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Gordon: UPI: aspartame toxicity Part 1/3 Oct 1987

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  • Rich Murray
    Gordon: UPI: aspartame toxicity Part 1/3 Oct 1987 http://www.dorway.com/upipart1.txt UPI Investigative Report 1987: Part 1 NutraSweet: Questions Swirl
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10, 2000
      Gordon: UPI: aspartame toxicity Part 1/3 Oct 1987


      UPI Investigative Report 1987: Part 1
      NutraSweet: Questions Swirl

      (Editor’s note: UPI Investigative Reporter Gregory Gordon spent eight
      months examining industry research into popular artificial sweetener,
      NutraSweet and the Food and Drug Administration’s handling of the
      product permeating the diet food and drink markets. Here is the first in
      his three-part report.)

      Part 1:


      WASHINGTON (UPI) ­ A University of Illinois scientist says he warned
      the G.D.Searle Co. years before NutraSweet swept the diet food and soft
      drink markets that the company’s new artificial sweetener could heighten
      risks of brain damage in fetuses and small children.

      Dr. Reuben Matalon, a pediatrician and geneticist, said that between
      1976 and 1984, he prodded Searle officials several times to do more
      research on the issue, but Searle never performed the studies suggested.

      The Chicago-based company did, however, pursue U.S. government
      approval for the low-calorie sugar substitute, and got it in a
      controversial ruling in 1981.

      Today, tens of millions of Americans guzzle diet soft drinks stamped
      with the NutraSweet "Swirl", dump packets of the NutraSweet tabletop
      sweetener, "Equal" in their coffee and consume NutraSweet-flavored
      cereal, puddings, gelatins, cheesecake, chewing gum or vitamin tablets.

      The Food and Drug Administration, despite receiving more than 3,600
      consumer complaints, is so confident of the sweetener's safety that it
      recently expanded uses to frozen and chilled fruit juices.

      Matalon, however, has remained skeptical. In May, he reported that his
      initial, federally funded tests on 51 adults suggests heavy NutraSweet
      consumption may increase blood levels of a key amino acid enough to
      affect attention span, memory and concentration in some people,
      particularly small children. Pregnant women who are sensitive to the
      sweetener’s main component, the amino acid phenylalanine, also may face
      heightened risk that their infants will have birth defects, Matalon said.

      More than a dozen other scientists, some of whom are conducting clinical
      studies, also say they suspect that subtle effects of the sweet powder
      could pose a major health problem. They believe NutraSweet ­ known
      generically as aspartame, is linked to brain damage, epileptic seizures,
      eyesight problems, allergic reactions, headaches or dizziness.

      "The likelihood is very strong that aspartame does produce serious and
      potentially damaging brain effects in a number of people", said Richard
      Wurtman, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      who is studying scores of people who suffered seizures after using

      Facing continuing controversy, The NutraSweet Co., the name adopted by
      Searle’s NutraSweet Division following its 1985 sale to the giant
      Monsanto Co., vouches for the sweetener.

      The firm’s president, Robert Shapiro, rejects criticism voiced by
      Matalon and others, saying, "The fact is that the world scientific
      community has considered these very specific allegations repeatedly,
      and has come to the same conclusion as the FDA."

      An eight-month United Press International investigation not only turned
      up scientific concerns, but also raised questions about the way the
      product was approved, about the independence and depth of the
      industry-funded research efforts into its safety, and about "revolving
      door" relationships between FDA officials, including former FDA
      Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes Jr. and the food and drink industries.

      Shapiro, who obtained an advance copy of this UPI report, said, "Taken
      as a whole, the effect of the article is likely to be a thoroughly
      misleading impression of the state of knowledge of the subject." Company
      spokesman Thym Smith said the firm is contemplating litigation.

      Senator Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, a leading skeptic of the FDA’s
      approval who plans to hold a hearing on NutraSweet in the next few
      weeks, said, "I don't have hard evidence that the product is not safe.
      But, I am convinced that there is no hard evidence...that the product is

      FDA officials stress they have yet to see hard data disproving the
      sweetener's safety. For that reason, the agency last year rejected a
      consumer group’s petition to ban it on grounds that 140 users suffered
      seizures and eye problems.

