Anecdotes and Science — Part 1

On my other blog, the anti-aspartame advocate Betty Martini left left some comments in relation to some statements I made about the misuse of anecdotes as evidence. Her comments sparked an interest into diving a bit deeper into the use of anecdotal evidence versus solid “scientific evidence”. Her statements are representative of something we are actually all prone to, and must consciously fight, and that is a major reason behind the popularity of various medical claims not-backed-by-evidence.

This article is Part I of a two part discussion on anecdotal evidence. This part will discuss anecdotal evidence in general and why we are so susceptible to it. The second part will discuss how anecdotal evidence is used in practice.

Should we treat “tons” of anecdotal evidence as if it were actual data?

I will quote from the relevant parts of the comment thread, the interested reader can read the full thread in its full context on my other blog here.

ME: “Anecdotal reports of individual people simply do not address the scientific question of whether aspartame should be considered dangerous to the general population…”

MARTINI: Dr. [HJ] Roberts writes.. “Disparaging comments about ‘anecdotal evidence’ by editors of medical journals and reviewers in academia have contributed significantly to the ongoing lack of awareness of aspartame disease. The great tradition of the clinical anecdote, dating back to Hippocrates, has been forsaken. Borgstein (1999) observed: “Have you noticed that the clinical anecdote has almost disappeared?….We have statistics now, and no case is worthwhile unless we can collect a series and apply some complex statistical formula to it to make it significant somehow.”

My radar goes off any time somebody harkens back to the “good old days” of medicine and science, forgetting that advances are called “advances” for a reason. It’s a Good Thing that we don’t simply rely on personal testimony as the primary basis of evaluating claims, especially when generating guidelines that apply to the larger population. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the “germ theory” of disease really took off, and Robert Koch published his four “postulates” (Wikipedia) for determining whether a particular microorganism is the cause of an illness.

As to the significance of individual cases. Of course single cases are important to the particular person who is affected (or believes they are affected) and therefore they should consult their doctor. But the “complex statistical formula” applied to larger samples is the only method we can reliably use to be able to say that some chemical, process, method appears to have the intended, or unintended, effects across a large population. Even when a drug, device, food additive, etc is approved for general use, they frequently still say “Speak to your doctor before starting or if you experience symptoms”. Those single cases are certainly useful to be aware of, to look for the start of a trend, or a rare disorder or situation that leads to a reaction.

“Pro-industry physicians and investigators have consistently attempted to put a favorable spin on aspartame safety by denigrating published clinical observations as “merely anecdotes.” Corporate-sponsored critics reflexively scorn “anecdotal evidence” as “invalid and unreliable.”

To thousands of people who read “Killer Kola” who were using aspartame and got off of it, their story cannot be considered just an anecdote. It is their life. MS victims walked out of wheelchairs, blind people regained their sight, those crippled with fibromyalgia were able to walk, depression disappeared, and physicians started giving out pages to their patients.

The reader can easily fill in the blank replacing the safety of aspartame with the “effectiveness of homeopathy/astrology/acupuncture”. Essentially: “It works (or hurts, in this case) for me, I don’t care what the scientific evidence says”. And it’s absolutely understandable why this is convincing. What else is more available and convincing than our own personal experience? Thousands of people? May as well be a peer-reviewed study, right? Well, no. It would actually have been great if they were part of a well-controlled study. Thousands of people would be a gold mine. It would be great if the medical histories of all these people could be looked at, to see what they had previously and when and how the symptoms went away. But we don’t have any of that data. We actually know nothing about them except the second-hand claim that they were “healed” by removing aspartame from their diet.

As to multiple sclerosis (MS) and aspartame, here is what the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has to say about aspartame as a cause of MS:

“No scientific evidence supports the claims on several Web sites that aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in many diet soft drinks and other foods, causes MS.”

If there was even a large amount of convincing anecdotal evidence, it would be reasonable for the NMSS to at least issue a warning. Maybe the anti-aspartame folks will respond that the NMSS is in the pockets of Anjimoto (previously, of Monsanto), or that they have been “deceived” or are “blind to the evidence”. But more likely, despite the loud voices on the Internet, there isn’t even enough anecdotal evidence to convince an organization that exists solely to assist people with MS.

