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Q: One of my friends strongly suggested that I stop drinking diet soda when I told her of some of my health problems. Is there really a possible connection between my diet soda and the nausea and headaches that I get?

A: Yes there is a very strong possibility of that, and more. For years I have been advising patients to not use products containing NutraSweet (a well known trade name for aspartame; it is also in Equal). At that time it was based on my own perception of this product as well as my testing of several patients.

That limited reference changed dramatically after I attended the 6 th Annual Scientific Symposium of Clinical Nutritionists. I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. H.M. Roberts, MD of the Palm Beach Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Roberts' topic reviewed the correlation of NutraSweet with many health problems including migraine headaches and multiple sclerosis symptoms. This presentation spurred me onto a research project which turned up more than enough information to back up my initial stand on this chemical product.

I'll give you a little background on this first. Aspartame was created in 1965 by Jim Schlatter, a chemist for the Searle company. He was working on the development of a drug for ulcers and discovered that it was sweet after accidentally licking his finger. That accidental discovery has led us to the current situation we have.

The main problem with this product stems from its ingredients and their breakdown products. The ingredients include methyl alcohol (also known as wood alcohol) which is a chemical that breaks down at many different temperatures into formaldehyde. Another ingredient breaks down into a substance known as DKP (diketopiperazine). Both are known neurological toxins that accumulate in the tissues of the body. Formaldehyde of course is used in embalming fluid and DKP is a brain tumor agent.

The FDA reviewed Searle's studies of this artificial sweetener in which rats were fed aspartame daily with their meals for one year. There were 12 brain tumors in the 320 rats that were fed aspartame and no brain tumors in the 120 rats that were not fed aspartame. As recently as August 6, 1997 a report by Dr. Jerome Bressler, an investigator for the FDA, has confirmed the aspartame link with brain tumors and the report adds breast, uterus, and ovarian tumors to the list of complications.

There was also a study done on rhesus monkeys at the University of Wisconsin. The monkeys were fed aspartame daily. After 200 days of a one year study the monkeys developed epileptic seizures. After the study ended, the aspartame was discontinued and the monkeys were watched closely for 60 days. The monkeys had no more seizures.

The Congressional record of May 7, 1985 includes 6 pages of objections by the National Soft Drink Association. The association recommended that aspartame NOT be approved for use by people in soda. Their recommendations were based on experiment results documenting the breakdown of aspartame into formaldehyde. Unfortunately after the use of aspartame was approved by the FDA, many soft drink manufacturers ignored their own association's recommendations. Diet soft drinks are one of, if not the major source of aspartame ingestion by over 100 million people in the United States alone.

A segment of the TV show "60 Minutes" which aired on December 12, 1996 reported on 164 studies done on aspartame. All of the 74 studies which were paid for by NutraSweet, showed that there were no problems. However 83 of the 90 studies that were done by independent labs found problems.

Mr. Arthur Hays was the commissioner of the FDA at the time of NutraSweet's approval for use. He approved this over the protests by his own Board of Inquiry. Mr. Hays then took a job as a consultant with NutraSweet's public relations firm while he was under investigation for accepting gratuities. Only a pay-off such as this makes sense when you look at the problems associated with this substance.

There is a list of known and FDA-acknowledged symptoms of aspartame poisoning. At one point in time the FDA stated that aspartame was the most complained about substance, comprising over 75% of their complaints on record. Although it can be tedious reading I'm including the list of symptoms here for your own use in detecting a possible link:

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, anxiety attacks, arthritis-like pain, asthmatic reactions, bloating, blood sugar control problems, brain cancer, breathing difficulties, burning eyes or throat, burning urination, chest pains, chronic cough, chronic fatigue, confusion, death, depression, diarrhea, dizziness, ear ringing, excessive thirst or hunger, fatigue, feel unreal, flushing of face, hair loss (baldness) or thinning of hair, headaches/migraines, hearing loss, heart palpitations, hives, high blood pressure, impotency and sexual problems, irritability, itching, joint pains, laryngitis, marked personality changes, memory loss, menstrual problems or changes, muscle spasms, nausea or vomiting, numbness or tingling of extremities, other allergic-like reactions, panic attacks, phobias, poor memory, rapid heart beat, rashes, seizures and convulsions, slurring of speech, swallowing pain, tremors, vertigo, vision loss, and weight gain.

There are also several diseases that aspartame poisoning can mimic, create and/or make worse:

Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's Disease, Lupus, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), Diabetes and diabetic complications, Epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, Birth defects, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lymphoma, Lyme Disease, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Panic Disorder, Depression and other psychological Disorders.

Because this chemical can create so many varied symptoms, and the false image of NutraSweet as being pure and natural has been so effectively marketed, many physicians aren't alert to aspartame poisoning as the source of many of their patient's ills. This contributes to a tremendous increase in health costs as patients go from doctor to doctor trying to discover the truth as to what their problem is.

Unfortunately many people have switched from sugar to NutraSweet-containing products in their desire to avoid the negative affects or calories of sugar. Many foods and products made for and consumed by children contain NutraSweet. The last thing they need in their developing bodies and nervous systems is something that breaks down into formaldehyde. Many diabetics have begun using NutraSweet, unaware of the increased damage done to their pancreas and other vital organs by the NutraSweet and its breakdown products. And the people who drink a diet soda instead of having a healthy meal in their quest for weight loss increase the damage. On an empty stomach the conversion of aspartame into it's harmful breakdown products is accelerated and amplified.

There are many safer alternatives to refined sugar that have tested well in my office and have been used safely by many people. These include succanat, stevia, brown rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, honey and of course there is always good old-fashioned will power.

There is a grassroots movement of informed active people to get aspartame reclassified from its current status of "food additive" to "toxic drug". If you are an Internet user there is a lot of information to be had. One of the major sites is From there you can get into over 150 web pages on special topics related to aspartame.

As you can see, your friend was giving you some very valuable information. I recommend that you eliminate all aspartame-containing products. You may be shocked to find that you no longer have your current symptoms. This has happened with relatives of my patients after I recommended the trial abstinence period.

If your symptoms are still present after at least a one month elimination trial then you can follow up with a competent physician to determine the source of your symptoms. Either way, your body will be less toxic and on its way to being healthier.

Dr. Susan Player