New Mexico may become the first state in the nation to enact an official statewide ban on the artificial sweetener aspartame, if a group of determined activists has its way. Activists there are fighting hard to ban the sale of any and all products containing the chemical sweetener, and they achieved a major victory in October when the state's Environmental Improvement Board agreed to hold hearings on a possible aspartame ban in July of 2006.
Efforts to ban aspartame in New Mexico have been spearheaded by concerned citizen Stephen Fox, who enlisted the help of numerous medical and legal experts to help him with the battle. After years of unsuccessfully trying to establish a state Nutrition Council in New Mexico – free of Food and Drug Administration limitations – to tackle issues like the dangers of artificial sweeteners, Fox has found a different path that could allow him to bring harmful food additives to the attention of the state government. That path involves using an existing state statute that prohibits the use of poisonous or deleterious food additives.
Specifically, the statute states, "A food shall be deemed to be adulterated, (1) if it contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious; (2) if it contains any added poisonous or added deleterious substance which is unsafe, and (3) if it consists in whole or in part of…decomposed substance, or if it is otherwise unfit." Although the statute has never been used to ban the sale of a particular food item or additive in the state, Fox and his supporters hope to convince the Environmental Improvement Board – the regulatory body with statutory control over food quality in the state – that aspartame fits the bill of a dangerous ingredient.
While the official establishment and enforcement of a state ban on aspartame sales may be a long way off, and will certainly be met with many challenges, Fox is confident the ban will pass the Environmental Improvement Board, which would be a major step in the right direction. Fox, a civilian activist who says a past girlfriend sparked his interest in health and nutrition, also says it is time for each individual state to take action to protect citizens from potentially harmful foods, since he believes the FDA is failing to do so. "The FDA is so far gone and so far broken down that it can't be fixed. So, I think that every state has to do what we're doing if it's going to genuinely protect people's health," Fox said. "I think there should be a Nutrition Council in every state."
Although aspartame gained FDA approval in 1981, by no means does that ensures its safety, Fox says. In fact, before aspartame was approved by then-FDA director Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes – who later went to work for the public relations department of the company that owned the patent on, manufactured and sold aspartame – internal agency reports identified 92 symptoms triggered by the artificial sweetener, including seizure and death. However, knowledge of the adverse effects of aspartame was widely ignored then and continues to be today.
New Mexico's Environmental Improvement Board agreed to schedule hearings on the safety of aspartame after Fox and his colleagues presented board members with a wealth of evidence illustrating the potentially damaging health effects of aspartame, along with numerous personal accounts from people whose health had been affected by the artificial sweetener.
In one letter to the board, a woman describes how her habit of drinking six to eight Diet Dr Peppers a day led to severe mood swings, panic attacks and a sudden fear of heights, which sparked doctors to put her on anti-depressants that were ineffective. Unaware that aspartame could be the source of her troubles, she continued ingesting artificially sweetened products and, three years later, experienced post-partum complications after the birth of her second child. Her doctors, not knowing what caused the difficulties, performed a partial hysterectomy and removed her uterus. The woman now believes aspartame was responsible, and writes, "When I think now that it was the aspartame, I get so mad I could bite nails in half."
Another letter tells the story of a woman whose first child was born with diabetes and her second with brain malformations, neurological tremors and other serious defects due to the woman's heavy aspartame intake during pregnancy. A third letter comes from a man in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, who, although not a resident of New Mexico, supports the proposed ban wholeheartedly, claiming aspartame caused his wife to develop a brain tumor and caused his 18-year-old daughter to suffer severe and frequent epileptic seizures, which only ceased after artificial sweeteners were eliminated from her diet.
Those are just a sampling of the heartbreaking accounts provided to the Environmental Approval Board, and there is a great deal of evidence that supports the link between aspartame and many of the symptoms described in those accounts. Dr. Russell Blaylock, in his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, goes into great detail on the effects of artificial sweeteners on the brain and nervous system. His book is a wonderful and detailed resource for anyone who may feel they are victims of "aspartame poisoning."
In short, aspartame is a neurotoxic chemical that has been linked to many health problems, including neurological disorders, brain tumors, vision problems, migraines, seizures, liver problems, sexual dysfunction, infertility, lymphoma, leukemia, various cancers, serious birth defects and behavioral problems like those attributed to ADHD. Aspartame is also thought to have negative reactions with numerous prescription medications.
The byproducts of aspartame – aspartic acid and phenylalanine – are brain toxins held together by methyl alcohol, which turns into formaldehyde in the liver and can cause serious neurodegenerative damage. Reports also show that aspartame beaks down into formaldehyde at high temperatures, and many of Fox's supporters note in their letters to the board an instance in the Gulf War in which diet sodas sent to the troops were left in the sun for some time, turning them into what one physician called in her letter "formaldehyde cocktails."
Fox says it's time America stopped poisoning its own citizens with chemical sweeteners. "We're really at a crisis level in the United States," he said. "The food manufacturing people have made such a chemical feast, I'm convinced (aspartame) is one of the major, if not the major cause for this huge spike in neurodegenerative diseases and the increase in cancer and heart disease and diabetes to the extent that the U.S. has dropped to 29th in terms of longevity statistics."
The fact that aspartame, with its potentially harmful effects, is contained in so many of the foods and beverages consumed by people every day is troubling. But what makes it even more troubling is how available it is to the nation's children. In fact, some schools, under pressure to offer more nutritious vending machine options to students, are actually offering diet soda containing aspartame as a "healthier" alternative.
Likewise, diabetics are frequently told by physicians to drink diet sodas, but these physicians don't warn of the potentially harmful effects of consuming aspartame. That's because many physicians don't know about these effects, and just as many members of the public continue guzzling diet soda and chewing sugar-free candies without realizing they are bad for them. In fact, many people believe these are smarter, healthier options. Fox and others hope to change that view as they push forward with their unprecedented campaign to ban aspartame in New Mexico.
For more information on aspartame and how the artificial sweetener impacts health, check out the Aspartame Toxicity Center at www.holisticmed.com/aspartame.