The Sunday Times
February 27 2000 BRITAIN
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
BRITAIN'S bestselling sweetener was condemned as dangerous and potentially toxic in a report compiled by some of the world's biggest soft drinks manufacturers - who now buy tons of it to add to diet drinks. Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other manufacturers produced the report in the early 1980s before the sweetener, aspartame, had been approved for use in America. It warns that it can affect the workings of the brain, change behaviour and even en-courage users to eat extra carbohydrate, so destroying the point of using diet drinks.
The documents were un-earthed last week under freedom of information legislation. It follows a decision by re-searchers at King's College in London to study suspected links between aspartame intake and brain tumours.
Britons drink more than 9 billion cans or bottles of pop a year, of which about half contain artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, made by Monsanto and also marketed under the name NutraSweet, is 200 times sweeter than normal sugar and is used in many popular low-calorie foods and drinks. It has been declared safe in a number of studies and has been approved for use in both America and Europe.
There has, however, always been concern at its tendency to break down, producing methanol, which is both toxic in its own right and which breaks down further to produce formic acid and formaldehyde. Phenylalanine, another breakdown product of aspartame, is also dangerous to people with phenylketonuria, a common enzyme deficiency.
The 30-page aspartame report was drawn up under the auspices of America's National Soft Drinks Association (NSDA), whose governing body at the time included senior Coca-Cola and Pepsi executives. It says: "We object to the approval of aspartame for unrestricted use in soft drinks." It then lists ways in which aspartame was believed directly to affect brain chemistry, including the synthesis of vital neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
Other papers obtained with the NSDA documents show the Food and Drug Administration also had misgivings. Despite this, it approved aspartame.
Dick Adamson, of the NSDA, said that, in l983, it evaluated the data on aspartame and posed a number of questions. Once they were answered, it no longer had concerns about the safety of aspartame in carbonated drinks.
Ben Deutsch, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, referred questions to the NSDA.