Can Diet Coke Kill You? Part 2

Due to the great popularity of “Can Diet Coke Kill You?” combined with a lot of controversy over it, I have decided to write this follow-up post.

Most of the controversy over the last article was around the fact that the documentary I referenced cited data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) but that organization itself claims there is no proven link between aspartame and cancer.

What was presented previously was a short explanation of why aspartame is expected to cause cancer and other health problems and a summary of some information presented in Sweet Misery, including findings from analyzing NCI and other data. This article, however, cites other scientific findings and discusses the economic-political history of this topic a little bit as well.


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The first thing to mention is that this is not a comprehensive, academic literature review or survey of all articles and studies on the relationship between aspartame and cancer. This covers a handful of articles, information, studies, or books I have been made aware of or have found myself, combined with a little commentary on the context surrounding this topic. The conclusions are irrefutable in my opinion, but the world is open to many views and there are still people who do not believe smoking causes cancer, so what can we expect here?

For additional information, there are plenty of further reading materials mentioned and everyone is always welcome to do their own research.

Another thing to mention: over 250 million people and about two-thirds (66%) of the US population consume aspartame and it is in over 6000 food and drink products in the US. Diet drinks and gum all seem to contain it, but thousands of other products do as well. If you are in Europe, this product is listed as E951 in ingredients.

Aspartame Linked to 90+ Health Problems, Numerous Serious Ones

H. J. Roberts, M.D., is a well-respected and very extensively honored doctor named “The Best Doctor in the U.S.” by the editors of a national medical journal. So well-respected, he has authored textbooks used to train thousands of doctors and has been “knighted by the Order of St. George for his professional and humanitarian efforts.” He is the author of 24 texts and over 280 original, published articles and letters. He is considered the number one expert on aspartame’s relationship to numerous health problems. Rather than only link it to one disease, however, he created the term “aspartame disease” because of the various side-effects or health problems it creates. His 1038-page book, Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic, is one of the most comprehensive publications on the negative health effects of aspartame. If you are not satisfied with the evidence presented in this web post, maybe this book is for you!

Dr. Roberts states what was briefly mentioned in my previous post: “As far back as 1988, seven years after the initial release of aspartame, 80 percent of complaints volunteered by consumers to the FDA about supplements involved aspartame products. By April 1995, it had received 7,232 complaints.”

A few of Roberts’ published findings that give more scientific weight to these complaints include identified associations between aspartame and “the initiation or aggravation of diabetes mellitus, hypoglycemia, convulsions, headache, depression, other psychiatric states, hyperthyroidism, hypertension and arthritis; the simulation of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and lupus erythematosus; increasing aspartame addiction; an apparent causative role in brain tumors; a neurologic condition in overweight young women known as pseudotumor cerebri; and even the carpal tunnel syndrome.”

In another article, Mark D. Gold writes: “Aspartame is, by far, the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods. Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death as recently disclosed in a February 1994 Department of Health and Human Services report.”

Furthermore, Gold writes that a few of the 90 or so documented symptoms this report listed as being caused by aspartame are: “Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.”

Additionally, as found by other researchers and physicians, aspartame can trigger or worsen several chronic illnesses: “Brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, alzheimer’s, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.”

In addition to these findings, a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives recently found that rats given small amounts of aspartame were significantly more likely to develop brain cancer and called for “an urgent reevaluation of the current guidelines for the use and consumption of this compound.” But all of this information is actually nothing new.

Politics is …, Business is …, Politics is…, Business

If you think FDA experts have always considered aspartame completely safe for consumption, think again. As Dr. Roberts reports: “Senior FDA scientists and consultants vigorously protested approving the release of aspartame products. Their objections related to disturbing findings in animal studies (especially the frequency of brain tumors), seemingly flawed experimental data, and the absence of extensive pre-marketing trials on humans using real-world products over prolonged periods.” How did aspartame get approved for wide, public consumption?

Dr. Betty Martini reports:

Aspartame was invented by the G D Searle Co. acquired by Monsanto in 1985. For 16 years FDA refused to approve it until 1981 when Commissioner Arthur Hayes overruled the objections of a Public Board of Inquiry and the protests of the American Soft Drink Association and blessed it. The tests submitted by Searle were so bad the Department of Justice initiated prosecution of Searle for fraud. Then the defense lawyers hired the prosecutors, Sam Skinner and Wm. Conlon, and the case expired when the statute of limitations ran out. If the Godfather hires the District Attorney, don’t expect a conviction!