“Killer Kola” seems to have been a 16-page brochure distributed by an organic food store in Georgia named “Return to Eden” based on the material from Betty Martini’s anti-aspartame site. There is little reason to think that it contained any additional convincing evidence on top of the unsubstantiated claims that already populate anti-aspartame websites.

Why are anecdotes so convincing?

While I make an effort to look for solid scientific evidence of things, my natural tendency is to trust my own experiences or my friends and family when they say that something “really works for me” or that they “only” experience some side effect when eating one thing or another. Why is anecdotal evidence so convincing?

A likely candidate is built into our brains in the form of cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are essentially the evolutionarily wired tendencies in our brain which help us make quick decisions based on patterns and experience. Unfortunately in today’s world, those biases can lead us astray.

I highly recommend you check out the list of cognitive biases available on Wikipedia. You will most certainly identify many biases that you — that we all — do on a daily basis. This makes us human. The problem comes when we are unable to accept that we have been “fooled” by our own bias and insist that the scientific evidence, regardless of how strong, is wrong, a hoax, part of Big Pharma/Food, and so on.

The three I want to discuss that are particularly relevant to the acceptance of anecdotal evidence as “proof” are the Availability cascade, the Congruence Bias, and the well-known Confirmation Bias.

Availability Cascade

A large number of anecdotes might lead to a cognitive bias known as the “Availability cascade” where, regardless of the truth of a claim, its frequent citation and “availability” in discourse (especially on the internet) makes the idea seem plausible. Even friends of mine who drink diet soda will think there is “something” to the notion that aspartame is bad for you. And then there are friends who avoid diet drinks altogether (but don’t necessarily avoid the thousands of other products that contain aspartame, because they don’t realize just how prevalent the usage of aspartame is). The notion that aspartame is dangerous has been floating around for so long that it is “available” as being obvious, despite there being little to no evidence supporting the notion.

Congruence Bias

The “Congruence bias” is when someone only tests their hypothesis directly, but makes no effort to check check alternative hypothesis. For example, a person may decide that aspartame is the cause of some ailment or other (headaches, seizures, general malaise, depression). So they stop “taking aspartame” (most likely, cutting out diet soda but if they are diligent they might cut out any of the multitude of low calorie items) and the feel better. But what else did they stop taking? Are they perhaps just more aware of their diet and replace previous “low calorie” snacks with healthier snacks (fruits and vegetables)? Did they try having “blind” (perhaps with a friend) replacement of sugar-containing items with their low calorie equivalents and check the effects? Did they take objective measures of their symptoms before and after “cutting out” aspartame? Did they have a doctor diagnose a particular ailment before and after? Did they confirm that the number of days of the test is enough to establish a statistical effect? Perhaps, perhaps not. But that is what happens with a properly-controlled, randomized, (double) blinded trial.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias is when a person favors information which confirms their beliefs and ignores evidence that disconfirms. For example, a person might only remember the days that they avoided a diet drink and didn’t get a headache, but will not recall the days they didn’t have headaches while also having a diet drink, or had headaches while avoiding. Fill in your favorited unsupported belief: a believer in astrology completely forgets all the “misses” of the astrologic/fortune teller, a believer in homeopathy doesn’t realize that before they found out about homeopathy their cold still only lasted 2-4 days.


Unless we make a conscious effort, we are all easily persuaded by the personal experiences of friends, family and ourselves. Without looking for outside explanation of some issue or benefit, or somehow performing a controlled study, we cannot be sure that our experience represents “reality”. Add up a lot of people experiencing this situation and we amass a large body of anecdotal “evidence” that might not in fact mirror reality. Being aware of our own biases is one method of avoiding being overly persuaded by evidence-that-isn’t. It may very well turn out that our experience is actually one of the rare situations where some particular effect actually occurs (e.g. allergies, drug combinations/interactions). But self-diagnosing based on Internet pages is not the right approach to determine this.

