GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Update: Dr. John Olney on Brain tumors and aspartame, Part 1

John W. Olney, M.D., Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

The report says it is issued by the authors in response to media and
public inquiries.  For those who have not followed the world news about
aspartame (marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal Measure, etc.),
part 2 will contain some background, and information from the
Congressional Record on the original studies and link to brain tumors.
Part 3 will give you added information you may wish to have.  this will
avoid a very long post.  Most of the symptoms and diseases triggered by
aspartame are neurological and the FDA report will be published in part 3.
We collect histories on victims of aspartame and now have a brain tumor
registry and MS registry (methanol toxicity from aspartame mimics MS),
so we encourage everyone to email us cases.  

Here is Dr. Olney's report:

"In the November 1996 issue of the Journal of Neuropathology and
Experimental Neurology, John Olney, M.D. and his colleagues Nuri Farber,
M.D., Edward Spitznagel, Ph.D. and Lee Robins, Ph.D, all from Washington
University in St. Louis, report that brain tumor rates have risen in the
United States over the past 17 years in two distinct phases.

The first phase occurred in the mid l970's and might be explained
primarily by improved diagnostic methods.  The second phase occurred
abruptly in the mid l980's, resulting in a 10 per cent higher rate of
brain tumors which has persisted to the present.  This increase also was
associated with a shift from a lower to a higher grade of malignancy.

"The article raises the possibility that the artificial sweetener
aspartame, which was approved for limited markets in l981 and for
widespread use in foods and beverages in l983, may have contributed to
this increase," Olney says.  "but it is important to remind consumers that
the evidence now available is not sufficient to prove that aspartame
caused the brain tumor increases."  Olney urges that further studies be
conducted to clarify what role, if any, aspartame plays in the development
of brain tumors.

"In the meantime, consumers must decide whether they are willing to expose
themselves to potential risks in order to reduce their calorie intake," he
says.  "Fortunately, the potential risk to any individual adult appears
low because the total number of people that could be affected is small."

Olney recommends, however, that pregnant women be especially cautious
about consuming aspartame until new studies can assess the risk to a
developing fetus.  

The investigators analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute's
Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program, which collects
and distributes data on all types of cancer.  SEER data are taken from
areas of the U.S. that collectively represent about 10 per cent of the
national population.

Because increases in brain tumor rates that could be linked to aspartame
would be expected to follow public exposure to the artificial sweetener,
the group looked at increases in the incidence of each of the different
types of brain tumors from l975 to l992.

The new study shows sudden 10% increase in the incidence and malignancy of
brain tumors in the United States beginning about three years after
aspartame was introduced.  The incidence of brain tumors did not continue
to rise but remained at the higher level through l992, the last year
included in the study.

"Although aspartame probably has been introduced into an increasing number
of foods in recent years, it is likely that the same portion of the
population simply ingested greater amounts of the product," Olney
explains. "If a larger proportion of the population was not exposed to
aspartame, that might explain why the incidence did not continue to

Olney became interested in the neurotoxic potential of aspartame in the
mid 1970's, after his discovery that the widely used food additive
monosodium glutamate (MSG) destroys nerve cells in the brain when fed to
immature animals.  This link between MSG and neural damage eventually
caused the food industry to stop adding glutamate to baby foods.

Because aspartame is chemically related to glutamate, Olney later fed
aspartame to immature mice and found that it also destroyed nerve cells in
the brain.  On the basis of this evidence, Olney protested the approval of
aspartame and Food and Drug ADministration (FDA) Commissioner Alexander
Schmidt granted him a hering at a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI).  The
Commissioner also stayed the approval of aspartame, pending further

"To prepare for the hearing, I examined the FDA's aspartame file," Olney
recalls.  "I was concerned because I did not find any studies pertaining
to nerve cell damage.  The FDA had not required that any such studies be

He did, however, find two studies revealing an exceptionally high
incidence of malignant brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats, and FDA
Commissioner Donald Kennedy granted Olney's request that the brain tumor
evidence be evaluated at the PBOI, which was held in l980.

