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Toxic Ingredients Directory

Reported Aspartame Toxic Effects

Courtesy of

Aspartame Toxicity Information Centre | Aspartame Home Page

What are the reported reactions to aspartame ingestion?

Pilots report serious effects from aspartame

Aspartame implicated with serious illnesses and misdiagnosed

How often are the effects seen?

Unrecognized Reactions

References

Our Comments

We will limit our discussion in this FAQ to reported toxicity reactions to aspartame ingestion. Controlled studies showing problems with aspartame ingestion will be discussed in another FAQ.  Toxicity reactions to aspartame can be divided into three types:

  1. Acute toxicity reactions occurring within 48 hours of ingestion of an aspartame-containing product.

  2. Chronic toxicity effects occurring anywhere from several days of use to appearing a number of years (i.e., 1-20+ years) after the beginning of aspartame use.

  3. Potential toxicity effects that would be nearly impossible for the user to recognize the link to aspartame.

In an epidemiological survey which appeared in the Journal of Applied Nutrition (Roberts 1988), 551 persons who have reported toxicity effects from aspartame ingestion were surveyed.  The adverse effects found, cover a subset of reported acute and chronic toxicity effects from aspartame. What follows is a listing of the adverse health effects which were found. Back to Top

Epidemiological survey which appeared in the Journal of Applied Nutrition (Roberts 1988), 551 Number of people Percentage Affected
Eye
- Decreased vision and/or other eye problems  (blurring, "bright flashes," tunnel vision) 140 25%
Pain (one or both eyes) 51 9%
Decreased tears, trouble with contact lens 46 8%
Blindness (one or both eyes) 14 3%
Ear
Tinnitus ("ringing," "buzzing") 73 13%
Severe intolerance for noise 47 9%
Marked impairment of hearing 25 5%
Neurological
Headaches 249 45%
Dizziness, unsteadiness, or both 217 39%
Confusion, memory loss, or both 157 29%
Severe drowsiness and sleepiness 93 17%
Paresthesias ("pins and needles," "tingling") or numbness of the limbs 82 15%
Convulsions (grand mal epileptic attacks) 80 15%
Petit mal attacks and "absences" 18 3%
Severe slurring of speech 64 12%
Severe tremors 51 9%
Severe "hyperactivity" and "restless legs" 43 8%
Atypical facial pain 38 7%
Psychological - Psychiatric 139 25%
Severe depression 125 23%
"Extreme irritability" 105 19%
"Severe anxiety attacks" 88 16%
Recent "severe insomnia" 76 14%
"Severe aggravation of phobias" 41 7%
Chest
Palpitations, tachycardia (rapid heart action) 88 16%
"Shortness of breath" 54 10%
Atypical chest pain 44 8%
Recent hypertension (high blood pressure) 34 6%
Gastrointestinal
Nausea 79 14%
Diarrhea 70 13%
Associated gross blood in the stools 12
Abdominal pain 70 13%
Pain on swallowing 28 5%
Skin and Allergies
Severe itching without a rash 44 8%
Severe lip and mouth reactions 29 5%
Urticaria (hives - nettle rash) 25 5%
Other eruptions 48 9%
Aggravation of respiratory allergies 10 2%
Endocrine and Metabolic
Problems with diabetes:  loss of control; precipitation of clinical diabetes; aggravation or simulation of diabetic complications 60 11%
Menstrual changes 45 6%
Severe reduction or cessation of periods (22) of the above
Paradoxic weight gain 34 5%
Marked weight loss 26 6%
Marked thinning or loss of the hair 32 6%
Aggravated hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar attacks) 25 5%
Other
Frequency of voiding (day and night), burning on urination (dysuria), or both 69 13%
Excessive thirst 65 12%
Severe joint pains 58 11%
"Bloating" 57 10%
Fluid retention and leg swelling 20 4%
Increased susceptibility to infection Back to Top 7 1%

There are other clinical reports in the scientific literature of aspartame-caused toxicity reactions including Blumenthal (1997), Drake (1986), Johns (1986), Lipton (1989), McCauliffe (1991), Novick (1985), Watts (1991), Walton (1986, 1988), and Wurtman  (1985).

Pilots Report Serious Effects

Many pilots appear to be particularly susceptible to the effects of aspartame ingestion.  They have reported numerous serious toxicity effects including grand mal seizures in the cockpit (Stoddard 1995).  Nearly 1,000 cases of pilot reactions have been reported to the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network Pilot Hotline (Stoddard 1995).

