Death by Aspartame – Fact or Fiction?

The year? 1965. The mission? G. D. Searle & Company’s ground breaking anti-ulcer drug, but as the story goes James M. Schlatter discovered the sweet taste when he licked his finger after a piece of paper got stuck to him in the mists of his research. Flashes of 11th grade chemistry class are coming to me. I can still picture Mr. Engleburg in his short khaki pants and white lab coat pacing the front of the classroom. I swear he lived in his safety goggles. We would always go over lab safety procedures and repeatedly heard the words “Always wear gloves! If you come in contact with a chemical—wash your hands immediately and NEVER EVER taste anything!” GAHH! The 1960’s chemical research protocols must have been so very different from today’s sterile and government regulated research facilities. Aspartame, an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener, was first introduced to the world’s food supply in 1981. Did you know that Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar? I guess that’s why when I reached for one of those bright packets at lunch today the phrase, “equivalent to 2 teaspoons of sugar” was stamped on it. While Aspartame isn’t ideal for baking, since it seems to loose it’s sweetness in high temperatures, it has been ground breaking for the diabetic community.  According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) 25.8 billion people were living with the chronic disease in 2012. Aspartame has enabled diabetics to enjoy sweet tasting foods without the carbohydrates. The sweetener is less caloric than regular sugar so it’s better for blood glucose levels and preventing weight gain. Throughout the 1980’s the product was repeatedly challenged over its approval process and the revolving relationship with regulators and Aspartame producers. The product was scrutinized by the Public Board of Inquiry in the early 80’s over a possible link between Aspartame and brain cancer. It was concluded that the chemical did NOT in fact cause brain cancer.  The skepticism grew exponentially in 1998 when the chain letter email hoax began. In the hoax, “Ms. Nancy Markle” stated that she suffered a myriad of symptoms and illnesses. The “victim” was never identified. All claims to the email chain letter have since been debunked.  I still see articles posing health risks over the artificial sweetener but know it’s not going to be the reason I keel over one day. There will be no headline “DEATH BY ASPARTAME!” While Aspartame still possesses a negative social stigma, the FDA considers the chemical to be “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved.” As with all things, the words “in moderation” come to mind. You can currently find Aspartame listed in ingredients in over 6,000 consumer foods and beverages circulated worldwide. There are 42 producers of Aspartame listed in the DWCP. Learn more about the DWCP