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Environment > Poisons > Aspartame causing blindness

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, Friday, October 17, 1986
Consumer group links NutraSweet to blindness
By William Hines
Chief, Washington Bureau
Chicago Sun-Times

Ban artificial sweetener, FDA is urged

WASHINGTON - Charging that aspartame - the widely used artificial sweetener marketed as NutraSweet causes blindness, a consumer group yesterday petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban it. The petition was another step in a long and so far fruitless campaign by the Washington based Community Nutrition Institute against aspartame, which also is sold in stores under the name Equal. Three women who said their eyesight was seriously damaged or destroyed joined in the citizens’ petition to the FDA, which they asked “to expeditiously remove [the] product from the market without an administrative hearing.” At a press conference called by the institute to announce the imminent-hazard petition, two of the women told of heavy use of aspartame-sweetened products and said their doctors had advised them the sugar substitute was the cause of their sight loss.

The NutraSweet Co., of Skokie, Ill., a subsidiary of Searle & Co., brushed off the institute’s complaint as “simply another round in their repeated efforts to gain publicity for their thoroughly discredited views on aspartame.” A Washington-based group called the International Food Information Council said through its executive director, Thomas E. Stenzel, the allegations “that aspartame causes various side effects are not based on any scientific data or controlled clinical studies.” James S. Turner, a Washington lawyer representing the Community Nutrition Institute in the petition, said the eye damage to the women named in the complaint was “a direct, causally related event to their consumption of NutraSweet.”

Both heavy users, Both women, Dana Cozad of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Joyce Wilson of Stockbridge, Ga., described themselves as heavy users of the sweetener.

Wilson, a real estate agent, said she no longer can take sales prospects to see property because her vision does not permit her to drive.    “It has cost me a lot, and I really want the public to know what a dangerous product it is,” Wilson said. Cozad said that vision loss struck her suddenly in the right eye while she was driving home and that lengthy surgery and other sight-saving efforts followed. She said vision is gone in that eye, and - after she has spent 13 months on an aspartame-free diet - the condition of the left eye “remains relatively stable.” Both women said their physicians had ruled out causes other than aspartame for their sight loss

Methyl alcohol blamed

Dr. H. J. Roberts of West Palm Beach, Fla., said methyl alcohol is a component of aspartame and is responsible for vision damage, which he termed “the most serious complication” of those arising from aspartame use.   Aspartame, which is described as a “natural” product, contains two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are components of protein.  Under certain storage conditions, the sweetener breaks down in part and methyl alcohol is a byproduct. Roberts said the visual reaction to methyl alcohol in heavy users of aspartame is the same as in drinkers of moonshine whiskey in Prohibition days:  “They go blind.” Of 360 patients he has diagnosed as having aspartame-related problems, Roberts said, about one-fourth had  decreased vision or blindness, nearly half had severe headaches and substantial numbers had epileptic seizures,  confusion or memory loss, extreme depression and marked personality change.

At FDA headquarters in Rockville, Md., spokesman William Grigg said the petition had  been received but not yet studied. Grigg recalled that Turner filed several interventions against aspartame in the past, none of which received favorable FDA action.


I have treated many patients with diabetes mellitus and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in my capacity as a Board-certified internist and an endocrinologist member of the  Endocrine Society). Since both groups shold abstain from sugar, I initially rejoiced that these persons had an acceptable and presumable safe sugar substitute in aspartame.

Unfortunately, many patients in my practice, and others seen in consultation, developed serious metabolic,  neurologic and other complications that could be specifically attributed to using aspartame products. This was evidenced by:
The loss of diabetic control, the intensification of hypoglycemia, the occurrence of presumed insulin reactions (including convulsions) that proved to be aspartame  reactions, and the precipitation, aggravation or simulation of diabetic complications (especially impaired vision and neuropathy) while using these products.

Dramatic improvement of such features after avoiding aspartame, AND the prompt predictable recurrent of these problems when the patient resumed aspartame products,  knowlingly or inadvertently. I have cited many instances of severe complications in patients with diabetes and hypoglycemia caused by the use of aspartame products in my books and scientific articles. Here are few illustrations.

A 21 year-old insulin-dependent teacher suffered more frequent insulin reactions both at school and at home, while drinking many aspartame colas daily. He reported: When we cut down on aspartame, I stopped having so many reactions. A diabetic man suffered severe changes in vision when he was drinking four liters of aspartame soft drinks daily. An opthalmologist assured him that there was no detectable diabetic retinopathy.

The patient then chanced to read an article about aspartame-related eye problems. He  promptly improved after avoiding these beverages, an unlikely event if the problem was  primarily a diabetic retinopathy.

