Aspartame & Psychiatric Disorders

By Ralph Walton, MD

Although psychiatry is far from an exact science, over the past half century there has been an explosive growth in our understanding of the human brain and consequently in our ability to diagnose and treat mental disorders. We have also become much more sophisticated about the impact of a variety of toxins on psychological processes.

I am convinced that one such toxin is aspartame.

Two years after aspartame was introduced onto the market I first became aware of the negative impact of this artificial sweetener on the central nervous system. I had been treating a then 54 year old woman with imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, because of recurrent major depressive episodes. Previous psychoanalytically based therapy had proven ineffective, but she responded dramatically to 150mg of imipramine per day. She had done well for 11 years on this medication, but was then suddenly hospitalized with a grand-mal seizure and subsequent manic episode.

One could postulate that she was bipolar, and the antidepressant had triggered the mania – but she had been on the same medication for a total of 11 years, and for the previous 5 years at the same 150mg per day dose. Neither the seizure nor her mania was consistent with what we know about the clinical course of bipolar disorder or epilepsy. Careful history revealed that the only change in her life was a recent decision to switch from the sugar which she had always used to sweeten her iced tea to a newly marketed product with aspartame.

Since aspartame can alter the balance of certain neurotransmitters which we believe are involved in mood disorders and can, in my opinion, alter the seizure threshold, I advised my patient to avoid all aspartame products. She did so, and had no further seizures, no further manic or depressive episodes. I discontinued the lithium carbonate which I had started when I mistakenly concluded that she had a bipolar disorder, reinstated her imipramine and she has continued to do well.

After this case report was published in the medical literature, many patients with unexplained seizures or treatment resistant psychiatric problems were referred to me. I became increasingly convinced that aspartame could both trigger seizure activity and mimic or exacerbate a variety of psychiatric disorders. I presented a paper based on those patients at a 1987 MIT sponsored conference on Dietary

Phenylalanine and Brain Function.

Industry sponsored criticism was made that my conclusions regarding aspartame’s toxicity could not be accepted as valid because my case reports were “merely anecdotal” and not based on double blind research. Unfortunately case reports do not currently have the respect in the mainstream medical literature which they deserve (historically much of medical progress has been based on careful observation of individual patients).

Nevertheless, I was so convinced of aspartame’s toxicity, and the need to have its hazards more widely appreciated in the medical community, that I did undertake a double blind study. That study -“Adverse Reactions to Aspartame: Double- Blind Challenge in Patients from a Vulnerable Population” was published in Biological Psychiatry in 1993. It demonstrated that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to aspartame and experienced an accentuation of depression and multiple physical symptoms. I had expected that the difficulties experienced by patients receiving aspartame would be fairly subtle (the dose of 30mg/kg/day was well below the level of 50mg/kg/day which the FDA considered “safe”). I was not prepared for the severity of the reactions, and for obvious ethical reasons cannot perform any further human studies with aspartame.

Over the ensuing years I have continued to see the multiple neurologic and psychiatric consequences of aspartame use. It can lower the seizure threshold and lead to an incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy, with subsequent inappropriate prescription of anticonvulsants. It can mimic or exacerbate symptoms of MS, it can paradoxically produce carbohydrate craving and weight gain. The world-wide epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes obviously has multiple causes, but I am convinced aspartame is a major factor.

The explosive increase in our knowledge base in the neurosciences I referred to earlier is a topic beyond the scope of this brief report, but to drastically oversimplify, we know that in a variety of psychiatric
disorders there is a disturbance in the balance of certain neurotransmitters. Specifically, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and acetylcholine are all major players.

Aspartame can affect the levels & balance of all these transmitters. It impairs the absorption of L-tryptophan, the major precursor in the synthesis of serotonin.

The phenylalanine from the dipeptide component of the aspartame molecule, is a major precursor in the norepinephrine-dopamine synthetic pathway. Recent research demonstrated that aspartame reduces acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine – a key player in the central nervous system, with an important role in cognition and memory, and with a reciprocal, inhibitory relationship with dopamine.