In Part 2 I will discuss more specifics about how anecdotal claims are used by the FDA and CDC as they relate to post-marketing surveillance (in some cases confirming anecdotes), as well as a brief discussion of where anecdotes have proven to be way off.


National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Old Theories that have been Disproven”. Visited January 2013.
Wikipedia. “List of biases in judgement and decision making”. Visited January 2013.

About Josh DeWald

I am a software engineer, husband and parent of two. I have been involved in the Skeptical movement for a few years now, especially since having children and so needing to fight pseudoscience related to parenting (vaccines, homeopathy, etc). I've been fortunate to attend TAM twice with my wife (who is also of a Skeptical bent). I also have a blog known as "What Does the Science Say?" (, where I have an odd habit of writing a lot about aspartame.
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12 Responses to Anecdotes and Science — Part 1

  1. Karolyn says:

    Have you eve noticed that so many of the “controlled studies” conducted by Big Pharma are done by people they pay? Sprinkle some aspartame on ants and see what happens!

  2. Great article. I want to print out copies of it and give them to my friends who say “I don’t know about scientific evidence. All I know is that when I have aspartame,…”

  3. Myk says:

    Karolyn, you’re employing the genetic fallacy there. You can’t dismiss the results based on who paid the researchers. (Though an amount of skepticism is called for, based on the potential conflict of interest.) Independent research is done, and when it supports the industry – funded results, the default assumption should be that the original industry – funded research was fairly conducted, not that the independent researchers were secretly paid off by the evil corporation.

    Given how sweet aspartame is, if you have enough to “sprinkle”, I’m sure it would have a huge impact on ants. The whole point of aspartame is that you use a tiny amount due to its overpowering sweetness.

  4. mud says:

    Dammit, to think I have been paying 20 bux a bottle for ant rid in the hardware store.

    Rots my sox that pho and Ratchett have five orange trees.

  5. mud says:

    PS… ever poured honey on a bee?….I am sure its the fructose content that kills them!

  6. rmforallblog says:

    In this case, the expert was a highly qualified, successful general practitioner with an affluent clientele, author of a medical textbook, “Difficult Diagnosis”, with 6 copies still at Harvard Countway Medical Library in 2002, who noticed “aspartame reactors” in his own practice in 1983, when it was first approved and mass marketed for beverages. Aspartame aspersions are frequent (compared to aspirin…), and biochemically plausible — especially considering the unique vulnerability of humans compared to all other animals to methanol (formaldehyde) toxicity for a daily dose of 120 mg methanol from 2 L aspartame diet drink — ethanol, a very strong antidote, is far more supplied by fruits juices and vegetables in most cases than is methanol — actually the data is pretty sketchy for such a common potent toxin…

    brief case reports on eye and brain symptoms from aspartame chewing
    gum, candy, medicines by H.J. Roberts MD (now 89) in “Aspartame
    Disease: An Ignored Epidemic” textbook 2001.05.30: Rich Murray

    I extracted this information, for the convenience of ophthalmologists,
    from my much longer post — I hope it is useful.

    Note: these products have 1-8 mg aspartame, which gives 11% by weight
    methanol (wood alcohol), which reaches all parts of the body and fetus
    via the bloodstream, with a half-life of 3 hours, and is made into
    formaldehyde right inside cells of 19 human tissues with high levels
    of ADH1 enzyme, including the inner walls of eye blood vessels and
    also the rods and cones of the retina.

    within the community of mutual service, Rich Murray

    Pseudotumor cerebri and aspartame (methanol, formaldehyde), past and
    present cases of brain and eye harm: Betty Martini: H.J. Roberts: Rich
    Murray 2013.01.27
    RTM: Newman & Lipton:
    3.75 mg aspartame in Merck Maxalt-MLT worsens migraine Oct 2001 7.28.2 rmforall
    RTM: Blumenthal & Vance: aspartame chewing gum headaches Nov 1997
    7.28.2 rmforall
    Rich Murray: Roberts: “Aspartame Disease”
    1038 page expert magnum opus 7.5.1 rmforall
    published May 30 2001 $ 85.00 postpaid data from 1200 cases
    available at
    over 600 references from standard medical research 34 chapters

