Sweet Suffering

Aspartame Poisoning

Nobody needs soda. Tell the truth, we’d be better off if they’d never been invented. There’s not a lot of clear evidence to show that diet sodas are any healthier (or unhealthier) than regular sodas. If somebody wants to swear off all sodas, that’s probably a wise decision.

So I’m not here to defend diet sodas. I just want people to make decisions based on reality, not alarmism.

You would be hard pressed to find any topic about which more people are self-proclaimed experts than the relative safety of the things we put into our bodies. From vaccines to vitamins, from aspartame to gluten, if it has the potential to enter your body orally, anally, or hypodermically, everybody’s got an opinion they are not interested in changing.

Some of these opinions are based on solid scientific evidence, but many are not. A lot of opinions are based on anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence comes from a small number of personal observations. It doesn’t bear the weight of repeated scientific observations and analysis; in fact, it may be cherry-picked to fit a pre-formed conclusion.

Here’s an example of anecdotal evidence: If you suspect that aspartame is toxic, and a friend (who loves Diet Coke) suddenly develops anxiety issues, then bingo: that’s all the confirmation you need. Aspartame is bad. Aspartame is evil. Aspertame caused your friend’s health problems.

Right? Well, not necessarily.

There are hundreds of reasons a person might suffer from sudden anxiety. It takes a thorough examination (sometimes lasting weeks or months) to pin down a cause. You cannot make a snap diagnosis. Furthermore, you’re conveniently ignoring all the people who drink Diet Coke on a regular basis and never develop anxiety-related disorders. If you claim that you know aspartame caused your friend’s anxiety attacks before a medical professional has examined him…well, that’s irresponsible, arrogant, and naive.

Scientific studies – conducted by real scientists who understand the value of repeatable experiments – have shown that aspartame is safe. And we’re not just talking about a few studies done 30 years ago, when aspartame was first used as an artificial sweetener. Hundreds of studies spread over three decades have amassed evidence pointing to the same conclusion. There is no reason to believe that aspartame causes lupus, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, fibromyalgia, slurred speech, blurred vision, zombiism, rockin’ pneumonia, boogie woogie flu, or any of the other illnesses often attributed to it.

Cue the conspiracy theorists:

The FDA and diet soda producers know that aspartame is harmful, but they won’t acknowledge the truth because it would mean a huge cut to their profits.

Ah, the final line of defense for somebody who doesn’t have a scientific leg to stand on: paint a picture of corporate greed so vile that the corporate masters would rather see people suffer and die than spend the money necessary to re-engineer their product. Who doesn’t hate that? Oooh, scary.

Yeah, sure, some corporations do shady things. I mean some really shady things. I wouldn’t put it past a corrupt CEO to sweep damaging evidence under the rug. But the level of conspiracy needed to hide the supposed toxicity of aspartame from the world would be truly staggering. Remember those studies I mentioned showing that aspartame was safe? Many of them were conducted in other countries, far from the controlling arms of the FDA and its corporate sugar daddies (or NutraSweet daddies, I guess). Who bribed, cajoled, or threatened those scientists to suppress the heinous truth about aspartame?

Once again, diet sodas may not be a healthier choice than regular sodas. If you don’t want to drink them (or any other sodas), good for you, but please be rational about your reasons for abstaining. Leaving aspartame out of your diet won’t hurt you, but neither will consuming it.

You might be asking: “If you’re going to imply that we shouldn’t drink sodas at all, then why does it matter what people think about aspartame?” I’m glad you hypothetically asked. I have two reasons for deconstructing this meme.

  1. Aspartame is used in other products besides diet sodas, not of all of which are as unhealthy as sodas in general. Unfairly maligning aspartame will hurt the business of companies that really aren’t pedalling dangerous products.
  2. The anti-aspartame argument smacks of the anti-vaccination argument. It doesn’t matter if you avoid aspartame, but it definitely matters if you avoid vaccinations for yourself or for your children. If you fall prey to uncritical thinking in one situation, what’s to prevent you from doing so in the other?

In the interest of full disclosure, I do drink sodas. I drink the high-octane, high-fructose regular sodas, not the diet kind. I know it’s not a healthy decision, but I enjoy them. I’m not wagging my finger at you if you drink sodas. I’m wagging my finger at you if you cite a false reason for not drinking diet sodas.

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One thought on “Sweet Suffering

  1. Saccharin is another interesting story. In that case, the scientific community did, for awhile, support the notion that it is a carcinogen. Now it’s a textbook case of the toxicologist’s mantra that the dose makes the poison. When rats were fed about 40 times what a person could possibly drink, the saccharin precipitated out of solution forming stones that irritated the urinary tract and increased the risk of urinary tract cancer. Saccharin’s mechanism of carcinogenicity was completely related to this mechanical effect which can only occur at extremely high unphysiological doses. It’s finally been removed from the list of known carcinogens, but of course, it hasn’t recovered its good name yet. Aspartame appears to be safe, and given its chemical structure, it is hard to imagine how it could possibly be dangerous (It is closely related to two amino acids we consume in virtually every meal we eat).

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