02 September 2006

Rant: Diet Coke, Aspartame, and MS, oh my!

About a week ago I received an email from my Dad which proclaimed the dangers of Aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke. I generally delete these emails and place them along side the same emails about the crippled boy dying of some disease or other, you, know, the ones that you are supposed to forward to 100 people so Microsoft will donate 10 cents for every email to such and such a foundation to cure cancer. However, two people in my family, a nurse and a chemist, appeared to agree with much of the email and my Dad asked for my opinion on it so I figured it was worth my time.

I read through the article and it seemed to me to be the typical alarmist hype: a sick woman diagnosed with MS stopped drinking Diet Coke and suddenly improved. How Aspartame was evil, etc. This is some of the same text from the email.

Upon further review I found that this particular email has been going around the Internet for several years. It was written by a woman named Nancy Markle. Who is Nancy Markle? Amazingly enough, no one seems to know. She has no known medical credentials. So instead of relying on a random woman in a chain email, I went to the actual sources. Here is what I found:

From the FDA:
Aspartic acid also has the potential to cause brain damage at very high doses. But under normal intake levels, the brain's mechanism for controlling aspartic acid levels ensures no adverse effects. It is unlikely that any consumer would eat or drink enough aspartame to cause brain damage: FDA figures show that most aspartame users only consume about 4 to 7 percent of the acceptable daily intake the agency has set for the sweetener.
From the American Diabetes Association:
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of these low-calorie sweeteners [aspartame]. The American Diabetes Association accepts the FDA's conclusion that these sweeteners are safe and can be part of a healthy diet.
According to the National Cancer Institute:
Questions regarding the safety of aspartame were renewed by a 1996 report suggesting that an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992 might be associated with the introduction and use of this sweetener in the United States. However, an analysis of then-current NCI statistics showed that the overall incidence of brain and central nervous system cancers began to rise in 1973, 8 years prior to the approval of aspartame, and continued to rise until 1985. Moreover, increases in overall brain cancer incidence occurred primarily in people age 70 and older, a group that was not exposed to the highest doses of aspartame since its introduction. These data do not establish a clear link between the consumption of aspartame and the development of brain tumors.
From the American Heart Association:
Extensive investigation so far hasn't shown any serious side effects from aspartame.
From the American Cancer Society:
Currently, evidence does not show any link between aspartame ingestion and increased cancer risk.
According to Dr. David Squillacote, Senior Medical Advisor for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation:
This series of allegations by Ms. Markle are almost totally without foundation. They are rabidly inaccurate and scandalously misinformative.
And yes, I saved the best for last. This is from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:
Several websites and documents circulating on the Internet are making unsubstantiated claims about aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in many diet soft drinks and other foods.

These stories claim that Aspartame is the cause of a variety of illnesses, including MS, lupus, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, birth defects, Desert Storm syndrome, brain tumors, and seizures. However, please bear in mind the following:

* The claims are not documented.
* There is no evidence for "epidemics" of multiple sclerosis, lupus, and some of the other diseases as claimed in the articles.
* There is no evidence that authors of the claims have any scientific, medical, or academic credentials; nor is there any evidence that they have done any scientific research to support their claims.
* No published, peer-reviewed scientific research exists that supports the claims being made in the articles.

MS symptoms come and go, often randomly. Thus, it is sometimes too easy to assume that something coincidental in a person's life-a food eaten, a specific event, an unproved therapy-is related to the onset of symptoms or the end of symptoms. In fact, it may be independent of any of these things.
Since when did we stop believing the Food and Drug Administration, the American Diabetes Association, the National Cancer Institute, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and start believing alarmist chain emails backed with no evidence and no sources, and written by a complete unknown?

Who do you choose: "Betty Markle" or reality? I rest my case (and open up another can of Diet Coke).
Post a Comment