    July 5 2001 I turned 59 July 3, and got a wonderful, long-anticipated
    gift from H.J. Roberts, MD, FACP, FCCP.:
    “Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic”. I will be studying this
    very helpful comprehensive review carefully, and composing summary
    posts on almost all of the 34 chapters, to explore this immense
    tapestry of data, observations, conclusions, and questions, making it
    easier for potential readers to decide whether to pay the price,
    $ 85.00 postpaid. The size of a Santa Fe phone book, the 1038
    pages are 8.5X11, and appear to be composed in HTML. I will
    quote various passages, and give comments. Roberts’ style is
    throughout lucid, dignified, high-minded, plain-spoken, direct,
    calm, succinct, and often shows a dry wit.

    [ I spent about nine hours scanning Aspartame Disease for cases of
    small doses of aspartame in breath mints [1.5 mg aspartame per mint],
    pills [about 4 mg per pill], and chewing gum [6-8 mg aspartame per
    stick], since if there are a variety of symptoms to such small doses,
    then it is a foregone conclusion that much more serious reactions must
    exist to diet drinks [180-330 mg aspartame per 12 oz]. Many cases
    describe people who had become reactors to large doses of aspartame,
    who then find severe and immediate reactions to a stick or less of
    chewing gum. ]

    [Excerpts, pp 79-85]


    Some reactors evidenced severe symptoms and signs after ingesting or
    chewing small amounts of aspartame products.

    * Mention was made of convulsions occurring in a nursing infant as its
    mother drank an aspartame soft drink.

    * Children developed severe headache, convulsions, or both, within
    minutes after chewing either acetaminophen (given for fever) or gum
    containing aspartame…

    * Case III-1,
    a 31-year-old nurse
    with an aspartame-induced seizure,
    subsequently drank “only three sips” of a drink believed to be
    “regular” soda, but which contained aspartame. She promptly
    became “very incoherent.” [case described on pages 113-115]

    * A chemist
    who developed migraine from certain foods and additives
    performed six double-blind experiments on himself. He found that as
    little as 4.0 mg aspartame in a capsule predictably induced headache
    (Strong 2000)….
    Strong FC Why do some dietary migraine patients claim
    they get headaches from placebos?
    Clin Exp Allergy 2000 May; 30(5): 739-43.]

    The precipitation of severe neurological and other reactions within
    minutes or a few hours after ingesting aspartame (see below) casts
    doubts on the assertion by the FDA: “The agency does not regard the
    possible consumption of aspartame in a single large dose as posing any
    safety problem whatever.”
    (Federal Register February 22, 1984, p. 6678)…


    I have been impressed by the role of aspartame gum in patients
    suffering severe neurologic aspartame reactions, especially headache and
    seizures (see below).

    * A 24-year-old woman
    stated that she was “on the very verge of dying” from aspartame disease.
    Dramatic improvement occurred when she learned
    about this disorder, and then stopped such products. She emphasized
    her marked sensitivity to even a single stick of aspartame gum.
    Symptoms would recur within minutes after chewing it, and lasted one
    week. [6-8 mg aspartame per stick of chewing gum]

    * Aspartame gum was specifically incriminated by Case IX-C-16,
    a 35-year-old woman
    with shortness of breath, dizziness, irritability, fatigue,
    heavy menstrual bleeding, hair loss and weight gain. (She did
    not drink diet sodas.) These reactions– “within the hour I could not
    catch my breath”– reoccurred on multiple retests.

    Few realize the enormity of gum consumption. It is estimated that
    Americans chew $2.5 billion worth of gum annually, the equivalent of
    190 sticks per person. Some aspartame reactors chewed 15-20 sticks or
    more daily, in addition to using other aspartame products
    (see Case II-4).
    [20 sticks would be as much as 160 mg aspartame, almost as much as
    12 oz diet drink]

    Owing to its prolonged sweetness, persons tend to chew aspartame
    as much as five time longer than regular gum….