      NutraSweet has been at the center of intense controversy almost since
      July 18, 1981, the day Hayes approved its use in dry foods. Indeed, in
      rendering his decision, Hayes overrode six of the nine scientists on two
      agency review panels who felt studies on its possible links to brain
      tumors in rats had been inadequate.

      Since then, some independent scientists have become unusually

      Drs. Louis Elsas of Emory University and William Pardridge of the UCLA
      Medical School charged that the diet food and drink industry has engaged
      in a "whitewash" by rejecting health concerns, manipulating research
      studies and wining and dining scientific critics.

      These and other researchers describe a world of subtle, high-stakes
      strategy in which the availability of corporate funds and the design of
      research protocols may have influenced the course of a
      multibillion-dollar industry and potentially affected the safety of
      millions of people.

      The NutraSweet Co. and a non-profit industry group reject these
      allegations, asserting they have commissioned scores of studies to test
      the product's safety and that decisions on research funding are made
      solely on merit. Company spokesman Smith said NutraSweet’s "phenomenal
      safety record is the result of the well known nature of the product
      rather than manipulations of management." Consumer complaints about
      NutraSweet surged in 1983, after Hayes’ deputy, Mark Novitch, with the
      commissioners support, approved its use in soft drinks such as "Diet
      Coke" and "Crystal Light", sending consumption soaring.

      UCLA’s Pardridge noted in a letter to the American Medical Association
      Journal last year that, with aspartame, the food industry now is adding
      about five million pounds of phenylalanine ­ "a known neurotoxin" to the
      food supply every year.

      Roy Burry, an analyst with Kidder-Peabody, Inc., said the exploding diet
      market now accounts for 24 percent of soft drink sales, compared with 10
      percent in the 1970’s, and is growing at 20 to 25 percent a year.

      The NutraSweet Co.’s sales are no longer public, but last year revenues
      were believed to have exceeded previously stated levels of $700 million.

      So intense has been the NutraSweet advertising campaign that the diet
      food and beverage industry created a "NutraSweet World Professional
      Figure Skating Championship."

      "Taking good care of oneself makes life a little better- and NutraSweet
      makes it a little sweeter!" boasted one ad during a TV fitness program.

      The NutraSweet Co. also has paid up to $3 million a year for a 100-
      person public relations effort by the Chicago offices of Burson,
      Marsteller, a former employee of the New York PR firm said. The
      employee said Burson Marsteller has hired numerous scientists and
      physicians, often at $1,000 a day, to defend the sweetener in media
      interviews and other public forums. Burson Marsteller declines to
      discuss such matters.

      Dismissing safety fears, The NutraSweet Co. stresses that its product,
      which in raw form, is 180 times sweeter than sugar, has been endorsed by
      the AMA and other scientific bodies worldwide. Actually, the AMA’s
      Council of Scientific Affairs gave a qualified endorsement based on
      "available evidence", including company-funded studies that were
      challenged by FDA task forces during investigations of the firm’s
      laboratory practices in the 1970’s.

      Of 69 scientists who responded to a recent General Accounting Office
      survey, 28 said they felt more research was needed on NutraSweet and a
      dozen of those questioned considered it a major health problem.

      An "aspartame victims" group has formed, a consumer group has pressed
      legal challenges and the company faces at least three personal injury
      suits. In one suit, Jim Stoddard, 32, a diabetic in Grand Rapids,
      Michigan, charged that his heavy NutraSweet consumption triggered a
      dozen seizures- the last one so violent he dislocated his shoulder and
      fractured his collar bone.

      Stoddard’s lawyer, and his sister, Cynthia, alleged he suffered brain
      damage and now has trouble understanding words because he consumed a
      product inadequately tested by Searle. She said she withdrew the suit
      recently for tactical reasons but would refile it early next year. The
      company denies the allegations.

      Wurtman, who quit his job as a Searle consultant and became a vocal
      NutraSweet opponent, said he has been contacted by more than 200
      persons who suspect they suffered seizures as a result of NutraSweet

      He said Dr. Gerald Gaull, a Searle vice president, visited his
      laboratory in 1985 and threatened to veto funding by ILSI
      (International Life Sciences Institute), the Washington-based tax-exempt
      foundation, for his planned study into whether NutraSweet changes brain
      chemistry, lowering some humans’ seizure thresholds.

