RE: aspartame

Vandergraaf, Chuck (
Mon, 3 May 1999 10:22:15 -0400


As a rule, I avoid aspartame because I don't like its taste and I have never
bothered to find out much about it. Out of curiosity, I did a quick search
on the Internet using the Altavista search engine and came up with 14082
hits. The first dozen or so are very negative towards aspartame; in fact, I
couldn't find any article that had anything good to say about this product.

I don't know anything about the World Environmental Conference but I can
guess which corner it is in. I would suggest you find out a bit more about
this conference and what its agenda is. A lot of these groups will use
scare tactics to get their point across.

I would not be one bit surprised if aspartame has some negative effects, but
one has to be careful in assessing the importance of these effects. For
example, it may well be correct to say that "the methanol in it converts to
formaldehyde in the retina of the eye." (I don't know if this is true, but
I'm using it as an example). First one has to ask how much methanol there
is in aspartame. The next question is how much of the methanol is converted
to formaldehyde in the body and of that amount, how much of that conversion
takes place in the retina.

The next question to ask is how much methanol is ingested/inhaled by other
foodstuffs. For example, (I don't know), is there any methanol in beer or
wine? If so, how does the intake of methanol compare with that of
aspartame? Critics of Monsanto and other chemical industries will generally
not state that.

To simply state that "aspartame contains a deadly poison" is scaremongering.
The statement should identify the poison and the concentration of that
poison. Water can be considered a poison. If you drink too much, you will
die because of an electrolyte imbalance. Yet, we don't say that fruit
juices contain a "deadly poison," referring to water.

Many trace chemicals are necessary to sustain life, for example, trace
amounts of selenium, copper, and zinc are essential, yet too high a
concentration is life threatening. Same goes for vitamins: not enough and
you have problems and too much and you have problems. (I'm not a
nutritionist but I do know that some vitamins are deposited into fatty
tissue and can accumulate there).

How much aspartame will cause problems? I don't know but nutritionists will
know. For example, how much aspartame can one take in on a daily basis? If
I drink all the soft drink, sweetened with aspartame, that I can, will I
have a problem or do I have to eat the stuff straight, as a powder or liquid
(assuming I could get it past my tongue). What have epidemiological studies

Even if aspartame has some side effects, it should not be judged in
isolation. Is it worse than the alternatives?

I would suggest you contact nutritionists and talk to medical staff at one
of your local hospitals or science professors at your institute for some

I applaud your intent to discover how science is being reported by the media
and I wish you well. It has been my experience that the media as a rule, do
not employ science writers. A newspaper may well have half a dozen sports
writers, but they will send out a "general purpose" reported to cover
science issues. I know from personal experience. The general public does
not have a sufficient science background and cannot judge the validity of a
scientific claim and, being suspicious, will listen to the critics.

I have added a few comments in your text.

Hope this will do. If you wish to continue this correspondence, I suggest
we do this "off list" since the ASA (as far as I know) may not want to go
into this direction (although I think there is a common thread).


Dr. T.T. Vandergraaf
Senior Scientist
Engineered Barriers & Analysis Branch
Whiteshell Laboratories
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
Pinawa, MB R0E 1L0
phone: (204) 753-8424 + 2592
fax: (204) 753-2690

> ----------
> Sent: Sunday, May 02, 1999 8:39 PM
> To:
> Subject: aspartame
> I am looking for some help regarding aspartame, which is
> reportedly used in diet products such as dietcoke and nutrasweet.
> As a science fiction (film) writer, media researcher and former
> journalist I have an interest in science and the way it is reported in
> the media. I can see that commercial interests might not serve the
> people or science, but there are too many rumours around. Those
> that might have reason to be scared of what those interests are
> doing, seem unable to prove their points, but the scared feeling it
> produces in the recipients of their messages, always remains
> behind. Often that is the only thing people will remember of the
> discussion.
Good point! Critics tend to rely on innuendo.

> At the moment here in New Zealand an email scare is going around
> re. dangers of a chemical called aspartame. The original message,
> which I received at home on Saturday morning, is said to come
> from Nancy Markle and was based on or given as a talk at the
> World Environmental Conference.
I found 64 hits when searching for this conference on the Internet. Not much
useful information, though.

> Aspartame is said to contain a deadly poison, during the article
> several items are mentioned, which causes cancer, multiple
> sclerosis and a range of other diseases. I understand it seems to
> work as a trigger device. It does not seem to be too dangerous on
> its own, but it is when mixed in with something else and the article
> claims that aspartame, made by Monsanto, is used in 200, maybe
> even in 5 000 different products. Apparently Monsantos pushes it
> passed the FDA and Congressional hearings.
> The claims include: aspartame changes the brain's chemistry, the
> methanol in it converts to formaldehyde in the retina of the eye.
> There is no scientific evidence attached, just claims. Of course
> certain people would like to attacks scientists or Monsantos,
> because of the GM foods. A search on the web didn't teach me
> any more. There was just one site that said that there were many
> sweetener. As I am not a scientist I cannot judge this, not do I
> know where to begin looking for information that I can both
> understand and judge its value. I'm looking for serious information
> on this. If so many people get so many serious diseases someone
> must have done some research on this. I hope one of you can point
> me in the right direction.
This is the crux: no scientific evidence attached. You've apparently fallen
in the trap when you state that "if so many people get so many serious
diseases..." Does anybody mention number of people affected and the
seriousness of the disease? Is there is cause-relationship?

> I was wondering if any of you could help out. Does anyone know
> who Nancy Markle is or the World Environmental Conference?
Nope, see comment above about the 64 hits.

> What worries me is the claim that aspartame does not have any
> nutritional value, doesn't even help you get slimmer (apparently it's
> just the opposite and it makes you craves for carbohydrates), and
> that it is used in other, supposedly sugar- free, products. The
> article quotes the ambassador of Uganda as saying that his sugar
> industry adds aspartame.
Check with the ambassador of Uganda. In general, go to the primary source;
don't use words like "apparently".

> I can email anyone who's interested the article as I received it.
> Janine
> -
> Janine R. Baalbergen
> Student Master of Arts
> School of Communications
> Auckland Institute of Technology
> State Insurance Building rm 1414
> Wakefield Street
> Auckland New Zealand
> Ph. 64 9 307 9999 ext 8406