Nutrapoison Part I
Nutrapoison Part II
Nutrapoison Part III
Doubts About Safety
Gulf War Syndrome
How Safe is it
Dry Eyes Syndrome
By William Hines
Chief, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Charging that aspartame - the widely used artificial sweetener
marketed as NutraSweet - causes blindness, a consumer group yesterday
petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.
The petition was another step in a long and so far fruitless campaign by
the Washington based Community Nutrition Institute against aspartame, which
also is sold in stores under the name Equal.
Three women who said their eyesight was seriously damaged or destroyed
joined in the citizens' petition to the FDA, which they asked "to
expeditiously remove [the] product from the market without an administrative
At a press conference called by the institute to announce the
imminent-hazard petition, two of the women told of heavy use of
aspartame-sweetened products and said their doctors had advised them the
sugar substitute was the cause of their sight loss.
The NutraSweet Co., of Skokie, Ill., a subsidiary of Searle & Co.,
brushed off the institute's complaint as "simply another round in their
repeated efforts to gain publicity for their thoroughly discredited views on
A Washington-based group called the International Food Information
Council said through its executive director, Thomas E. Stenzel, the
allegations "that aspartame causes various side effects are not based on any
scientific data or controlled clinical studies."
James S. Turner, a Washington lawyer representing the Community
Nutrition Institute in the petition, said the eye damage to the women named
in the complaint was "a direct, causally related event to their consumption
Both women, Dana Cozad of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Joyce Wilson of
Stockbridge, Ga., described themselves as heavy users of the sweetener.
Wilson, a real estate agent, said she no longer can take sales prospects
to see property because her vision does not permit her to drive.
"It has cost me a lot, and I really want the public to know what a
dangerous product it is," Wilson said.
Cozad said that vision loss struck her suddenly in the right eye while
she was driving home and that lengthy surgery and other sight-saving efforts
followed. She said vision is gone in that eye, and - after she has spent 13 months
on an aspartame-free diet - the condition of the left eye "remains relatively
Both women said their physicians had ruled out causes other than
aspartame for their sight loss.
Methyl alcohol blamed
Dr. H. J. Roberts of West Palm Beach, Fla., said methyl alcohol is a
component of aspartame and is responsible for vision damage, which he termed
"the most serious complication" of those arising from aspartame use.
Aspartame, which is described as a "natural" product, contains two amino
acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are components of protein.
Under certain storage conditions, the sweetener breaks down in part and
methyl alcohol is a byproduct.
Roberts said the visual reaction to methyl alcohol in heavy users of
aspartame is the same as in drinkers of moonshine whiskey in Prohibition
days: "They go blind."
Of 360 patients he has diagnosed as having aspartame-related problems,
Roberts said, about one-fourth had decreased vision or blindness, nearly half
had severe headaches and substantial numbers had epileptic seizures,
confusion or memory loss, extreme depression and marked personality change.
At FDA headquarters in Rockville, Md., spokesman William Grigg said the
petition had been received but not yet studied.
Grigg recalled that Turner filed several interventions against aspartame
in the past, none of which received favorable FDA action.