DULUTH, Ga. - The soaring number of diabetics across the country now have something else to think about, courtesy of elderly Atlanta activist Betty Martini.
The former Atlanta mayoral candidate and founder of emergency medical care facilities across the state of Georgia is on a one-woman campaign to expose what she considers the worst health danger to diabetics and healthy people alike - aspartame.
The basis of NutraSweet, Equal and hundreds of low-calorie foods and diet soft drinks, aspartame was the 1980s diet industry savior following the downfall of cyclamate and saccharin.
The multi-billion dollar annual diet industry and the sweet-tooth cravings of millions have been supported by aspartame for two decades. One product alone, NutraSweet, was earning Monsanto Corp. an average $1 billion annual revenue until the corporation sold it to Merisant Corp. last spring.
But recent studies by independent scientific researchers are revealing there may be something less than sweet about aspartame.
Studies publicized by Martini show aspartame causes symptoms that mimic certain diseases including fibromyalgia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, lupus, diabetes and diabetic complications, Alzheimer's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression and other psychological disorders.
Symptoms may include abdominal pain, anxiety attacks, migraines and about 80 other physiological problems, they show.
"Additives are supposed to be inert, and aspartame is a drug and originally had a drug application," Martini says . "It interacts with drugs and changes brain chemistry. So all of these doctors seeing these problems cannot correlate the problems with the culprit causing it."
Dubbed Aspartame Disease, symptoms also include blood-sugar control problems, better known as hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Weight gain is also a symptom.
"No patient with diabetes, in my opinion, no diabetic and no person with hypoglycemia should use aspartame products, period," says Dr. H.J. Roberts, endocrinologist and executive director of the Palm Beach Institute of Medical Research.
"It makes their conditions worse, it can aggravate diabetes. It can aggravate the complications of diabetes, especially in the eyes and in the peripheral nerves. And it certainly can aggravate hypoglycemia because it stimulates the release of insulin."
Roberts says he bases his findings about aspartame on more than 1,300 clinical cases. A member of the highly respected Endocrine Society, he is writing a book entitled "Aspartame Disease."
Scientifically known as 1-aspartyl 1-phenylalanine methyl ester, consumers recognize aspartame in a variety of artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has three components: phenylalanine (50 percent), aspartic acid (40 percent) and methanol, also termed wood alcohol (10 percent).
Although Merisant Corp. representatives did not return telephone calls in time for this article, their NutraSweet Web site contains plenty of rebuttals against what it dubs "scare mongers."
The corporation reports that scientists have researched the safety of aspartame for three decades, and approximately 200 scientific studies with humans and animals "establish that consuming aspartame is safe and does not cause health problems."
"Aspartame is made up of components also found naturally in much greater amounts in common foods such as meat, milk, dried beans, fruits and vegetables. The body handles the components from aspartame in the same way it handles them from foods we eat daily."
But writes Dr. Christine Lydon in the October edition of "Oxygen Magazine," the components that make up aspartame cannot be compared to naturally occurring substances.
"Those in support of this popular artificial sweetener state that the two primary amino acids, which comprise 90 percent of aspartame by weight, are a harmless and natural part of our diet," writes Lydon,. "This is only a partial truth.
"Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are amino acids that are normally supplied by the foods we eat; however, they can only be considered natural and harmless when consumed in combination with other amino acids. On their own, they enter the central nervous system in abnormally high concentrations, causing aberrant neuronal firing and potential cell death."
Lydon says the neurotoxic effects of these amino acids, when consumed in isolation from other balancing amino acids, can be linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and possibly seizures. Damage from aspartame, she says, is cumulative and develops over a prolonged period of time.
Martini and her info Web site, dorway.com, say reports from the Department of Human Health Services to the FDA indicate a substantial increase in certain diseases, including brain tumors and a wide variety of other complaints matching Aspartame Disease symptoms, since the product's release for public consumption in 1981.
The FDA itself refused to approve aspartame for more than eight years because studies indicated it triggered brain tumors in rats. An FDA investigation was conducted into the laboratory testing procedures made by scientists at G.D. Searle pharmaceuticals, maker of aspartame. In the resulting Bressler Report, published by the FDA in 1977, hundreds of faults in Searle's aspartame studies were cited. Portions of records were blacked-out, malignancies were made to appear benign, healthy rats were substituted for dead rats or rats that developed tumors, records were switched, excision of tumors and even treatment of rats with penicillin to offset symptoms triggered by aspartame were reported.
Martini published findings that decomposition products of aspartame after it is ingested include methanol, released at temperatures above 86 degrees F. (well below body temperature). The methanol is then converted to formaldehyde, a known neurotoxin.
In a protest submitted by the National Soft Drink Association for congressional review in 1983 before aspartame was approved for soft drink applications by the FDA, the stability of aspartame was questioned.
"Searle has not characterized the decomposition products of aspartame in soft drinks under temperature conditions to which the beverages are likely to be exposed in the United States," stated the review. "Collectively, the extensive deficiencies in the stability studies conducted by Searle to demonstrate that aspartame and its degradation products are safe in soft drinks intended to be sold in the United States, render those studies inadequate and unreliable."
Martini is quick to point out that thousands of soldiers returning from project Desert Storm are suffering from "unknown" neurological disorders symptomatic of formaldehyde poisoning, including dizziness, disorientation, headaches, neuralgia, depression and seizures.
She suggests perhaps the symptoms have something to do with the thousands of cans of diet drinks containing aspartame supplied troops during the operation - cans that were stored on pallets in 120 degree F. desert heat for weeks on end.
Although Merisant Corp. states, truthfully, that aspartame is considered safe by the FDA, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association and other large national organizations, Martini indicates there may be other agendas.
Arthur Evangelista, a former investigator who left the FDA in 1992 after he discovered his supervisor altering his reports on a pesticide investigation, concurs.
"I will tell everyone this. The FDA is not doing what most people think it's doing," Evangelista says. "Aspartame, in a nutshell, was approved, not because of scientific evidence, but through politics. It had to do with some of the FDA individuals having close ties with industry."
In 1983, aspartame was approved for use in carbonated beverages, primarily through the fervent support of FDA Commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes. Hayes later left the FDA under investigation, reputedly for accepting a bribe from General Foods, a major user of aspartame. After leaving the FDA Hayes was hired as dean of New York Medical College and as a consultant with G.D. Searle's public relations firm.
"There were three congressional hearings from 1985 to 1987," says Martini. "In the congressional record ... Dr. Adrian Grosse, who was their chief toxicologist in the FDA, says 'Look, aspartame, it violates the Delaney Amendment because without a shadow of a doubt it triggers brain tumors. If the FDA violates its own law, who is left to protect the public?' That was his concluding statement to Congress."
Martini, who founded an organization called Mission Possible International to help expose the vast amount of information about aspartame, was recently on her way to several speaking engagements in London about Aspartame Disease - at her own expense. She says it is up to people like her, people with no private or monetary agendas, to expose the truth to the public.
"I realized that probably five out of seven people on aspartame have symptoms or some disease, and that there's no way to fight these billion-dollar companies than to go form a worldwide worker force," she says. "We have hundreds of thousands of people distributing warning fliers in every country in the world. Here in Atlanta we'll walk with the diabetics and give out Dr. Robert's position paper on aspartame and diabetes.
"I've just got this conscience, you see."