We are not sophisticated enough at this point in time to fully understand all the implications of the neurochemical changes induced by aspartame, but as a busy clinician I see the profound impact on patients’ lives on a daily basis. It can both produce and aggravate depression, in certain patients it can trigger manic episodes, it can produce or aggravate panic attacks. Some of my patients have experienced a complete cessation of panic attacks and needed no further treatment after they completely eliminated aspartame from their diet. Certain schizophrenic patients have experienced fewer auditory hallucinations or needed less antipsychotic medication after the elimination of aspartame.

It is essential that there be much greater awareness of the hazards of this highly toxic substance!

Ralph G. Walton, M.D.,
Medical Director, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health
Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio
Universities College of Medicine
Adjunct Professor Of Psychiatry, Lake Erie College of
Osteopathic Medicine

Dr. Walton’s aspartame study: “Adverse Reactions to
Aspartame: Double-Blind Challenge in Patients from a
Vulnerable Population:

Dr. Walton’s research on Scientific Peer Reviewed
Studies and Funding:

Additional data on aspartame:
Aspartame Toxicity Center:

Betty Martini, D.Hum, Founder
Mission Possible International
9270 River Club Parkway
Duluth, Georgia 30097
770 242-2599

Note from Betty Martini:

I’ve been out of town for a lecture, reason no mail on lists. This excellent new paper by Dr. Walton was distributed to an audience particularly concerned with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Also read Dr. Walton’s comments about Abby Cormack of New Zealand who made world news when she was poisoned by aspartame in Wrigley’s gum and about to be diagnosed as bipolar. Off aspartame her symptoms disappeared. In New Zealand there were particularly sad aspartame/bipolar cases where families were wrecked. You can see Dr. Walton in the aspartame documentary “Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World” which is still being shown to audiences in NZ. It is alarming that in NZ they want Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame to be in “all” schools. The Minister of Health has been provided with “Report for Schools” The first article in these reports is by Dr. Walton.

As to alternatives for schools there is a new product just made available this month called Fiber 1, by Just Like Sugar, and it won’t be in plastic. With aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal/Spoonful/Canderel/E951/Benevia, etc.) triggering psychiatric and behavioral disorders it must be immediately removed from schools. Good nutrition is so important for children. Today they are medicated instead of educated.

Bush calls for expansion of spy law

By Jason Reed, Reuters

President Bush speaks to the media during his visit to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday. Vice President Dick Cheney, left, and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell stand behind him.


In 2006, the Bush administration filed 2,181 applications for warrants to perform surveillance in national security cases. The law governing such “foreign intelligence surveillance” searches was modified last month but expires in February. Congress plans to take up new legislation this fall.

Here are key differences between the former and current law, along with differences over proposed changes:

Previous law

Required a court warrant to intercept electronic communications carried by a U.S. wire or fiber-optic cable, even if both parties were based abroad.

2007 law

Phone calls and e-mails can be intercepted without a warrant if one or both parties are “reasonably believed” to be abroad and the subject of a national security or terrorism investigation.

Proposed law

€ Director of National Intelligence and Bush administration want to make the 2007 law permanent and add immunity from lawsuits for telecom companies that helped intelligence agencies carry out eavesdropping.

€ The ACLU and some congressional Democrats want some judicial review of eavesdropping on communications to or from the USA. They oppose lawsuit immunity for telecom companies.
By Richard Willing, USA TODAY

By David Jackson, USA TODAY
Saying older surveillance laws were “dangerously out of date,” President Bush pressed anew Wednesday for Congress to pass permanent legislation that allows intelligence agencies to carry out warrantless surveillance on all communications of a foreign terror suspect.

Legislation passed by Congress last month “has helped close a critical intelligence gap, allowing us to collect important foreign intelligence and information about terrorist plots,” Bush said after he was briefed at the National Security Agency.

“The problem is the law expires on February 1 — that’s 135 days from today. The threat from al-Qaeda is not going to expire in 135 days,” Bush said.

Bush’s comments come one day after the nation’s intelligence chief told Congress that fewer than 100 Americans have become surveillance targets because they were initially overheard communicating with foreign terror suspects.

“How many Americans’ phones have been tapped without a court order? The answer is none,” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the House Judiciary Committee.

The law that expires in February allows intelligence agencies to carry out warrantless surveillance on all communications of a foreign terror suspect, even if a U.S.-based person is on one end of the call.

Congressional Democrats say the new law’s wording could promote warrantless spying on Americans. The law is written “so broadly and loosely that it permits the government to intercept … anyone even thought to be abroad,” Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan said at Tuesday’s hearing.