At the PBOI, Olney and other scientists argued that further studies must
be done to rule out a brain tumor risk. "We have particularly concerned
that aspartame might react in the stomach with nitrites present in foods
and be converted to a nitrosated molecule" he recalls.  "We were aware of
published studies showing that certain nitrosated molecules can enter the
central nervous system and cause brain tumors in laboratory animals.
These studies showed that brain tumors develop fairly rapidly following
exposure of an adult animal to the nitrosated molecules or after a long
delay interval if a fetus is exposed during pregnancy."

The PBOI panel of neuropathology experts appointed by the FDA to judge the
brain tumor evidence unanimously concluded that aspartame should not be
approved until extensive additional animal tests had ruled out the brain
tumor risk.  In addition, Olney says, three top FDA science advisors
reviewed the brain tumor evidence and agreed with the PBOI panel of
neuropathology experts.

In l981, however, a newly appointed FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes,
approved aspartame without requiring further studies.  In his judgment,
the available data established with reasonable certainty that aspartame
does not cause brain tumors in laboratory rats. 

In l993, Swiss scientist S. E. Shephard exposed aspartame to nitrite in a
test tube, causing it to undergo nitrosation as it might do when it
encountered nitrite in the stomach.  Shephard then demonstrated that the
nitrosated aspartame molecule is able to cause mutations in cultured
bacteria.  This is a test commonly used to assess the cancer causing
potential of chemicals. 

According to the Washington University researchers, three types of
evidence are usually gathered to asses a substance's cancer causing
potential: (1)  Can the substance cause mutations? (2) Is there an
abnormally high incidence of specific types of cancer in animals that are
exposed chronically to the agent? 3) Is there an increased incidence of
the same kind of cancer in human populations exposed chronically to the

"While it looks as if our new study and the prior evidence answer all
three questions in the affirmative," Olney emphasized that further studies
are needed.  "A major problem is that early  animal feeding studies
showing an apparent brain tumor risk are contradictory and difficult to
interpret.  More reliable animal feeding studies are needed.  In addition,
studies are needed to clarify the significance of the mutation causing
potential of aspartame.  The chemical reactions that aspartame can undergo
in the body and the effects of the resulting products on the brain need to
be determined."

"Studies of brain tumor rates before and after the introduction of
aspartame in other countries also are needed" Olney says.  "Upward trends
in deaths from brain tumors have been detected in the United Kingdom,
France, Germany and Italy.  These trends must be carefully analyzed in
relation to aspartame consumption."

Other factors that have been studies in relation to increased brain tumor
rates include ionizing radiation, electromagnetic fields, smoke
inhalation, pesticides and various industrial chemicals.  "The evidence
linking aspartame to the recent brain tumor increases is stronger than for
any of these other factors,"  Olney says.  "However,, the evidence
presently available is not adequate to establish whether aspartame does or
does not cause brain tumors.  Therefore, new studies properly designed to
answer this question are urgently needed."

This is the end of the article from Washington University School of
Medicine, John Olney, M.D. and authors of original report that made world

Dr. H. J. Roberts peer reviewed report on aspartame and brain tumors is on
our auto-responder and also on

This report will also be added to web and we encourage others to add this
to their web page.  

Also, Dr. Roberts recent letter on aspartame and brain tumors appeared in
Lancet in February.  

Part 2 will go into original studies by Searle and the link to brain
tumors, and some of the history.  Monsanto bought Searle in l985.  

Betty Martini, Founder
Mission Possible Worldwide (warning the world aspartame is a neurotoxin)

To get more information on aspartame, email as follows:
Subject: sendme help   
The subject line must be typed exactly like the above line.
Betty Martini             1.  Take the 60-day No-Aspartame test
Mission Possible                 and send us your case history.
5950-H State Bridge Rd    2.  Tell your doctor and your friends.
Suite 215                 3.  Return Aspar-Poisoned foods to the store. 
Duluth GA  30155  USA     (Nutrasweet(tm), Equal(tm), Spoonful(tm), etc)

Visit with links to more than 25 other Web Sites

We are dedicated to the proposition that we will not be satisfied until death 
and disability are no longer considered an acceptable cost of business.