    The habitual sucking of popular mints containing aspartame may induce
    seizures and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

    An aspartame reactor with prior complaints
    (vision impairment; slurred speech; loss of muscle strength)
    remained symptom-free after avoiding aspartame.
    She then experienced “painfully dry eyes” immediately after taking
    a breath mint containing aspartame…[1.5 mg aspartame per mint]


    Chewing gum exposes the body to aspartame thorough its absorption
    in the upper gastrointestinal tract, and from the lining of the mouth.
    Additional ingredients could pose added problems. For example, I have
    repeatedly encountered difficulty with peppermint gum and wafers
    (Roberts 1983). [see case on page 456]

    The rapidity with which reactions can occur after chewing aspartame gum
    is not necessarily an “allergy”. The prompt absorption of aspartame or
    its breakdown products (Chapter XXV) from the mouth is akin to placing
    nitroglycerine under the tongue for the rapid relief of angina pectoris.

    Pharmacologists recognize that absorption through the oral mucosa
    (without swallowing) can be an efficient route of delivery for amino
    acids and small proteins because the basal lamina under the epithelial
    layer contains blood vessels. Moreover, the enzymatic activity of the
    oral cavity is relatively low (principally, an amylase that hydrolyzes
    only sugars.).

    * The blood flow in the buccal mucosa is comparable to that of the
    sublingual mucosa. Absorbed molecules are collected by the internal
    jugular veins, thereby directly reaching the circulating blood.

    * The buccal route for drug administration is illustrated by its
    effectiveness in treating childhood seizures with midazolam (Scott
    1999). The rich blood supply to the mouth enables absorption directly
    into the systemic circulation, thereby avoiding the considerable
    “first-pass” metabolism by the liver.
    A rapid effect on the central nervous system has been
    demonstrated electroencephalographically.

    Another possible mechanism involves the transport of aspartame from the
    back of the mouth (oropharynx) directly to the brain.
    This phenomenon has been documented for small molecules
    such as glucose, sodium chloride and ethyl alcohol
    (Editorial, British Medical Journal, 1: 184, 1966; Maller 1967).

    Gum-Induced Headache

    Aspartame induced reactions occurred in children who received aspartame
    gum on Halloween from thoughtful neighbors wishing to avoid giving them
    sugared gum as presents. Headache was the most frequent reaction;
    vomiting and severe tremors also occurred….

    The promptness with which aspartame gum can precipitate recurrent
    headache is shown by these encounters.

    * A female aspartame reactor
    developed headache after consuming aspartame in sodas and food.
    Offered gum in a darkened theater, she
    experienced severe pain in her face and eyes that radiated to the back
    of her skull within five minutes of chewing it. She spit it out when
    her friend confirmed it contained aspartame.
    The pain subsided over the course of the film.

    * A correspondent
    wrote, “I decide to lose a few pounds, so I watched
    my fat and cut out the sugar. I bought diet sodas and other products
    containing aspartame. Within a week, I started having headaches. My
    head felt stuffed up, and generally I was not feeling like my self. I
    happened to see a local news story about the side effects of aspartame
    and cut out all these products. Within a few days, I started to feel
    like my old self. About one month later, I accidently had a piece of
    gum with aspartame; within fifteen minutes, I had a splitting headache.”

    Gum-Induced Seizures

    The precipitation of grand mal seizures after chewing ONE stick of
    aspartame gum is illustrated below and in Chapter III.

    Induced Hunger

    Some aspartame reactor described an uncontrollable craving for sweets
    related to chewing aspartame gum. There are corroborative studies.
    Tordoff and Alleva (1990) reported greater hunger by oral stimulation
    when gum base containing aspartame in four concentrations was chewed 15
    [Tordoff MG, Alleva AM
    Oral stimulation with aspartame increases hunger
    Physiol Behav 1990 Mar;.47(3): 555-9.
    Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104]

    Representative Case Reports

    Case II-8
    A 19-year-old woman
    with prior convulsions caused by diet drinks
    remained seizure-free for 11 months after avoiding aspartame products.
    She then inadvertently chewed a piece of gum that had been handed to
    her as presumed “regular” gum whicle attending a ball game.
    Multiple grand mal seizures recurred within minutes.

