RE: aspartame

Chris Root (
Fri, 14 May 1999 19:34:15 -0400

Dear Chuck and Paul and others,

I rarely contribute to this list currently, due to many things that have
been keeping me quite busy. Hopefully that will end soon, when we complete
our move to Colorado.

Nevertheless, with respect to the discussion on Aspartame, I think I can add
some insight because I worked at the FDA during the time Aspartame was
approved for use in soft drinks.

The way I understood the issue was that aspartame didn't, per se, *contain*
methanol, but rather that aspartame, when dissolved in liquid and subjected
to heat, broke down into two main components: methanol and
di-keto-piperazine (DKP). Methanol does, of course, have all of the negative
health effects previously discussed. DKP was implicated in causing brain
tumors in rats in the lab, from what I remember.

For these reasons aspartame was originally approved only in its powdered
form. Rumor had it that because soft drink companies were anxious for a
replacement for saccharin, aspartame was pushed through the approval process
for use in them.

I have no substantiation for this, but have since steered clear of diet
sodas that did not taste fully sweet. Very often I would see cases of diet
sodas, for example, left out in the hot sun at a gas station. I would
sometimes buy a soda from a place like this, and at first, not really
thinking or remembering what I'd heard, would drink it, even if it did not
taste as sweet as it should have. Invariably I would have a headache shortly

It was these headaches that finally caused me to put two and two together
and remember some of the talk I had overheard at the FDA. I began to figure
I was drinking more methanol and DKP than aspartame and finally cut back on
diet sodas tremendously. Granted, this is only anecdotal evidence of a
problem, but it's been enough to cause me to throw away any diet sodas I've
ever bought that didn't taste sweet.

So, the way I understand it, aspartame, when it truly is aspartame and
hasn't broken down, is quite a safe product. However, aspartame in liquid
that has had the opportunity to heat up (to what degree I can't say, but it
can get pretty hot inside a semi or outside a gas station during the
summer), is no longer what I personally would consider safe. I do think it's
a better option than saccharin or cyclamates, but I would have thought by
now that someone would have caught on to this problem and placed
restrictions on the way diet sodas are handled during delivery and storage.

Mind you, I was a research assistant working on caffeine related studies at
the time, so my knowledge was only hearsay. I never considered myself well
enough informed to actually do something about this problem, but it is my
personal opinion that a problem exists. I hope this helps the discussion.

God bless,
Chris Root