Who was the CEO of Searle at this time? None other than fan favorite Donald Rumsfeld. He was also the on Reagan’s transition team at that time and got Arthur Hayes appointed as the head of the FDA the day after Reagan took office (the same day that his company, Searle, applied to have aspartame approved as a food sweetener). Who says politics and business aren’t related? Donald Rumsfeld gets Arthur Hayes a good job, Arthur Hayes gives Rumsfeld’s company’s bottom line more importance than the safety of the American public he is supposed to protect. And where does Arthur Hull Hayes go after leaving the FDA “under allegations of impropriety”? To work for Searle and Monsanto’s chief PR Agency, Burson-Marstellar, for, reportedly, hundreds of thousand of dollars a year. Since then, Hayes has never publicly spoken about aspartame again. This is life-cycle politics and business — or death and pain-cycle for countless people, you might say.

Similar things happened to get aspartame into soft drinks within just a couple more years. In Rich Murray’s “How Aspartame Became Legal — The Timeline,” Murray reports:

October 15, 1982– The FDA announces that Searle has filed a petition that aspartame be approved as a sweetener in carbonated beverages and other liquids.

July 1, 1983– The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) urges the FDA to delay approval of aspartame for carbonated beverages pending further testing because aspartame is very unstable in liquid form. When liquid aspartame is stored in temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, it breaks down into DKP and formaldehyde, both of which are known toxins.

July 8, 1983– The National Soft Drink Association drafts an objection to the final ruling which permits the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages and syrup bases and requests a hearing on the objections. The association says that Searle has not provided responsible certainty that aspartame and its’ degradation products are safe for use in soft drinks.

Legal action followed, but as we know, aspartame is in diet soft drinks today (ironically, since aspartame is also shown to make people gain weight — as Dr. Martini states: “The Congressional record said, ‘It makes you crave Carbohydrates and will make you FAT.’ Dr. Roberts stated that when he got patients off aspartame, their average weight loss was 19 pounds per person.”).

Why has nothing been achieved since this time to get aspartame out of food and drink products?

Dr. Ralph Walton, psychiatrist and Chairman of the Center for Behavioral Medicine, found that in all Monsanto/NutraSweet-funded studies, aspartame was shown to be safe but that in 100% of independent studies, the researchers did find a link between aspartame and health problems.

Nonetheless, Monsanto has a lot of influence over the world of food, medicine, and associated drugs. Monsanto funds the American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, Congress, and the Conference of the American College of Physicians. As Dr. Martini goes on to report: “The New York Times, November 15, 1996, ran an article on how the American Dietetic Association takes money from the food industry to endorse their products. Therefore, they cannot criticize any additives or tell about their link to MONSANTO. ” Monsanto’s top people are on the boards or in the pockets of nearly every major related association or body. Combine that with the fact that aspartame is now in about two-thirds of all food and drink products in the US, and then play ‘connect the dots’…

Unimaginable cover-up? Not really. This happens in the world of food, drugs, vaccines, and tobacco year after year, whether we believe it or not. There are other similar stories out there, some more common or well-acknowledged than others.

Correlation is Not Causation

As some people commenting on “Can Diet Coke Kill You?” pointed out, correlation does not mean causation. However, with the theory of why aspartame causes cancer and other health problems clearly stated as well as additional studies of a different nature, causation is quite a reasonable conclusion now. As Dr. Roberts reports: “The causative role of aspartame products has been repeatedly shown by (a) the prompt improvement of symptoms (grand mal seizures, headache, itching, rashes, severe gastrointestinal reactions) after stopping aspartame products, and (b) their recurrence within minutes or hours after resuming them. The latter included self-testing on numerous occasions, inadvertent ingestion, and formal rechallenge.”

In one unique case involving several pilots, proof of the causative effect of aspartame on their health problems went beyond what most would put themselves through. “Some aspartame reactors with convulsions purposefully rechallenged themselves on one or several occasions ‘to be absolutely certain.’ This was unique among six pilots who had lost their licenses for unexplained seizures while consuming aspartame products. (All had been in otherwise excellent health.) They sought to have their licenses reinstated by such objective confirmation on rechallenge.”

If you still have doubts about the relationship between aspartame and numerous health problems (including several deadly ones), what can anyone do to help?