      Gaull said, "there’s no way" Searle, with one of 12 votes on the ILSI
      panel, could veto a grant decision, but he did not deny making the

      ILSI ultimately turned away Wurtman on grounds that Searle already had
      arranged for seizure studies at Yale University and New York’s Mount
      Sinai Hospital ­ studies that have drawn criticism because human
      volunteers were given aspartame only once or twice.

      Wurtman said he is now tapping his laboratory’s budget, which is
      extremely limited, slowing progress on his own studies. "Aspartame may
      be a serious health hazard," he said, "It’s critically important that
      high quality research now be done to assess this hazard." In his letter
      to the AMA Journal, Pardridge said no one has fully researched the
      degree to which aspartame raises phenylalanine levels on the brain and,
      if so, what the possible effects are. He said in an interview, after he
      raised questions about the sweetener’s effects on children, that ILSI
      rejected his two grant proposals in 1985. Last year, he said, Gaull
      pressed him at a conference in Colorado to prove that phenylalanine, one
      of twenty-one amino acids, causes brain damage.

      "It was incredible for him to ask that," Pardridge said. "That was the
      basis for my ILSI grant (proposal)."

      "There’s an internal conflict of interest," he said, "when a company,
      which has profit at the bottom line, is charged with finding out the
      true safety of its product."

      Elsas, who publicly assailed NutraSweet in 1985, said he was put off for
      a year before ILSI rejected his proposal without stating a reason.
      ILSI’s executive director, Jack Filer, asserted research proposals were
      rejected because they cost too much or lacked scientific merit.

      While denying funding for these aspartame skeptics, the company
      (G.D.Searle/NutraSweet Co.) and ILSI have financed researchers with
      whom they have long-running relationships. A number of industry-funded
      scientists acknowledged that company and ILSI officials originated
      ideas for their studies or participated in the research design. These
      studies generally have reported the sweetener is safe.

      Consumer lawyer Turner said, "The notion that an industrial company
      would take large sums of money and parcel it out to scientific
      consulting firms and university departments, who they consider to be
      personal and commercial allies is an unconscionable way to ensure the
      safety of the American food supply."

      He said the NutraSweet experience shows that "the entire system of the
      way scientific research is done needs to be carefully investigated,
      evaluated, and revamped."

      Food industry officials also said most studies financed by Searle or the
      NutraSweet Co. have been arranged as contracts, rather than grants.
      Smith said the company often uses contracts "to accomplish a specific
      research task."

      James Scala, former director of health sciences for the General Foods
      Corp., a major NutraSweet user, said that a scientist working under
      contract became "more of an arm of the Searle research group than a

      Scala, now with the Shaklee Corp., also said that most early NutraSweet
      research consisted of short-term studies that ignored possible "subtle,"
      long-term effects.

      Matalon said, "Let us say cigarettes were invented today, and you give
      20 people two packs a day and after six weeks, no one has cancer, would
      you safe that it was safe? That’s what they did with NutraSweet."

      Dr. Martha Freeman, who was a medical officer at the FDA’s Bureau of
      Drugs in the early 1970’s, argued in 1973 that the substance (aspartame)
      was "a new chemical...that doesn't occur naturally" and should only be
      approved after long-term clinical studies, as if it were a new drug. Her
      arguments were rejected.

      Despite these complaints, the NutraSweet Co. has insisted that the
      company-funded studies prove that except for people with the rare
      disease, phenylketonuria, the human body processes phenylalanine in
      aspartame just like any other food, Thomas Stenzel, a spokesman for the
      International Food Information Council, a public relations arm for
      NutraSweet’s manufacturers and biggest customers, contended scientific
      adversaries comprise a small minority.

      He said he found it "very important that the leading professional health
      organizations" have found NutraSweet to be safe.

      For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded in 1985 that
      studies on people given massive aspartame doses showed no dangerous
      rise in blood phenylalanine levels; the Epilepsy Institute has reported
      the sweetener "to be safe for people with epilepsy."

      Filer, executive director of the industry’s main organ, the
      International Life Sciences Institute, suggested that problems blamed
      on aspartame may stem from "water load" on the brain resulting from
      over-consumption of liquids.