This susceptibility may be related to ingesting methanol at altitude as suggested in a letter from Dr. Phil Moskal, Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Pathology, Chairman of the Department of Pathology, Director of Public Health Laboratories (Moskal 1990), or it may simply be that some pilots tend to ingest large quantities of aspartame during a flight.  Back to Top

Whatever the case, numerous warnings about aspartame dangers have appeared in piloting journals including;

Both the U.S. Air Force's magazine "Flying Safety" and the U.S. Navy's magazine, "Navy Physiology" published articles warning about the many dangers of aspartame including the cumulative deleterious effects of methanol and the greater likelihood of birth defects. The articles note that the ingestion of aspartame may make pilots more susceptible to seizures and vertigo (US Air Force 1992).

Countless other toxicity effects have been reported to the FDA (DHHS 1995), other independent organizations (Mission Possible 1996, Stoddard 1995), and independent scientists (e.g., 80 cases of seizures were reported to Dr. Richard Wurtman, Food (1986)). Samples of some aspartame toxicity reactions reported on the Internet can be found on the Aspartame (NutraSweet) Toxicity Information Center:
http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame/adverse.txt

Misdiagnosed

Frequently, aspartame toxicity is misdiagnosed as a specific disease. This has yet to be reported in the scientific literature, yet it has been reported countless times to independent organizations and scientists (Mission Possible 1994, Stoddard 1995).  In other cases, it has been reported that chronic aspartame ingestion has triggered or worsened certain chronic illnesses.  Nearly 100% of the time, the patient and physician assume that these worsening conditions are simply a normal progression of the illness.  Sometimes that may be the case, but many times it is chronic aspartame poisoning.

According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following list contains a selection of chronic illnesses which may be caused or worsened by the chronic,
long-term ingestion of aspartame. (Mission Possible 1994, Stoddard 1995)*:
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*Note: In some cases such as MS, the severe symptoms mimic the illness or exacerbate the illness, but do not cause the disease.  Also, please note that this is an incomplete list.  Clearly, ingestion of a very slow poison (as discussed in other FAQs) is not beneficial to anyone who has a chronic illness.

Finally, potential toxicity effects from aspartame including brain cancer (as seen in pre-approval research) and effects on foetal brain and nervous system development will be discussed in other FAQs.

How often are such effects seen?

Until recently approximately 90% of aspartame sales were in the United States (Monsanto 1994). Other countries are now being inundated with aspartame, but it will be some time until they begin to feel the full effects of aspartame toxicity on the general population.  Since the U.S. has some history of significant use, we will limit the discussion to the frequency of effects in the U.S.

There have been well over 7,000 aspartame toxicity reactions officially received by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 1982 (after aspartame was first approved) until 1995 (DHHS 1993, DHHS 1995). From this figure, we can estimate the number of actual toxicity reactions observed.

FDA officials believe that as little as 1% of the serious adverse drug reactions are reported to the FDA (Kessler 1993).  Using a reported rate of 1%, we would estimate that there have been 700,000 recognized aspartame toxicity reactions in the U.S. since 1982.  However, there are a number of significant adjustments that must be made before we can accept this estimate.
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  1. Most physicians are aware of the Adverse Reaction Monitoring System (ARMS) and are encouraged by the FDA to report serious adverse drug reactions (Kessler 1993). Physicians are not encouraged by the FDA to report aspartame toxicity reactions to the FDA (Food 1995).  The lay public is generally unaware of ARMS and much less likely to report adverse reactions to the FDA.  Therefore, this would lower the estimated reporting rate below 1%. Let us make a small adjustment and estimate a 0.88% reporting rate.

  2. It was pointed out by James Turner, Esq. in a letter to the then FDA Commissioner Frank Young that no program to monitor aspartame toxicity reactions was created until February 1984, two years after aspartame approval began (Turner 1984).  This would probably add at least 1,200 reported reactions (probably much more), so that we should use 8,200 toxicity reaction reports.  In addition, a Freedom of Information act request determined that the regional FDA offices had been told that only "serious" complaints should be forwarded to the FDA headquarters (Turner 1984).  "Serious" complaints were complaints where the illness was severe enough to require the attention of a physician.  Since this happened between 1984 (when the monitoring system began) and 1985, we can estimate an additional 300 toxicity reactions would have been reported for a total of 8,500. Back to Top

  3. In 1987, it was brought out at U.S. Congressional Hearings that the FDA had been transferring aspartame toxicity reaction calls to the AIDS Hotline (Turner 1987).  In addition, it was reported by James Turner, Esq. of Community Nutrition Institute (CNI) that there were numerous cases of people calling the FDA to report toxicity reaction and they were told that there was no connection between aspartame and adverse reactions and no other information was taken by the FDA.  While this may not effect the reporting rate after the start of 1988, it would significantly effect the reporting rate before that time.  Let us make another small adjustment and estimate a 0.78% reporting rate.

