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NY Times Required Reading on Aspartame

As opposed to our online persona where NBN is bitchy, relentless and bit of a complainer, offline NBN is committed to change but actually pretty mellow. Honest. Well, come to think of it, online I’m not sort of a complainer, I’m actually a real big complainer, especially when it comes to the newspaper I was weaned on, the place that claims it has all the news that fit to print, the good old New York Times.Search the archives here and you’ll read just a few of NBN’s NYT diatribes. Maybe we’ve never gotten over that fact that when thirty years of hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women was revealed to be more dangerous than sucking lead from a pipe (okay we know we’re exaggerating but give us some slack) it merited only 1 front-page story. Come on folks, thirty years of every $&#@ doctor recommending something that was more dangerous than good. There’s got to be a lot more news fit to print on that one don’t you think folks?Well, lately the Times has been making us smile more than groan. Recent stories on the potential dangers of Ritalin, the links between anti-depressant use and childhood asthma and a story today on an Italian researchers look at the links between aspartame (sold under the names Nutra-Sweet and Equal) and cancer has given NBN a little more to be happy about with the New York Times. Maybe the New England Journal of Medicine’s report on Merck’s scientific fraud woke them up.

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Oddly enough the aspartame story was in the Sunday Times Business section. Or, then again not so odd, given that manufacturers bought $570 million of it in 2005 to add to everything from Fresca to Diet Snapple to sugar free lollipops, amounting to billions and billions in retail sales.

While many of us committed to preventative health have long known that aspartame has always been the largest source of complaints to the FDA of any food additive, (and yes we sometimes drink Fresca, but rarely and only when its 95 and humid).

The story details the results of a study by Dr. Morando Soffritt of the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental sciences. The study, released in July 2005, found that the sweetener was associated with unusually high rates of lymphoma, leukemia and other cancers in rats. Most notably was the startling news that the cancers were associated with only a small amount of consumption. The rates were given the equivalent of a 150-pound person drinking just four or five 20 ounce sodas a day. (Memo to self: quite drinking Fresca!).

The Times story then details the response to his work, the notable rebuttals and naysayers. Perhaps more importantly the story examines the first research done by the pharmaceutical giant Searle in the 1970’s on this new sweetener. The Times notes that the FDA had serious concerns over the validity of the Searle Study. However the sweetener’s approval finally came in 1981 under the watch of Arthur Hull Hayes, a Regan appointee. Hayes then left the agency a little more than a year after approving aspartame to serve as a consultant to Burson-Marsteller, which was not so oddly enough Searle’s PR agency. When contacted by the Times for an interview Hayes did not respond. Ah how things stink so strongly in our nation’s capitol.

Furthermore the story notes that results of the studies tend to depend on who paid for them. Of the 166 or so articles on aspartame the Times story notes that all 74 that show no adverse effects, nearly all were paid either directly or indirectly for by manufacturers of aspartame. Conversely among the 94 independent articles published 84 showed ill effects from aspartame consumption. Mmm sounds like the Merck research on Vioxx, doesn’t it.

It also cites reports from a neurological perspective as aspartame has been reported to be linked to behavioral and mood problems, likely due to aspartame’s phenyalanine component.

The only complaint we have to offer was the lack of any mention about Stevia, the powerful sweetener that cannot be sold as a food addiditive since it does not have FDA approval, or as some would claim, since it would kill the artificial sweetener business faster than a stake through a vampire’s heart.

To see the story registration required http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/12/business/yourmoney/12sweet.html

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