      Maj. Michael Collings, who was an Air Force F-16 pilot in top physical
      condition, said he often drank up to a gallon of aspartame-sweetened
      products when he finished his daily, five-to-eight mile jogs in Nevada’s
      desert heat. After noticing slight trembling in his hands over several
      weeks, he collapsed unconscious with a seizure on Oct. 4, 1985, a lawyer
      for Collings said.

      Because of the seizure, Collings is grounded as a pilot for life, is on
      medication and was ordered transferred to Maxwell Air Force Base in
      Alabama at a $400-a-month pay reduction, said attorney Bryan Gould,
      who charged in a state court suit last year that NutraSweet caused the

      "He tells me there’s no way to describe the feeling of flight," Gould
      said. "He loves to fly and now he can't." The NutraSweet Co. denies any
      link between the sweetener and Collings' medical problems.

      FDA officials, while publicly endorsing aspartame, are watching the
      situation closely. In late 1985, the agency took the unusual step of
      asking doctors nationwide to report adverse reactions to NutraSweet, and
      another food additive, sulfites ­ a move normally reserved for drugs.
      Sulfites since have been banned from the market. A FDA spokesman said
      about 25 doctors filed reports suggesting aspartame links to varying
      health problems.

      The FDA approved NutraSweet products on the condition they carry a
      compulsory warning to phenylketonurics, individuals sensitive to its
      phenylalanine component. But Matalon, Elsas and others worry about
      millions of "carriers" of the disease who are unaware of their
      sensitivity. They say NutraSweet could damage fetuses of pregnant women
      whose bodies have trouble processing the amino acid.

      Matalon, on releasing his new study, urged that products be labeled with
      the amount of NutraSweet they contain so consumers can monitor their
      intake. In Canada, aspartame is the only food additive for which such
      quantity food labeling is required.

      With consumption soaring, Sanford Miller, chief of FDA’s Bureau of
      Foods, has acknowledged considering a labeling requirement in this

      Dr. Gary Flamm, the FDA’s top toxicologist overseeing food additives,
      said that beyond labeling, once a food additive such as NutraSweet has
      won approval, it is far more difficult to restrict its marketing.

      "If...our approval of it was a mistake, we couldn't rectify that without
      data showing that aspartame was unsafe," said Flamm, an aspartame

      Even then, he said, the agency would face a new regulatory thicket
      unless it could be shown NutraSweet posed "an imminent hazard." Consumer
      lawyer James Turner, who has campaigned for more than a decade for a
      NutraSweet ban, assailed the FDA’s treatment of such safety issues.
      "Once a product is on the market, whether there by nefarious or honest
      means," he said, "it is impossible to get it off the market until it
      has caused severe, undeniable damage that has probably lasted over many

      Several independent scientists have alleged that the industry has
      steered research money to allies in the scientific community, while
      denying funding to those who have raised health concerns.

      A number of scientists who pressed for more studies into possible brain
      damage told UPI they were turned away by Searle and the International
      Life Sciences Institute, a tax-exempt industry foundation supported by
      the company, its Japanese aspartame-manufacturing partner and 10 sellers
      of NutraSweet-flavored products.

      In interviews, Drs. Matalon, Wurtman, Elsas, Pardridge, and John Olney
      of Washington University in Illinois charged that the industry has paid
      millions of dollars for studies that have skirted the real issues about

      "There are virtually no studies," Turner said, "that have been done by
      individuals using resources other than the industry’s that have given a
      clean bill of health to aspartame."

      University of Illinois researcher Matalon recalled that he couldn’t
      persuade Searle to do the kind of research necessary to put to rest
      lingering health concerns, neither on his first approach in 1976 nor
      when he submitted specific grant proposals to more four more company
      officials beginning in late 1980.

      After NutraSweet won FDA approval and began changing the dietary
      habits of millions of Americans, Matalon said he lost patience in 1984
      with the usual encouragement from Searle officials about prospects for
      future funding. "I felt they were just stringing me along," said
      Matalon, who obtained a $180,000 grant from the National Institutes of

      Company spokesman Smith said the NutraSweet manufacturer has "not
      discouraged Dr. Matalon’s work, nor anyone else’s." While declining to
      comment on the decision not to fund Matalon’s study, Smith said the
      company spends "between $30 million and $35 million annually on

      "We do make decisions based on how we understand a study will be
      conducted and, reasonable scientists may disagree on study designs," he

      The company has alleged that a number of its critics are seeking to
      pressure the industry to fund their laboratories.

