“Quality Products You Can Always Feel Good About” is the tagline of Diet Coke’s new ad campaign designed to reassure Americans that artificial sweeteners are good for their health.
Soda, they tell us, can be good for us.
In their attempt to assuage consumers’ concern about the safety of their products (amid falling sales), the ad states that: “Time and again, these low and no calorie sweeteners have shown to be safe, high quality alternatives to sugar. In fact, the safety of aspartame is supported by more than 200 studies of the last 40 years.” Taking the tone of a PSA, the ads are designed to show a healthy lifestyle created by Diet Coke.
Let’s take a look at aspartame with real information so you can decide if it’s something you want in your body.
Aspartame is the byproduct of genetically modified E. coli bacteria. (Yup, a GMO.) It is comprised of 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine, and 10% methanol. Aspartic acid acts as a neurotransmitter, meaning it’s a chemical that transmits signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse. Too much of this neuro-stimulation can actually “over-excite” the cells (known as an “excitotoxin”), stimulating them to death. So when we say someone is ‘brain dead,’ we might not be kidding.
The blood brain barrier cannot prevent this in many cells, as it does not fully protect all areas of the brain, especially in people already suffering from other chronic diseases and disorders, and since this blood barrier is not completely developed in children their brains are especially susceptible.
While phenylalanine is an amino acid already present in the brain, excess levels can cause serotonin to decrease over time, which can lead to chemical imbalances that cause depression and other mood and emotional disorders. Methanol is an industrial solvent, used in fuel and antifreeze, and is a main ingredient in many paints and varnish removers. Yum! The EPA warns that methanol ingestion may result in neurological damage, like motor dysfunction and visual disturbances leading to blurred or dimmed vision.
A bit of history: Searle Pharmaceuticals attempted to get aspartame approved in the late 1970s, but multiple studies provided concerning the negative effects of the chemical in lab animals (including the fact that it actually ate holes in their brains), the FDA set up a public board of inquiry in 1980. Based on scientific evidence, the board found that aspartame might cause cancer and concluded the sweetener could not be put on the market until further testing was done. Aspartame was declared safe for human consumption when Ronald Reagan replaced the FDA commissioner (who refused to approve it) with someone who would rubber stamp aspartame for his friend and Searle CEO Donald Rumsfeld (yes, the one who later became Secretary of Defense). Searle made billions; Monsanto purchased Searle in 1985. But…it took nearly twenty years (and a bit of politics) for aspartame to be approved as safe for humans to eat!
Here’s where it gets really mind-blowing. Millions of people consume aspartame every single day. It was never tested on humans prior to its approval.
In 2012, Harvard Medical School and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released data from a study they conducted jointly that found that drinking as little as one diet soda sweetened with Aspartame per day could cause an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma in adults.
The press largely dismissed the study reporting that it was based on ‘weak science.’ That struck me as odd since this study was (and remains) the most thorough on aspartame to date, involving more than 2 million years of human life with data spanning 22 years from more than 77,000 women and 48,000 men.
As usual with nutrition science, conclusions concerning the safety of aspartame are all over the map. Some studies tell us that aspartame is linked to everything from hair loss to dementia, cancer to obesity. Other studies tell us that there is no direct link between aspartame and serious health problems.
Large public health organizations say the sweetener has no adverse health effects when used in moderation. The American Cancer Society notes that most studies don't associate aspartame use with an increased risk of cancer. The American Heart Association, The American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics all have published position statements supporting the moderate use of artificial sweeteners.
However, not all experts agree that all artificial sweeteners are harmless. The Center for Science in the Public Interest does not recommend the use of aspartame, a sweetener found in many diet drinks including Diet Coke.
"Three independent studies have found that aspartame causes cancer. These studies, in our view, are superior to earlier, industry-sponsored studies that found it did not cause cancer because they used a larger pool of subjects and a more sensitive protocol," said Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist for CSPI.
To be clear, when anyone refers to the ‘subjects’ in the testing, Lefferts says they mean mice and rats. The studies on aspartame, whether for or against, are rodent studies, not human.
And what about these studies like the ones cited in the new ads for Diet Coke? Ajinomoto, a top manufacturer of aspartame conducted a study on the safety of aspartame back in 2007. Industry-friendly experts did no new research but instead reviewed selectively chosen studies on the safety of aspartame (many of which were funded by aspartame manufacturers). With no new research conducted, how can these results be valid? It’s like the inmates running the asylum.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO, bestselling author, health activist and advocate, aspartame is “the most dangerous substance on the market added to foods.” That’s a big statement that he back up with his own research and interviews of pertinent experts.
An example comes in the form of words from Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, director of the food science and nutrition laboratory at Arizona State University: "There are no human or mammalian studies to evaluate the possible mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic effects of chronic administration of methyl alcohol (a key compound in aspartame)."
Dr. Monte was so concerned about the unresolved safety issues that he filed suit with the FDA requesting a hearing to address these issues. He asked the FDA to:
"...[S]low down on this soft drink issue long enough to answer some of the important questions. It's not fair that you are leaving the full burden of proof on the few of us who are concerned and have such limited resources. You must remember that you are the American public's last defense. Once you allow usage (of aspartame) there is literally nothing I or my colleagues can do to reverse the course. Aspartame will then join saccharin, the sulfiting agents, and God knows how many other questionable compounds enjoined to insult the human constitution with governmental approval."
Shortly thereafter, according to Dr. Mercola, the Commissioner of the FDA, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., approved the use of aspartame in carbonated beverage. He then left for a position with G.D. Searle's public relations firm.http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/06/aspartame-most-dangerous-substance-added-to-food.aspx
Aspartame (otherwise known by its brand names NutraSweet and Equal or alternate moniker Acesulfame Potassium) is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners on the market today. Found in thousands of foods and beverages including chewing gum, candies, diet soft drinks, desserts, yogurt, condiments, and even vitamins and pharmaceuticals, aspartame is not limited only to “sugar-free” diet products.
The average grocery store is loaded with aspartame-filled products, so it’s a challenge to avoid it.
Is there an alternative to aspartame? Sure. After decades of the FDA refusing to declare stevia (an herb that is a no-calorie natural sweetener) as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) for humans, Coca Cola teamed up with Cargill to have stevia declared safe since they had interest in developing products containing this natural no-cal alternative to sugar. Maybe they saw the writing on the wall with toxic chemicals like aspartame. They certainly know they are dealing with a more educated consumer, a consumer who wants better quality food.
My question is why spend money to reassure customers that aspartame is safe when it isn’t? Why not do the right thing by America’s collective health and develop a diet soda that actually is good for us? Why not give us a product you can be proud of, a product whose science bears out the truth? Stevia is safe for humans and can be enjoyed by almost everyone. It’s non-allergenic, is safe for people with diabetes, does not trigger the over-production of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates appetite like artificial sweeteners do), is not an insulin trigger and is completely natural.
We are sold a bill of goods almost every day by multi-national corporations trying to sell us cheap processed foods that have an incredible profit margin. Now they are trying to assure us that aspartame is a safe and reasonable alternative sweetener when in fact it’s not.
As Americans…as humans, we have a responsibility to be more proactive in the choices that we make to ensure we are promoting our own health. We can continue down what I consider to be the path to our own destruction or we can move toward choices that promote health, vitality and wellness. The choice is ours and to me it’s obvious.