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Aspartame Methanol and the Public Health

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Aspartame (L-asparty-L-phenylalanine methyl ester), a new sweetener marketed under the trade name NutraSweet*, releases into the human bloodstream one molecule of methanol for each molecule of aspartame consumed. This new methanol source is being added to foods that have considerably reduce caloric content and, thus, may be consumed in large amounts. Generally, none of these foods could be considered dietary methanol sources prior to addition of aspartame. When diet sodas and soft drinks, sweetened with aspartame, are used to replace fluid loss during exercise and physical exertion in hot climates, the intake of methanol can exceed 250 mg/day or 32 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit of consumption for this cumulative toxin. There is extreme variation in the human response to acute methanol poisoning, the lowest recorded lethal oral dose being 100 mg/kg with one individual surviving a dose over ninety times this level55. Humans, due perhaps to the loss of two enzymes during evolution, are more sensitive to methanol than any laboratory animal; even the monkey is not generally accepted as a suitable animal model42. There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possible mutagenic, teratogenic, or carcinogenic effects of chronic administration of methyl alcohol. The average intake of methanol from natural sources varies but limited data suggests an average intake of considerably less than 10 mg/day8. Alcoholics may average much more, with a potential range of between 0 and 600 mg/day, depending on the source and in some cases the quality of their beverages. Ethanol, the classic antidote for methanol toxicity, is found in natural food sources of methanol at concentrations 5 to 500,000 times that of the toxin (Table 1). Ethanol inhibits metabolism of methanol and allows the body time for clearance of the toxin through the lungs and kidneys. The question asked whether uncontrolled consumption of this new sweetener might increase the methanol intake of certain individuals to a point beyond which our limited knowledge of acute and chronic human methanol toxicity can be extrapolated to predict safety. *NutraSweet is a trademark of G.D. Searl & Co.
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... Ethanol is an antidote for methanol oxicity in humans. [9] In aspartame there is no ethanol. ...
... Heavy users of aspartame-containing products consume as much as 250 mg of methanol daily or 32 times the EPA limit. [9] Symptoms from methanol poisoning include headaches, ear buzzing, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances, and neuritis. The most well known problems from methanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision, obscuration of vision, retinal damage, & blindness. ...
... Researchers have noted high concentrations of methanol in the blood of aspartame users. [9,[66][67][68][69]. Woodrow Monte, R.D.Ph.D. Director of the Arizona State University Food Sciences and Nutrition Laboratory, has warned that aspartame releases into the human bloodstream one molecule of methanol for each molecule of aspartame consumed. ...
... Methanol exposure in aspartame consumers may occur when (1) soft drinks are stored for long periods or at high temperatures, as a result, the aspartame begins to decompose and (2) when aspartame is metabolized in the small intestine and the methyl group of the dipeptide is hydrolysed by chymotrypsin [71]. The toxicity of methanol and its metabolites (formaldehyde and formate) after aspartame ingestion has been observed at both normal and abuse dosages ( Table 1). ...
... Thus, consuming unlimited aspartame-sweetened soft drinks, unintentionally increasing their intake [74]. Under such circumstances, daily methanol intake may rise to toxic levels [71] Oral administration of aspartame causes elevated blood methanol levels in rats [25], which is rapidly absorbed and metabolized (oxidized) into formaldehyde or formic acid which later accumulates in various tissues [75]. Rats metabolize methanol faster than humans and formate does not accumulate in rat tissues [76]. ...
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... However, it should be noted that due to the use of minimal amounts of aspartame in food products, the methanol into which it metabolizes does not pose a significant risk to human health. A 330 ml can of aspartamesweetened cola drink provides an amount of methanol comparable to a 500 ml bottle of some fruit juices, such as orange or grapefruit juice [7]. ...
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... The soft drinks sweetened with aspartame may release about 250 mg/ day of methanol upon consumption. The uncontrolled consumption of soft drinks sweetened with aspartame may lead to acute and chronic human methanol toxicity (Monte and Aspartame, 1984). Aspartame included in the soft drinks negatively influences the motivation to eat food. ...
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