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Aspartame (Nutrasweet): Is It Safe? A Concerned Doctor's Views.

Aspartame (NutraSweet): Is It Safe?

Dieters, diabetics, and others concerned with reducing their intake of sweet foods and drinks, were delighted to learn that aspartame, the chemical compound marketed as NutraSweet(R), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the nation's "watchdog" over our food supply.

Since 1981, the year in which the federal agency gave its green light for the use of the substance, concern and criticism of potential danger have been voiced. No critic has been more vociferous than H.J. Roberts, a board-certified internist with impeccable credentials. His suspicions were aroused when he encountered an increasing number of patients with varied symptoms that could not be clearly attributed to specific medical problems.

After intense investigation, Dr. Roberts concluded that his patients' obscure symptoms were linked to their ingestion of foods sweetened by aspartame.

A Mystery Unfolds

Dr. Roberts has gathered a large number of case histories that will startle many people which are described in his book. Previously unexplained symptoms that included headaches, memory loss, mood swings, changes in vision, nausea, diarrhea, sleep disorders, and personality changes were inextricably linked, according to Dr. Roberts, with aspartame in food and drink.

The book is more than a recitation of shocking medical reports. It also reveals that not all candidates for approval are scrutinized carefully by the Food and Drug Administration. The author notes that aspartame received approval from the agency without undergoing testing procedures in humans because it was labeled a "food additive" rather than a drug.

Aspartame's instant success is understandable. It is at least 180 times as sweet as table sugar, contains almost no calories, and can be marketed in almost every type of food including the wine coolers and low-alcohol beer. Its appearance is imminent in baked goods, yogurt and many varieties of "health foods."

Manna From Heaven?

The artificial sweetener has been embraced, on behalf of diabetics, by the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association. It does not lack for prestigious and enthusiastic approval among organizations influential in institutionalizing a product.

Who, in face of such impressive endorsement, would dare to challenge the safety of a boom that promises to free multitudes from the spectre of obesity, sugar overload, and "deprivation?" Dr. Roberts has raised his voice in scientific journals, lectures before medical societies, and now, in a book that is uninhibited in its powerful revelations.

"I believe that products containing aspartame are capable of producing, and reproducing, a wide spectrum of frightening symptoms," the author states, "including severe headaches, convulsion, memory loss and diarrhea..."

Roberts has been accused of citing only anecdotal evidence to support his claims that aspartame was causing illness that could not be linked to known causes. He not only responds to criticism of his methods by referring to large numbers of patients who have come to him and have been "cured" by giving up the use of foods with aspartame but he also reveals years of investigation and research. He quotes former Food and Drug Administration professionals who are critical of the agency's hasty approval and the potential toxic dangers of the chemical.

A Relentless Pursuit

Before the author set out on his extensive investigation to determine whether aspartame was hurting unwary users, he contacted the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, the Food and Drug Administration, the manufacturer of aspartame, consumer organizations, and interested investigators to determine the number of formal complaints volunteered by consumers with alleged reactions to aspartame products. To his amazement, the figure as of mid-1986 exceeded 10,000 indidivuals, he writes. Evidently, the Food and Drug Administration has been made aware of the large number of complaints that should tend to exonerate Roberts from the accusation of depending only upon anecdotal evidence.

Aspartame Invites Overconsumption

"Aspartame seems to create thirst, not quench it," one of Dr. Roberts's patients noted. He also observed that at least one out of ten aspartame "victims" experienced intense thirst and dryness of mouth, a development that occurred in the absence of excessive sweating or hot weather.

"The problem of aspartame-associated "dry mouth" (xerostomia) tends to be most severe among older persons," Dr. Roberts writes. "Furthermore, aspartame appears to intensify the reduction of saliva associated with aging (especially in Sjogren syndrome, wherein tears and saliva are markedly reduced), and the side effects of many drugs. Severe complications of dry mouth may ensue. These include (1) inflammation of the tongue, lips, and mouth, (2) difficulty with speech, taste, mastication, and swallowing, and (3) superimposed yeast infection.

"A vicious cycle can be set in motion," he adds, "when persons drink even bigger quantities of aspartame-containing beverages to quench their thirst and moisten their lips or mouth ... such individuals may develop a preference for the taste of aspartame in satisfying their thirst ... thereby perpetuating the dry mouth syndrome."

Some of Dr. Roberts's patients did not realize the magnitude of their overindulgence. He cites the case of a 29-year-old man with seizures who drank eighteen 12-ounce cans of an aspartame cola drink per week for one year. Another, a pilot who suffered convulsions, severe drowsiness, slurred speech, severe depression, irritability, and intense headaches was consuming tabletop sweeteners in tea, aspartame-sweetened cocoa, and huge quantities of soft drinks containing the substance.

The Aspartame Orgy Heightens

More young adults are now drinking aspartame-sweetened colas rather than coffee in the morning, the author deplores. "Sophisticated ads aimed at |the Pepsi generation' reinforce such preference for a |cool refreshing drink to come alive.'"

In addition, recent reports indicate that certain medications and constipation aids have added aspartame to give taste to the product. Robert is concerned that infiltration of the sweetener into other "health aids" such as the new "all-natural-synthetic fat" will add to the overconsumption of aspartame.

Aspartame has infiltrated the entire food supply. Roberts has treated many sufferers whose attacks were associated with eating or drinking the sweetener in restaurants where its presence is seldom identified.

Another frequent oversight, he says, pertains to unsuspected items such as vitamins, laxatives, and pain relievers.

Documentation Is Impressive

The reader will be impressed by the massive amount of documentation that Dr. Roberts has provided to confirm his contentions. His case histories, in effect, gather together reactions and ailments that occur implicitly with aspartame ingestion.

The book ranges widely in an effort to prove that cases of epileptic-like convulsions can be attributed to the chemical. It also warns that attempting to relieve distress caused by aspartame using aspirin can compound and aggravate other conditions.

In dealing with aspartame's possible role in causing memory loss and intellectual deterioration, Dr. Roberts marshalls considerable evidence, case histories, and employment records, to implicate a diet that is abundant in the artificial sweetener.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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