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Aspartame Already Deemed Safe, Cheap
NutraSweet Relieves Pain



“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 itself. 
     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 aspirin."
     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 antibodies.
     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 thinner.
     "Its anticoagulant properties appear to be much like those of aspirin, but without stomach upset," Manion said.

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 circles.
     "These findings about aspartame could affect just about every long-range study in the country," Edmundson said.
     "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 cancers. ..." 

Copyright 1998 Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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