It’s been thirty years since aspartame first came on the market as NutraSweet/Equal®. Researchers warned us as early as the 1960s that this artificial sugar substitute was harmful to human health, but their warnings never reached the consumer.
Today, the scientific research continues with the hope that the findings that aspartame causes cancer, memory loss, birth defects, leukemia, and lymphoma will finally get through to public awareness.
So, let’s rewind the tapes, and start in the 1960s examining the research proving aspartame dangers over 40 years ago …
G.D. Searle chemist, James Schlatter, discovered aspartame as a sweetener while originally testing the chemical compound for an ulcer drug. His boiling flask bubbled over; the formula spilled; Schlatter’s ledger fell to the floor; he licked his fingers to pick up the fallen papers, and he unexpectedly discovered aspartame was incredibly sweet.
Hum. With a good marketing campaign, Searle stumbled upon a competitor for saccharin, the only alternative sweetener on the market those days. Saccharin never really made it big, even though it was Monsanto’s first product sold to the Coca Cola Company for the first Coca Cola® formula in 1901.
Tab® and Fresca® with saccharin never netted the mega-profits hoped for. It was time for something new.
So, G.D. Searle merely switched their FDA approval application from an ulcer drug to the newest sweetener food additive, and planned to net some big bucks.
Physician and Biochemist, Dr. Harry Waisman, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin and Director of the University’s Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Laboratories for Mental Retardation Research, approached G.D. Searle to conduct a study on the effects of aspartame on Phenylketonurics (PKU). An expert on PKU, Dr. Waisman proposed to study the genetic disorder in response to aspartame using primates. Dr. Waisman’s experiments resulted in the following:
- Of the seven infant monkeys fed aspartame mixed with milk, one died after 300 days and five other monkeys suffered grand mal seizures.
Dr. Waisman reported his findings to G. D. Searle, but Searle never submitted the test results to the FDA.
In the 1975 FDA investigations, the FDA Investigative Task Force first discovered Dr. Waisman’s 1969 study and questioned Searle why the study had been deleted from FDA records. They never received an answer from Searle.
Before he completed his study, Dr. Waisman was killed in an automobile accident in March of 1971.The FDA considered his research important, but in 1980, his findings were dismissed as incomplete. After his death, G.D. Searle granted researcher Ann Reynolds funds to study Waisman’s findings.
According to Congressional records, her findings were fragmented as she evaluated plasma aspartic acid levels only; not the neurotoxicity or seizure potentiality of phenylalanine, as did Dr. Waisman.
Primates were never used again in further aspartame research. All subsequent studies submitted by Searle to the FDA were performed on rodents. Unfortunately, the tests on rodents were not as accurate as those using primates. The rodents had to be fed at least 60 times more aspartame than the primates in order to duplicate the intake effect on humans, resulting in inaccuracies between the tests.
The safety of saccharin was tested at this time, and the laboratory rats used in the studies were fed the equivalent of 600 to 800 cans of diet soda with saccharin per day. The bulk of their feed was saccharin blended with cyclamate, a known carcinogen.
There was a public outcry over the abuse related to the excessive amount of saccharin fed to the test animals, but a proposed ban on saccharin was requested at this time. It was also determined that the moratorium on saccharin would be lifted in the year 2000. The cancer warning was , indeed, taken off saccharin products in 2001, at the time Splenda® came on the American market.
It’s interesting how the “pieces all fit together” when you go back in history and re-examine an orchestrated “chain of events.”