      Faced with sharply differing opinions on the sweetener’s safety, the FDA
      and the National Institutes of Health, the government’s chief funding
      mechanism for private research, have financed few studies on its
      effects. One former ranking NIH official, Artemis Simopoulos, argued the
      agency "should have a very extensive program on aspartame so people
      would know" whether it is safe.

      Yet some NIH scientists have served as consultants to the ILSI
      foundation, helping decide the awards of $500,000 in annual NutraSweet
      research grants in recent years. Even Simopoulos was a non-paid member
      of the foundation’s board.

      But ILSI’s "aspartame technical committee," consisting of the
      NutraSweet Co. and 11 other manufacturers and users of sweetener, have
      been accused of discriminating against NutraSweet critics in granting

      Represented on the ILSI committee are General Foods, the Coca Cola
      Co., PepsiCo, Inc., the Royal Crown Cola Co. and Seven-Up, Inc.

      ILSI insists that the NutraSweet Co. carries no special weight despite
      its U.S. monopoly on the sweetener. "The NutraSweet Co. is one of our
      members," said ILSI administrator Sharon Senzik. "Committees operate
      by Robert’s Rules of Order."

      Filer collaborated for several years on NutraSweet research with a
      colleague at the University of Iowa, Dr. Lewis Stegink. Filer pledged
      that, despite his past ties to the company, as ILSI’s head he would
      "let the chips fall where they may" on research results. Samuel
      Molinary, co-chairman of ILSI’s panel, is Searle's former director of
      scientific affairs and now Pepsico’s research director. Molinary insists
      that ILSI is not a "lackey and tool" of the NutraSweet Co.

      Peter Dews, a Harvard University psychobiology professor named to
      ILSI’s original board of trustees in 1978, has served as an ILSI
      consultant since then. Dews recently took the trouble to write and
      promote an article declaring that, based on scientific presentations
      at an ILSI aspartame conference in Spain last year, "there is now a
      mass of evidence" that NutraSweet is safe if consumed at FDA-recommended

      Dews declined to discuss his ILSI consulting fees, except to say it is
      "not enough to make any difference in my life." ILSI’s 1984 return filed
      with the Internal Revenue Service showed payments to Dews that year of

      A lawyer for the ILSI pledged to the IRS in obtaining tax-exempt status
      for the foundation in 1983, that the organization "does not have any
      plans to engage in commercially sponsored scientific research." Attorney
      Roger Middlekauff advised the IRS that ILSI would "direct the research
      toward benefiting the public" and would release all research results.

      But Elsas charged that ILSI "is definitely a front organization to try
      to make the public believe that there is some non-directed, non-biased
      research going on," when ILSI studies actually are likely to support
      NutraSweet’s safety.

      The industry has invited scientific critics for paid visits to company
      laboratories, sometimes offering courtesy "honorariums," an industry
      source said.

      The NutraSweet Co. also hosted critics at conferences in resort
      settings. Matalon briefed ILSI on his research at the meeting in the
      Costa del Sol region on Spain’s southern coast.

      In the summer of 1985, the firm flew Wurtman, Elsas, Matalon,
      Pardridge, several of their wives and other NutraSweet critics to a
      two-day meeting at a luxurious home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. An
      afternoon was spent on a yacht, participants said. "This was industry
      wooing the concerned to shut up." Elsas said.

      Pardridge said he was the only strong aspartame critic to accept an
      invitation in June 1986 to a heavily-attended Searle sponsored
      conference at a picturesque ski resort in Keystone, Colo. Pardridge
      said when he tried during the conference to raise his concerns about
      phenylalanine, the discussion was cut off. "It was just another typical
      industry whitewash," he said.

      UPI Investigative Report: 10-07-87
      Seizure, Blindness victims point to NutraSweet

      WASHINGTON (UPI) Susan Yarmey, a free-lance writer from Quincy,
      Mass., awoke on a hot July morning in 1984 with a large bump on her
      head and bruises all over her body.

      "I had no recollection of what happened. There were marks on the wall,
      two wooden steps were broken and there was a nice gash on the wall
      where my head hit," she said.