Related Stories:
1) Can Diet Coke Kill You?
2) Did Diet Coke Cause My Cancer?

Image Credit 1: unknown domain via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 2: veeliam via flickr under a Creative Commons license
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Image Credit 4: Dave Makes via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 5: matthewbradley via flickr under a Creative Commons license
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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
  • What amazes me is that the general public is not more skeptical of Monsanto, given the terrible products it has created, starting with Agent Orange and moving to Round-Up, genetically modified crops that are contaminating our genetic diversity, and rBGH (which Monsanto ditched as soon as the controversy got too heavy).

    Monsanto has become one of the most powerful corporations on the planet, and we can no longer assume that we are given fair and unbiased information regarding the safety of their products, because of the billions of dollars in advertising revenue and “donations” given to organizations that might otherwise question the safety of Monsanto’s products.

    On a personal level, I avoid Aspartame at all costs because my body does not respond well to it. I don’t like the taste, it seems to give me a slight headache, and because of this, I can tell almost instantly when a product contains it.

    Aspartame is not going to kill you today, or tomorrow, but it seems more and more undeniable that it will catch up with us eventually. There are so many natural sweeteners available now, including stevia, that would serve the same purpose so much more effectively and safely. The continued existence of Aspartame in our food supply is for one reason: because it makes Monsanto billions of dollars.

  • John Magee

    Well if you believe all you read anything that you enjoy will kill you! The reality here is none of us are going to get out of here alive. The quality of your life is up to the indivdual by the choices made. If you check the state of California list of what can cause cancer you better not even breath cause the air in that state will kill you too. Have a nice day and enjoy your life it is the only one you have.

  • This article is ridiculous.

  • Only a couple of corrections. I’m the one who lectured for the World Environmental Conference rather than Nancy Markle who used a post I wrote and changed the title. Here’s confirmation and my invitation to speak – http://www.dorway.com/nomarkle.html

    Also, the reason the NIH/AARP so called study didn’t show cancer is that they didn’t ask if the products contained aspartame. This was a food form and aspartame is only mentioned once. We call it the oatmeal-brownie study. They did ask if you had a hysterectomy, however. They say the cancers didn’t come from aspartame. How would they know if they didn’t ask if the products they were using contained aspartame. Here is the article: http://www.wnho.net/halt_the_spin_on_bogus_studies.htm

    Be sure to google: “FDA Hid Aspartame Research That Damned Aspartame”. It was known aspartame caused cancer from the beginning and FDA toxicologist, Dr. Adrian Gross told Congress that aspartame violated the Delaney Amendment because of hte brain tumors and brain cancer, and therefore the FDA shouldn’t have even been able to set an allowable daily intake. He said “If the FDA violates the law who is left to protect the public?” They allowed aspartame on the market with full knowledge it would cause cancer. It caused more tumors than brain tumors, especially mammary tumors in original studies.

    Two studies in Italy, Ramazzini, peer reviewed by 7 world experts have shown aspartame is a multipotential carcinogen and can be passed on if used by a pregnant woman and the baby survives, since aspartame is an abortifacient and teratogen, causing birth defects and mental retardation.

    Dr. Betty Martini, D.Hum, Founder
    Mission Possible International
    9270 River Club Parkway
    Duluth, Georgia 30097
    770 242-2599
    http://www.mpwhi.com, http://www.dorway.com, http://www.wnho.net
    Aspartame Toxicity Center, http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame

  • Zachary Shahan

    Dr. Martini, thank you for the extra info.

    I adjusted the name & link, (& the few minor changes in the quoted text).

    Appreciate the extra info on the NIH/AARP “study”, additional FDA info & Italian study.

    Appreciate it all & all your work!

    Thank you

  • I’m all for drinking less Coke, but for the sake of other people’s health as much as my own. See killercoke.org.

  • Carol Sloan RD

    I am a registered dietitian and I write nutrition columns for three newspapers that provide science based advice on making healthy food choices. Articles like this add to consumer confusion. Here are the facts:
    1) the author reports on a few random studies, while ignoring the whole body of evidence surrounding aspartame

    2) the safety of aspartame is backed by more than 200 scientific studies confirming its safety as a low-calorie sweetener and it has been used for more than 20 years and is approved in more than 100 countries. None of this data is included.

