“It thins the blood, reduces fever and swelling, and does not
irritate the stomach as much. In fact, aspartame appears to be
more effective than aspirin.”
Dr. Allen Edmundson
After consuming 72 ounces of diet cola in three hours, the
researcher, who has arthritis, noticed a marked decrease in the
pain and stiffness in his hands, knees, hips and feet.
By Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman
The Associated Press
O K L
A H O M A C I T Y, May 29 —
Researchers have found that a spoonful of sweetener not only
makes medicine more pleasant, but also can relieve pain all by
Aspartame, an artificial sweetener perhaps
better known by its brand name, NutraSweet, is a powerful pain
reliever and anti-inflammatory, two scientists at the Oklahoma
City-based Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation said.
Their findings were published Thursday in
the May issue of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics,
the official journal of the American Society for Clinical
Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
Dr. Carl Manion, one of the researchers, said OMRF has
received a patent on the new use for aspartame, a compound
commonly used to sweeten diet soft drinks and other foods.
"Aspartame relieves pain, pure and simple,"
said Manion, 59, a clinical pharmacologist who studies the
mechanisms of medications and disease. "It seems to be a really
fine pain reliever."
Dr. Allen Edmundson, a biochemist, said the
food additive also has "aspirin-like" properties.
‘More Effective Than Aspirin’
"It thins the blood, reduces fever and swelling,
and does not irritate the stomach as much," Edmundson, 65,
explained. "In fact, aspartame appears to be more effective than
The researchers tested aspartame's
effectiveness in a controlled, double-blind study on arthritis
pain last summer.
Nineteen patients with osteoarthritis
received either a placebo, an 80 mg. dosage of aspartame or a
160 mg. dosage of aspartame.
The volunteers who took the sweetener found
they could walk and climb stairs with less pain.
"This compound appears to have the same
pain-relieving qualities as any of the NSAIDS (non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs), which are commonly administered for
relief of arthritis pain," said Edmundson.
Both Cheap and Safe
"Aspartame is perfect for this purpose because
it is inexpensive, safe to use and lacks the side effects that
many other drugs possess."
The researchers also conducted animal tests
to determine the compound's fever-reducing properties.
Edmundson happened on the chemical
properties of aspartame when he was studying the X-ray
crystallography binding of sweet-tasting compounds in
While observing aspartame's distinctive
chemical structure, the biochemist recalled an intriguing
personal experience with the sweetener.
Once, after consuming 72 ounces of diet
cola in a three-hour period, Edmundson, who has arthritis,
noticed a marked decrease in the pain and stiffness in his
hands, knees, hips and feet.
Combining this personal anecdote with his
knowledge of aspartame's chemical structure, Edmundson theorized
that his pain relief might have been related to the sweetener.
The researcher eventually discussed his
observation with Dr. William Thurman, then the foundation's
president and now its president emeritus.
Thurman directed him to Manion, head of the
foundation's Clinical Pharmacology Research Program, who helped
design a clinical trial for Edmundson's aspartame concept.
Not Your Normal Discovery Process
"Normal discoveries begin in laboratories where
chemists or biochemists discover a compound, progress to animal
testing, file a patent application and wait for clinical trials
to be designed," Manion said.
But since aspartame is readily available
and known to be safe, the researchers were able to begin their
study with humans, Manion said.
Edmundson and Manion said there are many
practical ways in which the use of aspartame as a pain reliever
could benefit patient care.
Manion, a physician, said the compound
appears to be quite effective when used in combination with
smaller quantities of more potent painkillers.
Its use may allow patients to decrease
their use of opiates and other more expensive drugs that can
carry serious side effects, Manion said.
The pair's studies also revealed that
aspartame functions effectively as a fever reducer and a blood
"Its anticoagulant properties appear to be
much like those of aspirin, but without stomach upset," Manion
Little Money Spent on Study
Both of the unfunded studies were done "on a
shoestring," said Edmundson and Manion. They donated their time
and used a college-age summer research scholarship student to
perform some of the laboratory work.
Both researchers cautioned against
self-treatment with aspartame.
"There is still a lot of testing to be
done," Edmundson said. "People should consult their personal
physicians before arbitrarily taking aspartame as a pain
reliever, particularly if they are taking other medications.
"There are instances where aspartame may
actually interfere with treatment when used in combination with
certain other drugs," the biochemist said.
Edmundson and Manion also said their
findings may cause consternation in some clinical research
"These findings about aspartame could
affect just about every long-range study in the country,"
"Most studies probably have not taken
aspartame and its medicinal effects into account."
The scientists want to conduct additional
research into aspartame, going in two directions.
"We'd like to see some studies of it at the
molecular and cellular levels, because we really don't
understand the mechanism that aspartame uses to block the pain
pathway and for its other effects," Manion said.
"And we'd also like to test its
effectiveness in treating other health problems, like rheumatoid
arthritis and heart disease, and certain types of painful
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