A 46 year-old man with insulin-dependent diabetes had been in good control for three decades until he began using several aspartame sodas and packets of tabletop  sweetener daily. He summarized his experience in these terms: My diabetes went  haywire, and I had terrible insulin reactions. His diabetes was fully controlled within one  week after abstaining from aspartame products.

A 12 year-old boy with known diabetes required multiple hospitalizations for diabetic  coma while consuming considerable aspartame products. Physicians at a university  hospital had difficulty in stabilizing his insulin requirements while he used them.

In the light of this experience, I now advise ALL my patients with diabetes and hypoglycemia to avoid  aspartame products. A number of alternatives are available.

I regret the failure of other physicians and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to sound appropriate warnings to patients and consumers based on these repeated findings which have been described in my corporate-neutral studies and publications.

This is largely due to these factors:

1) It has been virtually impossible to get on the programs for national meetings of diabetologists and other professional groups in order to describe these observations. Indeed, the ADA (of which I have been a member for over three decades) even refused to print an abstract of adverse reactions I encountered in 58 diabetic patients that was submitted for its 1987 annual meeting. This abstract subsequently appeared in    CLINICAL RESEARCH (Vol. 3: 489A, 1988)...six years ago.

2) Journals devoted to diabetes and internal medicine have refused to publish my manuscripts on this subject due to negative comments from peer review. The likelihood at some of these reviewer-authorities had self-serving interests in denying publication is suggested below.

3) The AMA, the FDA, and the ADA dogmatically continue to express the unequivocal opinion that aspartame is completely safe for diabetics - and nearly everyone else.

4) Manufacturers and producers accomplished the marketing miracle of the 1980s through highly effective PR campaigns, the underwriting of numerous research projects (a number involving flawed protocols) by investigators they granted on contracted with, and enormous biopolitical clout in order to protect their billion-dollar market.

I detailed these matters in my two books on the subject: ASPARTAME   (NUTRASWEET): IS IT SAFE? (Philadelphia, 1989, the Charles Press) and SWEETNER DEAREST: BITTERSWEET VIGNETTES ABOUT ASPARTAME  (NUTRASWEET) (West Palm Beach, 1992, Sunshine Sentinel Press, PO Box 8697 1-800-814-9800). They are also summarized in my two-tape lecture, IS ASPARTAME (NUTRASWEET) SAFE? A MEDICAL, PUBLIC HEALTH AND  LEGAL OVERVIEW (West Palm Beach, 1992, Sunshine Sentinel Press, PO Box 8697, 1-800-814-9800).

I have discussed some of the reasons aspartame might aggravate diabetes and  hypoglycemia in these books. The possible mechanisms include the following:
Marked changes in appetite and weight as reflected by paradoxic weight gain or severe loss of weight.

Excessive insulin secretion and depletion of the insulin reserve.

Possible alteration of cellular receptor sites for insulin, with ensuing insulin resistance.

Neurotransmitter alterations within the brain and peripheral nerves.

The toxicity of each of the three components of aspartame (phenylalanine; aspartic acid: the methylester, which promptly becomes methyl alcohol  or methanol), and their multiple breakdown products after exposure to heat or during prolonged storage

I have asserted in my publications, and in testimony both to Congress and FDA advisory group, that the current wholesale ingestion of aspartame products by over half the adult population constitutes an imminent public health hazard. Yet, this warning continues to be ignored by the medical profession and the FDA.

Accordingly, informed and concerned consumers are justified in criticizing the  industrial-medical complex that 1) refuses to acknowledge the problem of aspartame  disease, and 2) fails to warn high-risk groups about the potential dangers. In addition to  patients with diabetes and hypoglycaemia, they include pregnant women, children,  patients with epilepsy, liver, kidney disease and eating disorders, older persons with  memory impairment, and the relatives of aspartame reactors, diabetics and patients  with phenylketonuria.

Many also correctly ask: Why is aspartame still on the market? Their concern is  intensified by the high  incidence of brain tumours in animals (known before FDA  approval), and the reasonable doubt I have documented about the apparent contributory role of aspartame in human brain tumours.

M.D. H.J. Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.P.,F.C.C.P. August 9, 1994

Further Reading
Aspartame's history Aspartame - Page 2, Page 3 - Aspartame in NZ
Aspartame & Brain Cancer, Aspartame in Children's Medicines


Poisons Index
Common Toxins
  A mind control drug
Genetically Engineered Foods
  GE Corn in NZ
  GMO Corn Failure

  Sugar- a sweet poison
  Sodium Laurel Sulphate
Trans Fatty Acids

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