      Yarmey’s doctors diagnosed her injuries as resulting from a "classic"
      epileptic seizure. She and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      neuroscientist Richard Wurtman believe the incident may be connected to
      her consumption of the artificial sweetener, NutraSweet, known
      generically as aspartame.

      "A friend in New York directed me to the possible effects of NutraSweet
      consumption...I was probably, at that particular time period, doing a
      liter and a half to two liters (of diet soda with NutraSweet) a day,"
      said Yarmey, who said when she stopped taking NutraSweet her problems

      Yarmey is not alone. Many NutraSweet consumers, particularly heavy
      users, who have suffered headaches, tremors, blindness, allergic
      reactions and seizures, blame NutraSweet for their ailments.

      Wurtman says he personally is aware of more than 200 cases in which he
      suspects NutraSweet has caused health problems such as headaches,
      dizziness, and seizures.

      Wurtman says the problem might be solved simply by stiffening the
      labeling requirements for NutraSweet products so that certain identified
      groups can monitor their intake.

      "The groups I would identify are pregnant ladies, small children, people
      with a history of seizures and people who are taking certain drugs that
      interact with phenylalanine," an amino acid in the sweetener, Wurtman

      Another former NutraSweet consumer, Shannon Roth, a mother of two
      who works as a goldsmith in Ocala, Florida, organized Aspartame Victims
      and Their Friends, Inc. after suffering blindness in one eye. She said
      the group now has about 700 members.

      "I got up in the morning and had two packs (of Equal, the NutraSweet
      tabletop version) in each cup of coffee...three or four cups of coffee
      before noon. Then I'd switch to the iced tea with it," Roth said.

      In the summer of 1984, Roth said, she began to experience headaches,
      sleep and memory loss, and irritability.

      After getting out of bed one morning, she discovered she couldn't see
      when she closed her right eye, Roth said. "I could see like through a
      black veil. It was like a centralized, almond-shaped black spot," she

      Doctors’ laboratory tests failed to trace the cause of her partial
      blindness, she said, and one doctor told her not to expect vision to
      return to her eye.

      Roth said she suspected NutraSweet as the cause after learning of a
      similar case that was allegedly linked to the sweetener, and after about
      four weeks without NutraSweet, her headaches and other problems
      ceased. Her sight began to return a few weeks later, she said.

      Joyce Wilson, a real estate agent in Stockbridge, Georgia, said she
      began suffering from high blood pressure, dizziness and other ill
      effects in 1982 after using Equal in her coffee and eating
      NutraSweet-flavored puddings. She said that in 1984 and 1985, she lost
      some vision.

      "I'm not blaming this all on NutraSweet," Wilson said. "I'm just saying
      it’s a strange coincidence that when I started using it, I started
      falling apart."

      Dr. Morgan Raiford, an ophthalmologist at Emory University examined
      both Roth and Wilson and believes their problems stem from
      consumption of the methyl alcohol in NutraSweet.

      Dorris Bookhart, 43, a legal secretary in Lodge, S. Carolina, started
      having what were later diagnosed as temporal lobe seizures in August of
      1984. At the time, she said, she was drinking four 16-ounce bottles of
      Diet Coke a day, as well as diet lemonade. Both contained NutraSweet.

      In January of 1985, after six months of problems, she suffered a grand
      mal seizure, a convulsive episode in which the victim loses
      consciousness, she said. Her doctors were mystified by the seizures,
      but they ruled out epilepsy, Bookhart said.

      She said she suspected NutraSweet as the culprit when, at her husband’s
      suggestion, she stopped drinking Diet Coke and the problems ended.

      "I've cried a lot of times thinking these people have destroyed my life
      and there isn't a damn thing I can do," she said.

      Another heavy user of the artificial sweetener, Larry Taylor of
      Arlington, Texas, said he was hospitalized for five or six days to
      undergo a battery of tests after suffering a grand mal seizure in 1985.
      He was also a victim of migraine headaches that became more frequent
      between 1982 and 1984. After his seizures, Taylor, an anesthetist, was
      not allowed to work until January of this year (1987), a disability he
      said left him "financially devastated."

