Killing Us Softly

"Aspartame, from the beginning, has violated the Delaney clause which is in place to keep us safe as consumers. The Delaney clause says that if anything causes cancer, it should not be on the market. Well, aspartame caused cancer in the lab animals, in the lab tests that were falsified by the scientists who submitted them"
Mary Nash Stoddard, founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network

Think twice before you pour that diet soda. The aspartame (Nutrasweet) in diet soda, when left at room temperature, breaks down into formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can cause cancer and birth defects. At least that's what Jennifer Cohen, a 12-year-old from New Jersey, found while performing a science experiment for school. Cohen tested three groups of Diet Coke, one that was refrigerated, one that was stored at room temperature, and one that was put in an incubator set at 104 degrees. Two months later, independent laboratory tests found that the soda left at room temperature (which it can be for months before you buy it) had the highest levels of formaldehyde -- four times that of the refrigerated cola and three more than the incubated cola. Large amounts of aspartame have been found to cause headaches, nausea, vision problems and seizures in animals. Natural Health, "Dangers of Diet Soda," June 1999.

I hope that people who receive my newsletter don't use soft drinks at all, much less diet pop. But I am not naïve. Since I wrote about my own experience with sugar in my winter newsletter, I have had several inquiries about what sugar substitutes I use, since sugar is not in my best interest. Actually, I don't use sugar substitutes, but I do keep stevia* packets in the house, for people who request Equal. I once bought Equal for a houseguest, and I felt like a criminal. Given what I have since learned from Russell Blaylock MD and Mary Nash Stoddard, I will never do that again. Consuming soft drinks containing aspartame, putting Nutrasweet in one's coffee, or eating any food containing non-nutritive sweeteners does not serve anyone's body well. [*Ask for stevia in your healthfood store–or call me for information.]

The definitive book on this subject was written by Dr Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and associate professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi. Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills, describes how monosodium glutamate, aspartame, and similar substances can cause harm to the brain and nervous system, and how they react in the body, contributing to such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's disease, and others.

In order to get started on this very serious topic, let me quote from Dr Blaylock's introduction:

"What if someone were to tell you that a chemical added to food could cause brain damage to your children, and that this chemical could affect how your children's nervous systems formed during development so that in later years they may have learning or emotional difficulties? What if there were scientific evidence that these chemicals could damage a critical part of the brain known to control hormones so that later in life your child might have endocrine problems? How would you feel?

"Suppose evidence was presented to you strongly suggesting that the artificial sweetener in your diet soft drink may cause brain tumors to develop, and that the number of brain tumors reported since the widespread introduction of this artificial sweetener has risen dramatically? Would that affect your decision to drink these products and especially to allow your children to drink them? What if you could be shown overwhelming evidence that one of the main ingredients in this sweetener (aspartate) could cause the same brain lesions as MSG? Would that affect your buying decisions?

"And finally, what if it could be demonstrated that all of these types of chemicals (called excitotoxins) could possibly aggravate or even precipitate many of the neurodegenerative brain diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, ALS, and Alzheimer's disease? Would you be concerned if you knew that these excitotoxin food additives are a particular risk if you have ever had a stroke, brain injury, brain tumor, seizure, or have suffered from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis, or viral encephalitis?

"I would think all of us would be more than just concerned to learn that well-known powerful brain toxins were being added to our food and drink to boost sales...

"You would also be upset to learn that many of those brain lesions in your children are irreversible and can follow a single exposure of sufficient concentration. And I would bet that you would be incredulous to learn that the food industry disguises many of these excitotoxin additives so that they will not be recognized. In fact, many foods that are labeled "No MSG" not only contain MSG, but also contain other excitotoxins of equal potency."

The rest of his introduction gives the history of the group of food additives that he calls excitotoxins.

In one of his videos Dr Blaylock describes how American servicemen during World War II discovered that Japanese rations tasted better than theirs. American food manufacturers, such as Pillsbury, Oscar Mayer, Libby's and Campbell's, soon learned the advantages of adding monosodium glutamate, the magic taste-enhancing ingredient, to our processed foods, as well. Because it was an amino acid, a natural substance, and thought to be safe, millions of pounds of MSG were soon being used. "In fact, the amount of MSG alone added to foods has doubled in every decade since the1940s. By 1972, 262,000 metric tons of MSG were produced."

It wasn't until the 50s and 60s that neuroscientists began to discover that their research about how MSG affected the brain was not turning up what they expected. In one clinical study scientists fed large doses of MSG to retarded children to see if it would improve their IQ, because they believed that it supplied the brain with energy. The experiment failed. In 1957, ophthalmologists Lucas and Newhouse tested MSG on infant mice while studying the eye disease, hereditary retinal dystrophy. Examining the eye tissues of sacrificed animals, they learned that MSG had destroyed all of the nerve cells in the inner layers of the animal's retinas, the visual receptors of their eyes.

About ten years later, John W. Olney, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St Louis, repeated Lucas and Newhouse's experiment. He found that MSG was not only toxic to the retina, but also to the brain. When he examined the brains of the infant mice, he discovered that specialized cells in the hypothalmus were destroyed after a single dose of MSG. What makes Dr Olney's findings particularly distressing is that millions of babies all over the world were eating baby foods containing large amounts of MSG, as well as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, a compound that contains three excitotoxins. In fact, the concentrations of MSG found in baby foods was equal to that used to create brain lesions in experimental animals. And in every species of animal tested, immature animals were found to be much more vulnerable to the poisonous effects of MSG than were older animals.

