Thursday, April 10, 2014

Artificial Sweeteners - The Devil in Sheep's Clothing or Simply Misunderstood?

I have written an informal essay regarding this topic, but most people won't want to read five pages. For those that do want to read a more detailed response, I will embed the paper at the end. Below are exerts from the paper, references (super script #s) can be found in the full version that is embedded at the bottom. 

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind, this read is a bit heavier, and thought provoking than the rest. You have been WARNED ... dun dun dun...

Check out - 
for a great read further outlining the issue
In the 21st Century the average individual does not want to take responsibility for their actions. For if blame cannot be placed on another "evil," misaligned entity, who is left but themselves. And here is where artificial sweetener rears its ugly head. The bad rep that they have received is reminiscent of when cell phones first came into being and my mother warned me, for she was fearful they would cause cancer (just to be clear, the National Cancer Institute has stated that to date there is no scientific evidence backing this claim - to be covered another time)1. So the question remains, why the fear mongering? One likely answer is that in the absence of substantiated claims backed with hard scientific proof, little recourse remains to argue. It is certainly easier to scare than reassure, as we are programmed with basic physiological responses to these - "fight or flight." Unfortunately, we do not seem to be hard-wired with a basic "is this scientifically sound" mechanism to critically analyze all the information that we are bombarded with on a day-to-day basis.

Myth. A  study was published many years ago when many experiments did not comply with the basic and fundamentally sound structure that is  needed for testing substances for their carcinogenic properties8.  When you combine this "research" with another study citing a link between aspartame and the rising rates of cancer9, beginning in 1981 when aspartame was introduced, you have the perfect opportunity for a scapegoat - aspartame.
Truth. A vast amount of research over the last three decades has been unable to recreate any of these results and the scientific community in general agrees that aspartame (artificial sweeteners) does not cause cancer (or an increased chance of brain tumors). Olney et. al stated there was a reciprocal incidence of increased gliobastomas (malignant or cancerous cells that arise from astrocytes) and lowered astrocytomas (benign and slow growing cells) between 1975 and 1992, which was attributed to the introduction of aspartame; however, according to Ross,  there are significant fallacies presented within the study of Olney and colleagues10. There is nothing more than  a correlation between these two events, (1) aspartame being introduced into the market, and (2) the increased rate of brain tumors. That is, these were simply two events occurring at roughly the same time. Does that mean they could have an impact on one another -yes. Does that mean they did have an impact on one another - absolutely not. As Ross notes, the introduction of cell phones, VCR, home computers, etc... could all be associated with a rise in tumors. So, what makes them any less culpable? Let us be mindful, however; that although there is no specific evidence showing causality we cannot rule out aspartame as responsible for the rise in brain tumors. We must continue to scrutinize the data in an analytical and scientifically sound manner.
            There is simply no scientific evidence that irrefutably proves that aspartame leads to, or causes, any health problems. There is sound scientific evidence, however, that proves it is not harmful and easily processed and expelled by the body. The hard science behind it is quite lengthy, but for an excellent understanding and interesting dialogue, please check out this11 article and specifically the subsequent comment section. John Garst Ph.D., a noted medicinal chemist, pharmacologist, and toxicologist completely destroys any credibility anti-aspartame voices may offer and delves both into the science and social issues involving aspartame naysayers.
Truth or Myth? The scientific community is capable of having mixed opinions or evidence. Often, these differences may come from slight or significant differences in the research parameters. It is very easy to find websites stating that aspartame increases appetite by activating the cephalic response; whereby, insulin production and glucose uptake is increased which leads to a reduction in blood glucose. When the level of glucose in our blood drops below a certain threshold our body initiates an increase in hunger so that we can return to normal levels. Since the consumption of artificial sweeteners is not coupled with an intake of energy (as they are calorie-free), our elevated hunger remains... or so is the hypothesis; however, Tordoff and Alleva12 demonstrated that consuming large amounts of aspartame-sweetened soda, as compared to high-fructose corn syrup (glucose-fructose - principal sweetener in processed food and drink), actually reduces subsequent intake of sugar (rather than increase) and may in fact control appetite, reduce caloric intake, and help lower body weight. Further, another study specifically controlled the size, mode of ingestion, and timing of consumed aspartame. When allowed to eat a buffet meal the individuals that were (unknowingly) served a beverage with aspartame ate no more than their counterparts given a beverage without aspartame and actually ate less when they were given the larger drink (560 ml liquid with 340 mg aspartame)13. The same authors ran a similar, related experiment several years later to test whether ingesting aspartame reduce appetite or if the volume of liquid reduced appetite and found that it was due to the volume. In fact, they found in one specific case a slight increase in subjective appetite; however, it is important to note that although they found a slight elevated increase in subjective appetite it was not followed by an increase in food intake14. Additionally, the authors do state that more research is needed to specifically unravel and detect the exact mechanisms at play.

            Although there are slight differences gleaned from the results of multiple experiments these studies are part of a growing body of evidence indicating that the intake of food or drink containing aspartame does not increase appetite. Additionally, experts in toxicology (the science of poison), such as John Garst, have unequivocally reputed any inkling that the consumption of aspartame is unsafe or carcinogenic. Hopefully we have helped combat another bit of misinformation propagated by mainstream media and individuals lacking the scientific knowledge or credibility to be a voice of reason by using peer-reviewed science and a critical, analytical perspective.
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