      What critics say about NutraSweet 10.12.87

      WASHINGTON (UPI) ­ Despite the NutraSweet Co.’s insistence that
      scores of company studies have "proved" the sweetener is harmless,
      here’s a sampling of concerns from a hard core of scientific critics:

      What the critics say about NutraSweet

      Dr. Rueben Matalon of the University of Illinois has reported that heavy
      consumption of NutraSweet’s main component ­ the amino acid
      phenylalanine ­ may cause neurological problems such as loss of memory
      and concentration. Matalon and Dr. Louis Elsas of Emory University say
      they fear aspartame consumption by some pregnant women can cause
      irreversible brain damage in fetuses. They worry most about women
      among an estimated 4 million to 20 million Americans who are carriers of
      the genetic disease, phenylketonuria ­ characterized by the liver’s
      inability to process phenylalanine. While there are an estimated 20,000
      to 30,000 PKU victims nationwide who are warned not to take NutraSweet,
      carriers or heterozygotes, do not have the disease and generally are
      unaware of their sensitivity, they said. The company has said that the
      Food and Drug Administration concluded, "NutraSweet did not present any
      additional health risk to pregnant women."

      Dr. Paul Spiers, a clinical neuropsychologist at Boston’s Beth Israel
      Hospital, found in a recent pilot study that, after consuming
      NutraSweet, some subjects with no previous problems failed to show the
      usual improvement in performance on cognitive tests. He plans further
      research. But Dr, Harris Lieberman of the Massachusetts Institute of
      Technology, who has received industry funding for NutraSweet research
      in the past, said his study of 20 adult males indicates that aspartame
      "has no measurable effect on mood and performance in normal humans."

      In St. Louis, Washington University allergist, Dr. Anthony Kulczycki
      found that two women given NutraSweet capsules and a placebo suffered
      allergic reactions to NutraSweet. The women reported hives and other
      skin reactions after using the sweetener.

      Dr. Donald Johns, a neurology resident at Massachusetts General
      Hospital, reported last year that a "double-blind" study of a woman
      suffering migraine headaches showed her problems were aggravated by
      consumption of NutraSweet. NutraSweet, known generically as aspartame,
      consists of phenylalanine and another amino acid, aspartic acid, linked
      to a small quantity of methyl alcohol. Scientific critics seem to worry
      most about phenyalanine.

      Dr. Richard Wurtman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      neuroscientist, says heavy NutraSweet consumption may so flood the
      bloodstream with phenyalanine that other essential amino acids are
      blocked from reaching the brain, causing chemical changes that can
      affect behavior and lower the threshold at which many suffer epileptic
      seizures. Wurtman and Dr. Donald Schomer of Harvard University are
      testing seizure victims who used NutraSweet, particularly some whose
      bodies may have trouble processing phenylalanine. The NutraSweet Co.
      concedes aspartame raises phenylalanine levels, but says no harm
      results, and that consuming the amino acids in NutraSweet "is just like
      eating other foods containing the same protein components."

      Another Wurtmen protege, Dr. Timothy Maher of Massachusetts General
      Hospital, supported his mentor by reporting that mice, given a seizure
      inducing drug and NutraSweet, suffered more seizures than those
      receiving the drug alone. Dr. Henry Haigler, a scientist in a NutraSweet
      Co. sister firm, said his similar study showed "no effect on seizure

      Dr. William Pardridge of the UCLA Medical School, who also has done
      phenylalanine research, said he most fears the sweetener’s effect on
      children, who, he says, "are more likely to approach the FDA’s
      acceptable daily intake level of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body
      weight. If you’re a child, seven to twelve years of age, the chances
      are good you'll have five servings a day" ­ close to the acceptable
      level, he said. But Dr. Harvey Levy, head of the PKU clinic at Boston’s
      Children’s Hospital, wrote the Journal of the American Medical
      Association that Pardridge made an "inaccurate interpretation" of their
      data in predicting brain damage effects on fetuses from aspartame. Any
      danger level, they said, "would seem to be considerably higher" than
      levels from NutraSweet consumption.

      Dr. Woodrow Monte, an Arizona State University food scientist, and Dr.
      Morgan Raiford, an ophthalmology professor at Emory, worry that a
      NutraSweet breakdown product, methyl alcohol, could produce severe eye
      damage. Last year, Raiford examined more than a half dozen persons
      who said they suffered eye problems after consuming NutraSweet heavily.
      He said he diagnosed some cases of optic nerve damage and suspects
      NutraSweet’s methyl alcohol is the culprit. The company denies any
      connection between NutraSweet and eye problems and has offered exams
      to consumers who complain of such problems.

