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 A Natural Sweetener That's Also Calorie-Free

Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing®
Vol 4, No 12

This is a Tale of Two Sweeteners, full of sound and fury, signifying that the FDA has sold you and your kids to the drug companies again, and you are unwitting receptacles of a sweetener that has obvious toxicity. The FDA has blocked the use of a natural sweetener that is totally safe.

If you drink diet sodas or add Equal or NutraSweet to your coffee, listen up. These sweeteners contain aspartame, which was first approved by the FDA in 1974. That approval was rescinded because of two studies showing that the substance caused brain tumors in laboratory animals.

These studies were never refuted, and the additive was approved in spite of these studies, in 1981, and for soft drinks in 1983. According to National Cancer Institute data, there was an alarming jump in the incidence of brain tumors in 1983 - 1987. The estimated annual percent change (EAPC) rose from 2.1% to 8.1% in males, and from 2.1% to 11.7% in females. This could be related to the consumption of aspartame-sweetened products.

Aspartame has both potential and real toxicities. My associate editor, Jane Heimlich, wrote about the effects of aspartame in the January 1993 Health & Healing, and I have suggested alternative natural sweeteners such as Sucanat and honey.

However, there is a natural, non-caloric sweetener that is totally safe - stevia.

Stevia is an herb that has been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. It is calorie - free, and the powdered concentrate is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is widely used all over the world. In Japan, for example, it claims 41% of the sweetener market, including sugar, and was used in Japanese Diet Coke until the company replaced it with aspartame to "standardize" worldwide. There have not been any reports of toxicity with stevia, which is consumed by millions of people daily.

Not so with aspartame sweeteners, such as NutraSweet and Equal. As of February 1994, 6,888 cases of adverse reactions had been reported to the FDA. In fact, more than 75% of all non-drug complaints to the FDA are about aspartame. These complaints include headaches, dizziness, mood changed, numbness, vomiting or nausea, muscle cramps and spasms, and abdominal pain and cramps. There are also sizable numbers reporting vision changed, joint pains, skin lesions, memory loss, and seizures. Five deaths were reported to the FDA prior to 1987 as possibly attributed to aspartame. This is only a small fraction of the actual adverse reactions caused by aspartame. Most people would not associate the problem with it, and even if they did, only a small fraction of people or doctors would take the time to report it to the FDA. I estimate that for every reported adverse reaction, 10 to 100 go unrecognized or unreported, which would bring the number to 70,000 to 700,000 cases.

Ralph G. Walton, M.D., Chairman of the Center of Behavioral Medicine of the Western Reserve Care System, has published accounts of how the excitatory characteristics of aspartame could lower the threshold for and even cause seizures, mania, depression, or other psychological or central nervous system disorders. In one study, he demonstrated that people with a history of mood disorders had a significantly higher number of adverse reactions to aspartame than those with no such history. He estimated that considering everything that the substance could do, about 35% of the population is vulnerable to an adverse reaction to aspartame.

Even though many of these reports are anecdotal, they are quite credible, given the chemistry of aspartame. Brain/mood symptoms brought on by aspartame could easily be caused by the changes in brain chemistry triggered by elevated phenylalanine.

There have been numerous studies showing aspartame's safety. My complaint with these is that the studies used aspartame capsules rather than the commonly used form of aspartame mixed and stored in food.

Even more significant, perhaps, is the role of methanol or methyl alcohol (also called "wood alcohol"), which makes up 10% of aspartame. The methanol is further broken down into formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), formic acid (a poison excreted by ants) and diketopiperazine (DKP, which causes brain tumors). Absorption of methanol is hastened if aspartame has broken down, as it does when it is heated, used in hot drinks or decomposed during prolonged storage. In Israel, people are warned not to consume large quantities of aspartame, and not to store products containing it in the heat. Incredibly, the FDA recently approved aspartame for baked goods!

Methanol is specifically toxic to the optic nerve, and caused blindness in people who drank "bootlegged" whiskey that contained it. The poisoning effects of taking methanol are cumulative.

A pilot, George E. Leighton, experienced such sever blurred vision while flying that he couldn't even read the instrument panel and barely averted a crash landing. This occurred two hours after he inadvertently drank two cups of aspartame-sweetened hot chocolate. He has consumed no aspartame since, nor has he had any blurred vision. Other pilots had seizures which they are convinced were caused by aspartame, and have lost their licenses as a result.

Stevia, on the other had, is not only non-toxic, but has several traditional medicinal uses. The Indian tribes of South America have used it as a digestive aid, and have also applied it topically for years to help wound-healing. Recent clinical studies have shown it can increase glucose tolerance and decrease blood sugar levels.

Of the two sweeteners, stevia wins hands down for safety. Yet your children guzzle excitatory chemicals laced with methanol.

Stevia gained popularity in this country in the 1980's as a safe sweetener. Celestial Seasonings, one of the world's largest herbal tea companies, used it as a flavoring in many of the teas. In 1986, without warning, the FDA came into their warehouse and seized their stock of stevia. No reason was given for seizure; the company was simply told they could not use it in the teas.

In 1991 the FDA banned stevia, claiming that it was an "unsafe food additive," even though it is available in many other countries. The obvious reason for the seizure and the ban on stevia was to prevent it from competing with aspartame.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has petitioned the FDA to lift the ban on stevia, based on the fact that stevia is not a food additive, but a food with a long record of safety. The FDA has yet to act on this petition.

Write to David Kessler at the FDA (5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857) and ask why stevia, a food product with hundreds of years of safe consumption, is banned in this country but nowhere else. Demand that he lift the ban on stevia, and ban aspartame instead.

Send a copy of that letter to your local newspaper and to me (at Phillips Publishing, Customer Service - Stevia, 7811 Montrose Road, Potomac, MD 20854) so that Kessler will not be able to say that he doesn't get his mail.

For more information on aspartame, or to report an adverse reaction, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the:

Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 780634
Dallas, TX 75378

Frankly, I don't let aspartame into my house - children live there. If you do drink or eat products that contain aspartame, by all means avoid the heated ones, and that includes adding Equal to a hot drink. And never drink large quantities of aspartame, as you might with iced tea on a hot day.

FDA Disclaimer: The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA. The products mentioned herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For medical advice, always consult your health care professional. 
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