  4. Perhaps the biggest reduction in the reporting rate comes from the fact that Commissioner Kessler's estimated 1% reporting rate for adverse drug reactions involves only "serious" adverse reactions.  The rate for reporting *all* drug reactions (if such reporting were done) would almost certainly be no more than 0.5%. Therefore, if we cut our current estimated reporting rate of 0.78% in half, the estimated reporting rate for *all* toxicity reactions to aspartame (including serious or mild) would be no more than 0.39%.Back to Top

During the first couple of years that aspartame was on the market, there was publicity that would likely have increased the reporting rate.  However, since the FDA did not have a monitoring system in place until February 1984, the estimated increased number of reports will not be that much.  I will reduce the number of reports by 1,000 to 7,500 to take this into account.

We now have approximately 7,500 reports at an estimated reporting rate of 0.39%.  This totals approximately 1.9 million *recognized* aspartame toxicity reactions in the U.S. between 1982 and 1995.These reactions run anywhere from mild to very serious illnesses.

It is very important to understand, however, that 1.9 million represents only those toxicity reactions that have been discovered by users and/or healthcare practitioners.  Quite often, I encounter case histories were people suffered for long time and did not make the connection. 
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For example:

"I have suffered from Migraines for years. As soon as I gave up NutraSweet my migraines disappeared. All those Cat Scans, MRI's......for nothing."

 "Since I last wrote my brother has been off NutraSweet since then.  My brothers lupus type of symptoms completely went away. My brother has been a physician for over 10 years... his doctor (a specialist) who has been treating him has seen the significant difference and wants to write a research paper on this .. my brothers physician has now started prescribing getting off NutraSweet for his other patients."

Therefore, I believe that in addition to the estimated 1.9 million people in the U.S. who have recognized aspartame toxicity reactions in themselves (from serious to mild), there are many times that number who are suffering from some of the symptoms mentioned above and that they do not recognize that chronic aspartame use is the cause or at least a contributory factor.  I would estimate that *at least* 7.6 million others are suffering from some symptoms related to aspartame use (many mild symptoms, but many serious ones as well) and do not recognize the connection. Back to Top

Unrecognized Reactions

In addition to the estimated 1.9 million recognized reactions and 7.6 million unrecognized reactions in the U.S., it is very important to note that aspartame has been used in significant amounts in the U.S.for a relatively short time.  A U.S. Department of Agriculture report noted that it wasn't until approximately 1987 that aspartame was used in significant amounts in the U.S. (USDA 1988).  Therefore, aspartame had been used for only nine (9) years in significant amounts through 1995.  When one considers that the damage from aspartame is often silent and cumulative (much like chain-smoking cigarettes), one can see that a couple of generations of aspartame use might be
disastrous!

The FDA and NutraSweet have claimed that the number of reported adverse reactions have declined substantially since the mid-1980s (Pauli 1995, Butchko 1994).  In addition, the FDA recently claimed that the number of reported toxicity reactions for 1995 was only 11 (WSJ 1996)!  It is important to realize that during the mid-1970s the FDA was investigating wrong-doings of the aspartame manufacturer and stated the facts exactly as they found them:
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 "[The manufacturer] lied and they didn't submit the real nature of their observations because had they done that it is more than likely that a great number of these studies would have been rejected simply for adequacy. What Searle did, they took great pains to camouflage these shortcomings of the study. As I say filter and just present to the FDA what they wished the FDA to know and they did other terrible things for instance animals would develop tumours while they were under study. Well they would remove these tumours from the animals." [FDA Toxicologist and Task Force member, Dr. Andrian Gross (Wilson 1985)]

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of key government and FDA officials left their jobs to work with companies related to the aspartame industry (GAO 1986).  This included key FDA officials such as the head of the FDA Bureau of Foods becoming a Vice President of the National Drink Association and the FDA Commissioner becoming a high-paid consultant for the manufacturer's PR firm, Burston  Marsteller (Gordon 1987).  After this period of time, there was no scientific evidence and no amount of serious toxicity reports that could get the FDA to seriously consider funding independent, properly-conducted (e.g., chronic exposure) research.  That appearance of the FDA being under the total control of the manufacturer, Monsanto, continues to this day.
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I include these comments about the FDA to demonstrate why no independent scientist familiar with the aspartame issue takes statements from the FDA such as "11 reported reactions in 1995"
seriously.  There are many people, including myself who have received that many toxicity reaction reports in a single day during 1995.The reality is that independent organizations have noted that
aspartame toxicity reaction reports given to them have *increased* every year since the late 1980s (Stoddard 1995).  It is also important to note that in mid-1995, the FDA admitted that it had
stopped recording aspartame toxicity reactions (Food 1995).  That may have something to do with why the numbers that the FDA reported to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ 1996) were so small!