    [also on page 129: Case III-19 A:
    A 19 -year-old female
    suffered frequent seizures while ingesting aspartame soft drinks.
    Once she and her parents appreciated this relationship,
    she discontinued all aspartame products and remained
    seizure-free. During this time, she functioned well without
    anti-epileptic medication which she refused to take. Eleven months
    later, the patient attended a ball game. Someone handed her a piece of
    gum, which she reflexively began to chew. Within minutes she had
    several grand mal seizures, followed by violent headaches and
    depression. The gum contained aspartame.]

    Case II-9
    A 52-year-old bank executive in previous good health
    experienced severe sleepiness,
    marked depression with suicidal thoughts, intense anxiety,
    joint pains and a convulsion after consuming six cups of an aspartame
    hot cocoa mix daily on eight consecutive nights. She also became blind
    temporarily. Many studies during an ensuing hospitalization proved
    normal. Her symptoms disappeared within two weeks after avoiding
    aspartame, enabling her to resume work. When a friend later handed her
    a stick of aspartame gum in a darkened movie house, she “fell flat on
    my face in the lobby.”

    [also on page 304 as Case VII-C-3
    A 52-year-old bank executive
    developed convulsions after drinking an aspartame hot
    chocolate mix for eight consecutive nights. She also experienced
    severe anxiety, marked aggravation of phobias, and intense depression
    with suicidal thoughts. She recalled, “I wanted to jump off the top of
    a parking garage.”]

    This patient’s family history of aspartame disease included a son who
    developed headache after using aspartame products, and a niece who
    reacted with tingling of the limbs.

    Case II-10
    A 32-year-old woman
    wrote, “I couldn’t believe how fast I reacted to
    the aspartame gum after being given a piece by my boss.
    I never got dizzy like that before. I had to spit it out.” She was
    pregnant at the time.

    Case II-11
    A 45-year-old salesman
    found that even a bit of gum containing
    aspartame induced extreme drowsiness. “Just recently, I discovered as
    I’m driving my automobile that aspartame gum caused drowsiness after
    chewing only one-half a stick. It caused me to yawn, and to feel sleepy
    and weak. Sometimes I had to stop driving and close my eyes for a few

    [also on page 264-265 as Case VI-K-1
    A 45-year old salesman listed
    severe drowsiness as his foremost reaction to consuming aspartame.
    This sequence was repeated on at least four occasions.
    He stated,…[the same statement]
    Other aspartame-induced complaints included dizziness, unsteadiness,
    marked hyperactivity of the limbs, abdominal pain, weight gain,
    frequency of urination (both day and night), and poor control of
    diabetes notwithstanding strict adherence to diet and taking his oral

    page 129 Case III-19 B
    A 27-year-old woman
    developed recurrent grand mal seizures after
    chewing ONE stick of aspartame gum. She was hospitalized on each of the
    three occasions these seizures occurred. Numerous tests proved normal.
    She experienced severe reactions to Dilantin, and subsequently to

    The patient suggested to her neurologist that the seizures might have
    been triggered by aspartame. “He literally laughed at me and said,
    ‘One stick would not do it.’ ”

    Her chiropractor happened to be interested in aspartame disease. After
    hearing the details, he concurred. The neurologist’s arrogant response
    to the chiropractor’s written opinion was, “I don’t see the letters
    M.D. after his name.”

    The patient remained seizure-free without medication for several years
    until flying and inadvertently chewing a stick of gum that was not
    identified as containing aspartame. She wrote, “Fortunately, I was
    buckled in and the flight attendants were well trained. My husband
    knew what to expect, and there happened to be a doctor sitting
    behind us. I developed a grand mal seizure on the plane, and the
    repercussions were great. My speech returned to normal within a few
    weeks, but my ability to spell and perform mathematical equations took
    well over a year to recover.”

    page 134 * A two-year-old
    developed a fever for which the mother
    administered chewable acetaminophen containing aspartame. The child
    suffered seizures ten minutes later. [probably about 4 mg per pill]

    page 136 Case III-23
    A 31-year-old housewife
    used aspartame early in 1982 when samples of an
    ATS [aspartame table sweetener] were received in the mail.
    Thereafter, she consumed four cans of diet sodas, eight packets of an
    ATS, up to eight glasses of an ASD [aspartame soft drink],
    four glasses of aspartame hot chocolate, and three bowls of
    aspartame-presweetened cereal daily. There was a history of
    longstanding migraine. She did not smoke or drink alcohol.

