinner’s withdrawal and resignation stalls the Searle grand jury investigation for so long that the statute of executions on the aspartame charges runs out.
June 1, 1979
The FDA established a Note Board of Inquiry (PBOI) to rule on safety issues surrounding NutraSweet.
September 30, 1980
The Public Board of Inquiry concludes NutraSweet should not be approved pending further investigations of brain tumors in animals. The board states it “has not been presented with proof of reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive.”
Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, states that he will make a big push to get aspartame out for sale in last than a year. Rumsfeld says he will use his political place in Washington, rather than scientific means, to make sure it gets approved.
January 21, 1981
Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States. Reagan’s transition team, which includes Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G. D. Searle, hand picks Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. to be the new FDA Commissioner.
May 19, 1981
Three of six in-house FDA scientists who were for reviewing the brain tumor issues, Dr. Robert Condon, Dr. Satya Dubey, and Dr. Douglas Park, advise against making good NutraSweet. They’ve stated that the Searle tests are unreliable and not adequate to determine the safety of aspartame.
July 15, 1981
Dr. Arthur Hayes Jr., the new FDA commissioner, ignores the findings of his own internal FDA team and approves NutraSweet for a dry everyday product.
Image Credit: Aspartame
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