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References Cited

Aviation Consumer 1988. "SafeGuard," June 15, 1988.

Aviation Medical Bulletin 1988. "Pilots and Aspartame," October 1988.

Aviation Safety Digest 1989. "Aspartame -- not for the dieting pilot?" Aviation Safety Digest, ASD 142, Spring 1989 (Australia - 062/5841111).

Blumenthal, H.J., D.A. Vance, 1997, "Chewing Gum Headaches," Headache, Volume 37, Number 10, pages 665-666.

Butchko, Harriett H., Frank N. Kotsonis 1994. "Postmarketing Surveillance in the Food Industry: The Aspartame Case Study," in Nutritional Toxicology, edited by Frank N Kotsonis, Maureen Macky and Jerry Hjelle, Raven Press, Ltd., New York, c1994.

CAA General Aviation (1989). Safety Information Leaflet, April 1989, Great Britain.

Canadian General Aviation News 1990. "Fit to fly" Canadian General Aviation News, March 1990, page 28.

DHHS 1993. "Adverse Reactions Associated With Aspartame Consumption," Department of Health & Human Services Memorandum, April 1, 1993, Reprinted in preface of "Bittersweet Aspartame: A Diet Delusion" by Barbara Alexander Mullarkey, NutriVoice, P.O. Box 946, Oak Park, Illinois 60303, (708) 848-0116.Back to Top

DHHS 1995. Department of Health and Human Services. "Report on All Adverse Reactions in the Adverse Reaction Monitoring System." (April 20, 1995).

Drake, M.E., 1986. "Panic Attacks and Excessive Aspartame Ingestion" (Letter), Lancet, September 13, 1986, page 631.

Food 1986. Food Chemical News, July 28, 1986, page 44.

Food 1995. "Aspartame Adverse Reaction Reports Down in 1994 From 1985 Peak: FDA," Food Chemical News, June 12, 1995, page 27.

GAO 1986. "Six Former HHS Employees' Involvement in Aspartame's Approval," United States General Accounting Office, GAO/HRD-86-109BR, July 1986.

General Aviation News 1989. "NutraSweet...too good to be true?" by Megan Hicks, General Aviation News, July 31, 1989.

Gordon, Gregory, 1987. "NutraSweet: Questions Swirl," UPI Investigative Report, 10/12/87. Reprinted in US Senate U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, November 3, 1987 regarding "NutraSweet Health and Safety Concerns." Document # Y 4.L 11/4:S.HR6.100, page 499.
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ICAS 1995. "Aspartame Side Effects: Fact or Fiction?" International Council of Air Shows, February 1995.

Johns, Donald R., 1986. "Migraine Provoked By Aspartame," (Letter), New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 314, August 14, 1986, page 456.

Kessler, David A. 1993, "Introducing MEDWatch: A New Approach to Reporting Medication and Device Adverse Effects and Product Problems" Journal of the American Medical Association 269:2765-68.

Lipton, Richard B., et al., 1989. "Aspartame as a Dietary Trigger of Headache," Headache, Volume 29, pages 90-92.

McCauliffe, D.P., K. Poitras, 1991. "Aspartame-Induced Lobular Panniculitis," Journal of the American Academy of Dermitology, Volume 24, page 298-300.

Mission Possible 1994. Compiled by researchers, physicians,and artificial sweetener experts for Mission Possible, a group dedicated to warning consumers about aspartame. Available from Mission Possible, 9270 River Club Pkwy, Duluth, Georgia 30155, 770-242-2599, betty@pd.org.

Mission Possible 1996. Conversations between Betty Martini of Mission Possible and Mark D. Gold.
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Monsanto 1994. "Monsanto Annual Report," 1994.

Moskal, Phil, 1990. Letter from Dr. Phil Moskal to George Leighton, June 19, 1990, Reprinted in "The Deadly Deception" Compiled by the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network for volumes of available published information, ACSN, P.O. Box 780634, Dallas, Texas 75378, (800) 969-6050.