    In addition to writing, I also counsel patients and work with many food and beverage companies. I share with all that balance is key when managing weight or when choosing to eat wisely. I recommend, in moderation, all sweeteners whether they are full calorie, low or no-calorie. Help our already confused consumers with evidence based data not biased commentary or make it clear that this is an opinion piece.

  • zach

    Carol, thank you for your concerns…

    i think i made very clear at the beginning of the article what i was presenting here (check paragraphs 3-5 again).

    nonetheless, i should also say that the few “random” studies i reported on include findings from numerous (not one or two) scientific studies by numerous non-biased, non-corporate affiliated research scientists and doctors. this is exactly what i was researching — non-biased and scientifically sound findings on the topic.

    i think bias is exactly what part of this article is about, but because of the widespread use of this product, bias is not the only issue to address. it is also the belief that something so widely in use must, therefore, be safe, as well as the fear that what we use and promote (i assume, as a dietitian, you have promoted the use of this product in the past) may actually have more of a negative effect than a positive one. this is a difficult thing to swallow, & i’m sure there are numerous psychological terms for these as well. this is beyond the corporate-science relationships and is probably stronger at this point in the story.

    i’m sorry if you are not happy with the conclusions this article presents, but it is based on more than a personal bias against aspartame (which i would have no reason to have) or a few random studies.

    thank you for your concern. that comes through in your comments. and i hope that your writing & consultations have helped many people in their aspirations to live a healthy life and will do so in the future.

    best regards,

    zach

  • edzo

    It’s difficult if not impossible for anyone ingesting any substance that they at least suspect will harm them to worry about what they are doing. True, we are all going to die of something. However, once something occurs to your health, physically or mentally, you will quickly change your tune. For years a friend of mine warned me of drinking so much diet soda, and I drank ALOT. I shrugged it off with the usual ‘no gonna happen to me’ mentality. Coincidence or not, it turns out some creeping symptoms such as parasthesia and headaches manifested into full blown panic attacks, at least in my case. I remember how HARD it was to dump my last two liter of diet Coke… but sure enough by that point even tasting it restarted the symptoms that I knew would lead to another panic attack. And if you never had one of those, you are lucky. I even got an MRI done thinking I must have a brain tumor. That’s how scary they are. In any case, I stopped all forms of aspartame-containing products, and wouldn’t you know? I was able to get off all SSRIs, my heart palpatations stopped, my headaches went away, and panic attacks eventually dissipated like a bad dream. Aspartame is an addictive, deceitful too-good-to-be-true poison. But until it catches up to you, you’ll think you are just fine. I did.

  • I’d like to add a few thoughts as i had an email dialogue with CocaCola a couple years ago, when I was having trouble finding my favorite soda/drink–Fresca. Boy, do I LOVE Fresca, and for a while it was not on the shelves of stores. Coke repackaged it to make it look rather young, hip, even Rave-Burning man like, even trippy. I wonder what this was about; getting a new generation interested?

    In any case, I wrote to Coke asking if they were considering changing the sweetener they used, after the damning Italian study came out for aspartame. Coke customer service replied with several long emails stating that all major studies said aspartame was safe. I asked why don’t they just change to stevia since it is clearly safer and there is some controversy with some studies. They replied that the controversial studies were all inconsistent and in error (partly because they allowed rats to live for 3 years instead of the standard 2 years used in major studies. Of course rats might get cancer after 3 years, Coke stated. I then suggested in my last email that they answered that wouldn’t rats living longer mirror us living longer and shouldn’t this longer term study provide a warning to be addressed. I suggested that I would contact a biochemist I knew to ask about this 3 years versus 2 years, someone I know who is a professor in Ann Arbor. Coke sent me one last email, “Thank you for your correspondence and continued enjoyment of Coke products.” And they then vanished. Unfortunately my computer erased the AOL based correspondence, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but they wrote copious emails to me arguing their case–which surprised me–and when I suggested getting a scientific response they cut me off. I suggest other folks write to Coke with concerns and see what transpires.

  • David Howard

    Google “Quadri-Track ZCT”

  • Yep, the same industry shills are commenting on this follow-up article. I urge them to visit http://www.sweetremedy.tv where they can stay abreast of health news and find educational resources such as “Sweet Misery” and its sequel, “Sweet Remedy.” These films contain interviews from doctors, research scientists and other experts. Thanks again for your articles!

  • zach

    thank you, Lisa!