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Neotame: The New Artificial Sweetener More Dangerous than Aspartame?

Neotame is a relatively new artificial sweetener that has yet to become a household name like aspartame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda) and saccharin (Sweet 'n Low).

This high-intensity sweetener was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 as an artificial sweetener and flavor enhancer. It's called high-intensity because it's considerably sweeter than other sugar substitutes out there: depending on its use, the FDA says it's 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. For comparison, sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Neotame looks like white powder and has been approved for use as a tabletop sweetener as well as for use in products like baked goods, soft drinks and other beverages, chewing gum, confections and frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, yogurt-type products, candies, toppings and syrups.

Soda Pop

Will diet soft drinks soon contain the new flavor-enhancing artificial sweetener neotame?

The Controversy

Although the FDA says, based on their reviews of data from more than 113 animal and human studies, neotame is safe for human consumption, others are not so sure.

According to Dr. Janet Hull, author of Sweet Poison, "Neotame contains all the dangerous elements found in aspartame and more: the amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine, plus two organic functional groups, one known as a methyl ester group and the other as a neohexyl group ... Neotame does not have to carry the PKU warning, as aspartame is required by law to do, so its addition to all products can go without warning."

PKU refers to phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare metabolic disease that results in mental retardation and other neurological problems if not caught early on (within the first weeks of life).

If a strict diet is followed, people with this disease can develop normally and live a normal lifespan. However, high blood levels of phenylalanine (which makes up 50 percent of aspartame) are dangerous for those with PKU. As such, a warning must be placed on aspartame products, but not on neotame products. Too much dietary phenylalanine may also trigger ADD/ADHD and emotional and behavioral disorders in otherwise healthy individuals, according to Dr. Hull.

In a letter to the FDA, H.J. Roberts, M.D., author of Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic, called neotame a synthetic variation of aspartame (but, it's about 40 times more potent), and said in his professional opinion, " ... This chemical poses a potential major health and environmental hazard to the American public." He goes on to say:

"In my opinion, there is already sufficient evidence for aspartame products to be withdrawn from the market as an "imminent public health hazard" NOW! I have documented severe neurological, intellectual, psychiatric, metabolic, endocrine, allergic and other reactions to aspartame products in hundreds of patients. Moreover, there is considerable reason to invoke aspartame and its metabolites as a cause of significant contributory factor in the aggravation of precipitation of diabetes and its complications, multiple sclerosis, brain cancer, and the acceleration of Alzheimer's disease."

Further, Jack Samuels of the Truth in Labeling Campaign, pointed out, "Neotame, like aspartame, contains aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and a methyl esther." Here is a breakdown of the three ingredients.

  • Phenylalanine: An amino acid necessary for neurotransmitter production. However, according to nutritionist Robert L. Pastore, PhD, "Pregnant women, those with anxiety attacks, individuals with high blood pressure, people with phenylketonuria and pre-existing pigmented melanoma should avoid its supplementation."

  • Aspartic acid: Too much of this substance is "suspected to cause brain damage in fetuses, and high doses have been found to destroy brain cells in experimental animals," says Pastore.

  • Methanol (methyl alcohol, wood alcohol): This substance is converted to formaldehyde and formic acid, which have a toxic effect on the thymus gland. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, producing cancer of the throat, pharynx and lung, according to Pastore.

Samuels continued:

"Neuroscientists have found, in animal studies, that aspartic acid and glutamic acid [MSG] load on the same receptors in the brain, cause identical brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders, and act in an additive fashion. People who are sensitive to processed free glutamic acid (MSG) experience similar reactions to aspartame, and people who are sensitive to aspartame experience similar reactions to MSG, providing that they ingest amounts of the substances that exceed their tolerances for MSG/aspartame. People who currently react to MSG and/or aspartame should expect to react similarly to neotame."

Artificial Sweetener

Artificial sweeteners like neotame are a growing market: Neotame sales grew four-fold since April 2004.

Where is Neotame Found?

NutraSweet Co., neotame's maker, is working to establish a market for neotame, touting it not only as a sweetener, but as a "flavor-enhancing" one. And based on the 2005 Prepared Foods R&D Trends, as low-carb diets lose popularity and reduced-calorie foods gain popularity once again, artificial sweeteners will continue to be in high demand.

Neotame, in particular, is expected to gain market share among low-calorie products. Said one supplier, "It [neotame] is approved as a sweetener and flavor enhancer, and has the unique capability of taking vanilla, mint and citrus flavors and potentiating them." Already, reported that sales of neotame increased four-fold since April 2004.

For those interested in limiting neotame in their diets, here's a list of some products that already contain neotame.

  • Kroger's fruit juice and certain powdered ice-teas
  • Detour energy bars (certain varieties)
  • Roman Meal Bread line
  • Herr's pretzels
  • Wrigley Chewing Gum (in Australia)

Recommended Reading

MSG: If it's Safe, Why do They Disguise it on Labels?

The Most Toxic Soaps and Shampoos Well Worth Avoiding


FDA Talk Paper

Sweet Poison Newsletter

The Threat of Neotame

Truth in Labeling

How Sweet It Is: An Examination of Alternatives to Sugar

Retro Reductions

Cost is the Key to Neotame's Success

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