People who have been in my classes know that our government's watchdog agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration seem to be particularly unresponsive in matters of this nature. Dr Blaylock indicates that this serious situation was all but ignored by the FDA. When the agency refused to take action, Dr Olney "felt compelled to do something to protect unsuspecting mothers and their infants from danger." First he informed the FDA of the real danger to human infants. But they refused. His only recourse was to go public with what he knew to be true -- that MSG was a dangerous compound that should not be added to infant foods. It was only after his testimony before a congressional committee that the food manufacturers agreed to remove MSG from baby foods. But did they?

"Instead of adding pure MSG, they added a substance known as hydrolyzed vegetable protein that contains three known excitotoxins and has added MSG; this substance is even more dangerous than MSG. They continued this practice for seven more years, and there is evidence that excitotoxins are still added to baby foods today. Usually these are in the form of caseinate, beef or chicken broth, or flavoring."

In his Acknowledgements, Dr Blaylock cites Dr John Olney's sense of duty and courage in pointing out the dangers of putting these toxic substances in baby foods. Unfortunately, no one warned pregnant women that MSG-laced food could endanger their developing babies.

The book has chapter titles like:
  • A crash course in how the brain works
  • Exciting cells to death
  • Effect of excitotoxins on the developing brain

All deal with issues of pregnancy and children, as well as "Creeping death," which covers the effects of these "neurological timebombs" on adults, perhaps resulting in headaches or seizures, or exacerbating diseases like ALS, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Obviously a newsletter the size of mine cannot do the book justice.

But we all know people who enjoy foods and beverages containing these poisons. Someone has to get this message out. Not everyone is going to buy a $27.00 book, even if they have heard of it -- and many people are unaware of the problem. If I do nothing else, I want to print Dr Blaylock's list of hidden sources of MSG, so that if we buy any boxed or canned foods, we can protect ourselves. Dick and I were buying soup cups from a healthfood store thinking that they would make a quick, safe lunch occasionally. When we compared them with Dr Blaylock's list of hidden sources of MSG, we ended up trashing them. Here it is:

Additives that always contain MSG

  • monosodium glutamate
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • hydrolyzed protein
  • hydrolyzed plant protein
  • plant protein extract
  • textured protein
  • sodium caseinate
  • calcium caseinate
  • yeast extract
  • autolyzed yeast
  • hydrolyzed oat flour

Additives that frequently contain MSG

  • malt extract
  • malt flavoring
  • bouillon
  • broth
  • stock
  • flavoring
  • natural flavoring
  • natural beef broth
  • natural chicken broth
  • seasoning
  • spices

Additives that may contain MSG or excitotoxins

  • carrageenan
  • enzymes
  • soy protein concentrate
  • soy protein isolate
  • whey protein concentrate

Note that I said that we bought Dick's soup cups in healthfood stores. Dr Blaylock points out that "one should not assume that healthfood stores are safe havens from these excitotoxins. In fact, I have found that many products, including supplements as well as foods, contain one or more of these toxic compounds. For example, at least one product claiming to improve memory and boost brain power, contains large doses of glutamate and glutamine..."

"Soybean milk, which naturally contains a high content of glutamate, frequently has glutamate added in the form of hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Kombu, miso, and soy sauce all contain MSG… Sport supplements and weight-loss products frequently contain either Nutrasweet or one of the other excitotoxins."

Mary Nash Stoddard

In 1998 I heard Mary Nash Stoddard, founder of the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, speak. Reviewing her video just now, I realize how sobering her message is.

She opens her talk by saying, "If you know five people who are using some form of aspartame, you know three people who are having some sort of adverse reaction to it." How serious are these reactions? They will vary. But it is important to know that, like glutamate, aspartate is an acidic amino acid used by the brain as a neurotransmitter. Because it can cause neurons to become extremely excited, it can injure them. If given large enough doses, it can cause these cells to degenerate and die.

Her reason for becoming an advocate for aspartame consumer awareness is intensely personal. Her own health and that of both her late husband and daughter were adversely affected by aspartame.

Dr Blaylock's book, no doubt because he is a neurosurgeon, limits his thesis to the effect of excitotoxins on neurological disorders. Ms Stoddard, however, points out that the only reason that aspartame, dangerous as it is, is in our foods at all is that the lab reports that were presented to the FDA were falsified. FDA toxicologists knew that aspartame was dangerous and testified under oath at Senate hearings in Washington that aspartame should not be allowed. "And," she says, "nobody listened."

"So aspartame from the beginning has violated the Delaney clause which is in place to keep us safe as consumers. The Delaney clause says that if anything causes cancer, it should not be on the market. Well, aspartame caused cancer in the lab animals, in the lab tests that were falsified by the scientists who submitted them. The lab animals had brain tumors which were excised. They were reported as being tumor-free at the end of the study when that absolutely wasn't the case. And when asked why the brain tumors were excised by the scientists, they said, 'Well, because they couldn't get their heads through the bars of the cage to feed, and they would have starved to death, so we had to take those big growths off their heads.' They had mammary tumors, which to me translates into breast tumors in humans. They had uterine polyps, [and] there were birth defects in the lab animals. All these things are verified. They are in the Congressional Record from the Senate hearings."

From that not very promising start, aspartame has become a multimillion dollar industry, affecting many products sold to unsuspecting consumers. The only way to survive without poisoning ourselves is to learn what the risks are, and if we buy manmade processed "foods," to read every label very carefully.

Better yet, how about if we eat whole foods that God made? A salad, with a lemon juice/avocado/tomato dressing, with a soup that we make in our own homes from real foods, are much more likely to be safe and health-promoting than what we find in bottles, packages, boxes, and cans.


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