    The headaches intensified to the point “I couldn’t stand them.” She
    subsequently suffered multiple epileptic seizures for which medication
    was prescribed. Other complaints included severe confusion and memory
    loss, numbness of the arms and legs, slurred speech, shortness of
    breath, palpitations, abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing, intense
    thirst, and the virtual cessation of her menstrual periods.

    Her eight-year-old son and three-year-old daughter
    also became epileptic.
    She had consumed aspartame during the entire nine months of
    the second pregnancy, including an aspartame-containing acetaminophen
    Both children
    experienced intense headaches and seizures
    after taking chewable acetaminophen sweetened with aspartame.
    (At the time, she did not realize aspartame was an ingredient.)
    Her son
    also developed extreme thirst, severe impairment of vision, marked
    intolerance to noise, and profound depession with suicidal behavior.

    page 416 Case IX-D-15 B
    A college student
    was diagnosed as having the irritable bowel syndrome.
    She was an avid user of aspartame products —
    including soft drinks, a tabletop sweetener and gum. She stated:
    “Abdominal pain, embarrassing flatulence, and alternating diarrhea and
    constipation were a way of life for me. There were many occasions when
    I was awakened from a deep sleep by excruciating abdominal pain
    accompanied by cold sweats and nausea. Another disturbing problem I
    experienced was an uncontrollable, almost violent, craving for sweets.
    I worked very hard to stay thin, so I chewed a lot of sugarless gum to
    keep from putting fattening foods in my mouth.”

    She found reference to aspartame-induced gastrointestinal problems in
    the course of writing a research paper. There was dramatic improvement
    of her gastrointestinal symptoms after abstinence, along with a
    reduction of her “sweet craving.”

    This victim “experimented” with aspartame products on two occasions —
    once chewing aspartame gum for five consecutive days; the other time
    taking aspartame yogurt on five consecutive days. “At the end of both
    weeks, I experienced the same severe abdominal pains that I had in the

    page 456 Case IX-G-15
    A homemaker
    used peppermint mints containing aspartame to freshen her breath.
    [1.5 mg aspartame per mint]
    “After a few weeks of consuming a six-pack a week [of mints], I started
    to have aches in my back and shoulders which got worse. It also
    started to affect my neck area. Finally, it became so intense I was
    going to the doctor to find out what my problem was.

    About the same time, I happened to read the packaging and discovered the
    ingredient aspartame. Having heard various discussions about this
    sweetener, I decided to eliminate the breath mints. After five or six
    days, there was no more shoulder pain!”

    “About March of this year (1997), without thinking about it, someone
    offered me hard candy. I accepted it. A few days later, the shoulder
    and neck aches returned, but were much more intense. When I discovered
    the candy was ‘sugar free,’ I immediately stopped it. Again, the pain

    page 476 Case IX-J-1
    A 10-year-old girl
    began consuming various aspartame products at the age of eight,
    initially during summer weekends.
    She developed marked swelling of one shoulder which then
    involved the neck. Her arm almost tripled in size. There was no
    history of allergies or aspirin use existed. The patient also
    evidenced a high fever, pleural effusion (fluid in the lung cavity),
    striking enlargement of both the liver and spleen, and a precipitious
    decline in the platelet count to 1,000 per cubic mm (normal, 150,000 or higher.)
    A striking increase of histiocytes was found in her bone marrow.
    Several “liver enzymes” were markedly elevated– i.e., SGOT 3,080
    units/L (normal, up to 50); CPK 30,000 units/L (normal, up to 50).

    Numerous physicians and consultants saw this child. Most diagnosed
    histiocytic leukemia. The patient received large doses of prednisone.