      Dr. Sidney Wolfe, executive director of the Washington-based Health
      Research Group, said, "The thing that’s really worrisome is that it
      clearly affects brain metabolism in animals, and anyone who disputes
      that is irresponsible."

      Dr. John Olney of Washington University expresses fears about brain
      tumors ­ a problem he and other scientists say would not show up in
      humans for 20 years and would be difficult to trace to NutraSweet. Olney
      said Searle rat studies have shown conflicting brain tumor data. As
      early as 1971, Olney reported that aspartic acid in aspartame killed
      cells in the brain’s hypothalamus region, which regulates glandular and
      hormonal functions.

      The NutraSweet Company responds to UPI series 10.13.87

      WASHINGTON (UPI) ­ In response to the United Press International
      series of articles on NutraSweet, The NutraSweet Co. issued the
      following statement:

      A series of articles to be released this week by UPI seriously
      misrepresents the vast body of scientific evidence, which establishes
      the safety of aspartame.

      Contrary to the impression created by these articles, the scientific
      record has been carefully reviewed by independent and official
      scientific and regulatory agencies around the world. Without exception,
      each of these agencies has concluded that aspartame is a safe sweetener
      which can be used as a normal part of the daily diet. The following
      quotations are representative of expert scientific and medical opinion
      around the world.

      U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "The data and information
      supporting the safety of aspartame are extensive. It is likely that no
      food product has ever been so closely examined for safety...Few
      compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close
      scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should
      provide the public with additional confidence of its safety."

      American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs:
      "Consumption of aspartame of normal humans is safe..."

      American Diabetes Association: "Aspartame has been determined to be
      safe for the general population as well as for people with diabetes."

      Government of Canada (Health Protection Branch): "Aspartame is one of
      the most extensively studied chemicals permitted for use in food...Based
      on the available data it has been concluded that aspartame would not
      pose a hazard to health when used in accordance with the current
      provisions of the Canadian food and drug regulations."

      Government of Denmark (Danish Food Institute): "Research published in
      the scientific literature and/or studied in detail by governments and
      independent scientific committees maintains that the use of aspartame as
      an additive does not bear any health risk at all...There is, therefore,
      no toxicological basis for believing the intake of aspartame is soft
      drinks and food products should give rise to harmful effects in children
      or adults, even people with high level usage."

      Government of Great Britain (UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals
      and Food): "Following detailed consideration of all toxicological data,
      we see no objection to the use of aspartame in food."

      Other scientific agencies that have reviewed the evidence and confirmed
      the safety of aspartame include the World health Organization of the
      United Nations; the Scientific Committee on Foods of the European
      Common Market; the Epilepsy Institute; and the American Academy of

      Aspartame has been reviewed and approved as a safe sweetener by the
      official food regulatory authorities in all the leading nations of the
      world, including many which forbid or restrict the usage of other

      A recent article by Harvard Medical School Prof. Peter Dews reviewed the
      "massive evidence" that establishes the safety of aspartame. Dr. Dews
      concluded: "Many articles of everyday consumption that are known to be
      safe might not survive the scrutiny of such intensive and continued

      The respected consumer publication Consumer Reports summarized its
      conclusions this way: "An objective weighing of the evidence suggests
      that aspartame is the artificial sweetener to be preferred on safety

      The UPI articles also seek to discredit the process by which aspartame
      was reviewed and approved by the FDA.

      These charges have been conclusively rebutted by both the FDA, itself,
      and by the General Accounting Office, the investigative agency of the
      Congress. A full GAO report on the approval process concluded that the
      FDA had properly followed the appropriate procedures and had
      adequately addressed the scientific issues.

      The UPI series is replete with misstatements and distortions, which
      convey a totally misleading impression of the scientific facts. Any
      concern or anxiety by consumers who read these articles is absolutely
      unwarranted. Aspartame is safe as approved by FDA and regulatory
      authorities around the world. Any contrary impression created by UPI
      articles is a serious disservice to the public.
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