NBAA Digest 1993. "Operationally Speaking" by G. Dennis Wright, Vice President of Operations. NBAA Digest, Volume 6, Number 6, June 1993. Available from National Business Aircraft Association, Inc., 1200 Eighteenth St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036-2506, (202) 783-9000.

Novick, Nelson Lee, 1995. "Aspartame-Induced Granulomatous Panniculitis," Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 102, Number 2, pages 206-207.

Pacific Flyer 1988. "This Could Save Your Life" Pacific Flyer Aviation News, November 1988, 3355 Mission Ave., Oceanside, CA 92054.
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Pacific Flyer 1995. "ICAS Issues Warning To Its Members About Diet Drinks," March 1995.

Pauli, George, 1995. FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). Radio broadcast: "Aspartame," The Derek McGinty Show, WAMU Radio (88.5 FM), Brandywine Building, The American University, Washington, DC 20016-8082, (202) 885-1200, August 29, 1995.

Plane & Pilot 1990. "Getting High" Plane & Pilot, January 1990, page 36-37.

Roberts, H.J., 1988. "Reactions Attributed to Aspartame-Containing Products: 551 Cases," Journal of Applied Nutrition, Volume 40, page 85-94.

Stoddard, Mary Nash, 1995. Conversations between Mary Nash Stoddard of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Mark D. Gold.

Turner, James, Leonard, Rodney, 1984. Letter from Rodney E. Leonard and James S. Turner of Community Nutrition Institute to Dr. Fank E. Young, FDA Commissioner, September 13, 1984.  Reprinted in "Aspartame Safety Act," Congressional Record, Volume 131, No. 106, August 1, 1985, page S10841.
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Turner, James, 1987. Testimony of James Turner, Esq., Community Nutrition Institute before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, November 3, 1987 regarding "NutraSweet Health and Safety Concerns." Document # Y 4.L 11/4:S.HR6.100, page 316.

US Air Force 1992. "Aspartame Alert." Flying Safety 48(5): 20-21 (May 1992).

USDA 1988. "1988 United States Department of Agriculture Situation and Outlook Report; Sugar and Sweeteners." Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 51.

WSJ 1996.  "Aspartame Critic Seeks More Research On Possibility of Links to Brain Tumors," The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 1996.

Walton, Ralph G., 1986. "Seizure and Mania After High Intake of Aspartame," Psychosomatics, Volume 27, page 218-220.

Walton, Ralph G., 1988. "The Possible Role of Aspartame in Seizure Induction,"  Presented at "Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function." Proceedings of the First International Meeting on Dietary Phenylalanine and Brain Function, Washington, D.C., May 8-10, 1987. Center for Brain Sciences and Metabolism Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 64, Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02142. Reprinted in "Dietary Phenyalalnine and Brain Function," c1988, Birkhauser, Boston, MA USA, page 159-162.
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Watts, Richard S., 1991. "Aspartame, Headaches and Beta Blockers" (Letter to the Editor), Headache, March, 1991, Page 181-182.

Wilson, Steve, 1985. "Sweet Suspicions," Television broadcast and interviews regarding aspartame. Transcript in Congressional Record, Volume 131, No. 106, August 1, 1985, page S10826-S10827.

Wurtman, Richard J., 1985. "Aspartame: Possible Effect on Seizure Susceptibility" (Letter), The Lancet, Volume 2, page 1060.
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Our Comments:

With all the adverse publicity aspartame has had it astounds me that anyone would even consider using it. My own personal experience when I tried aspartame for a short period some years ago to see if I could control blood sugar variations resulted in many of the milder symptoms reported above after just one month of substituting sugar in my coffee with aspartame. I mainly did this to try and wean myself off sugar because of unpleasant fluctuating blood sugar levels. The side effects of aspartame were far worse than the unpleasant symptoms of blood sugar fluctuations. At the time I didn't make the connection and my doctor thought I had MS or early onset of Parkinson's disease which a battery of tests proved negative for.

Some of the marked symptoms I had, included a crawling feeling on the skin and muscle twitching which took over 12 months to disappear, dizziness when suddenly standing up and irregular heartbeat and slight shaking in the left hand. I am pleased I stopped ingesting the chemical when I did!

I would suggest anyone ingesting aspartame on a regular basis that suffers any of the above symptoms mentioned in this report would do well to stop and detoxify their body. You may be very surprised how much better you feel after several months of not assaulting your body with yet another chemical!

You can read what vested interests and government health departments say about aspartame here www.aspartame.info Weigh up carefully the track record of government departments and collusion with powerful vested interests in the past before you decide aspartame is safe in YOUR diet!

Geoff Goldie

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