The House Intelligence Committee is expected to begin considering changes to the warrantless wiretapping law next month.

McConnell and the Bush administration also want the law expanded to include immunity from lawsuits for telecom companies that helped intelligence agencies carry out spying.

Democrats, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, want stricter rules covering surveillance of Americans.

“These restrictions would impede the flow of information that helps us protect our people,” Bush said Wednesday. “These restrictions would reopen gaps in our intelligence that we had just closed.”

At NSA, Bush received private briefings from intelligence officials and mingled with employees in the National Threat Operations Center. While cameras and reporters were in the room, the large video screens that lined the walls displayed unclassified information on computer crime and signal intelligence.

Along one wall at NSA is a sign that says, “We won’t back down. We never have. We never will.”

Contributing: Richard Willing; Associated Press

FDA approves FluMist influenza vaccine for young kids

by Poonam Wadhwani

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved on Wednesday a nasal spray influenza vaccine FluMist for the treatment of children between 2 and 5 years of age, saying it can be effective in protecting young children against this highly contagious disease.

Manufactured by MedImmune, FluMist spray vaccine that contains a weakened form of the live virus was previously approved for healthy children and adults age 5 to 49.

The approval by federal health agency came seven months after a major study conducted by researchers from medical schools in St. Louis, Tennessee, California and Finland, found the FluMist influenza vaccine effective in young children.

In February, the study which involved 8,475 children, 6 months to 59 months of age, at 249 sites across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East discovered that children from 6 months to 5 years old had 55 percent fewer cases of flu when they were protected by the nasal spray vaccine FluMist, rather than traditional shots.

FluMist spray vaccine, which does not need to be kept frozen, only refrigerated, was not yet licensed by the FDA for children under 5, but after examining the trial results the agency gave its node to FluMist for children 2 to 5 years old.

“The goal of preventing influenza is now more attainable with the availability of FluMist for younger children,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “This approval also offers parents and health professionals a needle-free option for squeamish toddlers who may be reluctant to get a traditional influenza shot.”

However, FDA is not allowing use of FluMist for children under 2 due to an increased risk of hospitalization and wheezing being reported in clinical trials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends flu vaccination for those aged 6 months to 5 years to prevent the spread of the virus. Before the approval of FluMist, there were only two vaccines licensed in the U.S. for children under the age of 5, Fluzone, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur and indicated for children over 6 months of age, and Fluvirin, available for use in children age 4 and older, manufactured by Novartis.

Winning approval for FluMist marks a major victory for Gaithersburg, Maryland-based MedImmune, which was looking forward to get federal regulators’ approval for younger children.

“As a company dedicated to innovative advancements in pediatric medicine, MedImmune is delighted to be able to offer FluMist as an option for children as young as two years old to help protect them from influenza,” said James F. Young, Ph.D., President, Research and Development. “With the new, refrigerated formulation approved in January, the results from our head-to- head study published in the February issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, and the expanded age indication now within the label, it is an exciting time for FluMist.”

The approval to market the inhalable influenza vaccine to young children could provide a major revenue boost for the company. In 2006, FluMist sales totaled more than $36.4 million, lagging behind MedImmune’s top-selling respiratory virus drug Synagis, which posted sales of $1.1 billion. FluMist competes with injectable flu vaccines made by GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Sanofi-Aventis’ Sanofi Pasteur unit, and Chiron, which was recently acquired by Novartis AG.

MedImmune, which recently has bought by London-based AstraZeneca Plc for US$15.6 billion in cash, is a biopharmaceutical company that develops and markets products to combat infectious disease and cancer, among other things.

Its flagship product, Synagis, prevents respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a major cause of pneumonia and other respiratory disease in infants and children. Besides FluMist, its nasal spray flu vaccine, also on the market are Ethyol, which treats side effects of chemotherapy and radiation; and Neutrexin, a treatment for a kind of pneumonia that often afflicts AIDS patients.

Influenza (commonly known as “the flu”) is an acute respiratory illness caused by one of the family of influenza viruses. In infants, persons over the age of 65 years, and those with chronic medical conditions, the flu can lead to pneumonia, hospitalization, and even death. Each winter, influenza engulfs 36,000 lives in America, most of them elderly and children.