    Dramatic clininal improvement and virtual normalization of the
    foregoing blood changes occurred when the mother closely monitored her
    diet and eliminated additives. The prednisone was then stopped.

    The patient subsequently ate several bowls of an aspartame cereal.
    Marked swelling of the cheeks developed, coupled with recurrence of the
    aforementioned features. When aspartame was discontinued, the swelling
    receded without prednisone.

    Several months later, the girl was given aspartame chewing gum with the
    mother’s knowledge. Swelling of her entire body, recurrent enlargement
    of the liver and spleen, a dramatic increase of bone marrow
    histiocytes, and severe pain in many joints ensued. Total abstinence
    from aspartame again effected the disappearance of her symptoms and
    blood abnormalities within six months. At the time of my last
    discussion with her mother, the child had minimal enlargement of the
    liver, and was receiving prednisone in low doses only intermittently.

    This patient had two sets of head x-rays, three CT scans of the brain,
    two spinal punctures, four bone marrow studies, two
    electroencephalograms, two heart monitoring studies, two barium enemas,
    and a host of other studies. Her mother estimated the medical costs at

    page 503 Similarly, a 6-year-old boy
    had been well until he vomited and
    was given a popular pediatric acetaminophen product.
    A fatal seizure followed for which no abnormality could be found at autopsy.

    page 782
    Case XXVII-C-2
    An 8-year-old girl
    complained of daily headaches. Concerned over the
    frequency with which she was giving her child aspirin, the mother made
    arrangements for a neurologic consultation. The girl then volunteered
    that her headaches occurred exactly 10 minutes after she began chewing
    aspartame-containing bubble gum. They disappeared when it was avoided.

    Case XXVII-C-3
    A young woman
    described her reactions in this letter sent to
    Aspartame Victims and Their Friends.
    “In April of 1984, I started chewing aspartame gum.
    I had just quit smoking. I chewed perhaps three sticks
    a day. In October 1984, I started to feel strange, and discovered I
    was reacting to the gum. I stopped chewing it.
    The symptoms are primarily
    * Headache or pressure around the skull
    * Tingling primarily in head and face, although sometimes in
    extremities as well
    * Occasional numbness on the left side of the face and sometimes in
    extremities, particularly on the left side
    * Mental confusion
    * Blurred vision
    * A general “spaced-out feeling”

    page 790
    * A pilot
    experienced in aerobatics would become temporarily disoriented
    “every time I was drinking a diet soda or chewing gum with
    aspartame in it.”

    Rich Murray,
    MA Boston University Graduate School 1967 psychology,
    BS MIT 1964 history and physics,
    254-A Donax Avenue, Imperial Beach, CA 91932-1918
    505-819-7388 cell
    619-623-3468 home

    • Anonymous says:

      well, i guess that settles it, chewing gum is bad for you… And the pregnant woman got dizzy? and didn’t even bother to wonder if it was because she was pregnant… nope, the gum did it. wow

  7. Jon Therkildsen says:

    When discussing anecdotal evidence and how to read and use it probably, I often here about how Vitamin C was learned to cure scurvy by chance on a couple of sailors, but was not recognised until hundreds of years later. And it is true; vitamin C does indeed cure scurvy. However, this anecdotal success story is not the success story often told. First off, the anecdotal evidence did not conclude it was Vitamin C (how could they as no one knew about it until a couple of hundred years later). What they wrongfully concluded was that citrus fruits seemed to help – we know now that not all citrus fruits have the same abundance of Vitamin C. Therefore this anecdotal evidence actually caused the death of many British sailors’ years later when the British army cut cost by changing to the more available Caribbean Limes instead of Lemons on their many ships. Since Caribbean Lime has much less vitamin C, the sailors began dropping like flies again. Although the anecdotal evidence was there, they concluded wrongfully and people died because of that.

    Indeed, anecdotal evidence is the spark of all knowledge, sense as well as nonsense – but it is only the spark!

  8. Peter Lindsay says:

    You realise Hyrem Roberts is a nut job who worked out of his garage and called it a research institute?

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