The idea of getting a discount is pleasurable to most people. We compare prices and quality of products before we purchase them in order to achieve maximum return on investment. This concept has been used for decades by marketing teams in order to manipulate the collective consumer psychology into buying. What if a similar concept was used by the soft-drink and beverage companies to sell us sugar substitutes? Artificial sweeteners like aspartame are sugar substitutes. The purpose of an artificial sweetener is to contain less food energy than sugar, and maintain the sweet taste. We receive this discount in caloric intake, while maintaining the prized sensation of sweetness, for the same price. Within my exploration of the origin of artificial sweeteners, their nutritional value and associated risks of consumption, I found there is a sound scientific rational backing the causality of disease in association with the consumption of aspartame.
Discovered by James M. Schlatter of Searle & Company in 1965, aspartame was born from research on curing stomach ulcers(Sykes, 2015). Today, aspartyl-phenylalanine methyl ester is known as aspartame. This dipeptide consists of aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid normally produced by the human body. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid. And, methanol is a commonly encountered substance in a normal diet.
Aspartame, as it is most commonly referred, is a non-nutritive sugar substitute one-hundred and fifty to two-hundred times as sweet as regular sugar. It has a chemical composition of C14H18N2O5 and is a non-carbohydrate sweetener found in over six-thousand consumer foods and beverages(7). In the United States alone, over five-thousand tons of aspartame is consumed yearly(Schernhammer, 2012). Aspartame has been at the center of significant scientific debate over its designation by the FDA as non-hazardous. In experiments, this non-hazardous designation has been put to the test. While one cannot fully attribute disease to one synthetic organic compound, it can be safely assumed to contribute negatively to the health of the human body.
Rats are commonly used in experiments, and the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center of the European Ramazzini Foundation would be no different. They administered aspartame to Sprague-Dawley rats at seven different concentrations until natural death in order to determine aspartame's statistical impact on health. This massive experiment proved an increased incident in malignant tumors, lymphomas and leukemias, and transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis in animals treated with aspartame. They would present their data with significance values ranging from 0.01 to 0.05. This means that their study is greater than 95% accurate in the entirety of its findings. This study would prove to be a significant, but this was not the only time aspartame was put to the fire under these conditions. As a matter of fact, the company that invented aspartame, Searle & Co, would produce a similar test using sprauge-dawley rats and conclude male rats were 2.8% more likely to have developed brain tumors compared to the control group, and female rats were 3.2% more likely to develop brain tumors compared to the control group. This study was considered by the Food and Drug Administration(FDA), and they rejected it with regard to the carcinogenicity of aspartame(Soffritti, 2005).
After learning of both experiments, I could not help but think that I would like to avoid a minimum 2.8% increased chance of tumor or cancer. I formulated my opinion on the subject of aspartame carcinogenicity based on a combination of experiments and reports from all over the world. When considering these two experiments involving's Sprague-Dawley rats, each reported with a greater than 95% confidence level that their results were accurate. Because experiment results were in conflict, it is hard to trust which one is more accurate. Statistical studies can be skewed and data from samples can be manipulated for nefarious purposes. For this reason, I find the experiment using a larger sample size to be more trustworthy. This experiment turns out to be from the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center of the European Ramazzini Foundation and their experiment featuring over 1,400 samples. For comparison, Searle and Co. used merely 80 samples to achieve their results(Soffritti, 2005).
In 1979, there was a gentle sentiment within the scientific community that aspartame caused brain cancer. Assertions that Searle & Co. experiments contained deficiencies that masked the malignant nature of aspartame from the FDA, and caused the FDA to direct the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to conduct a review of the experiments. They found the studies that were paid for and conducted by the patent holder of aspartame to be valid(Stanley, 2012). The FDA approved aspartame in 1980. And in 1983, aspartame would be further approved for use in carbonated beverages. This approval allowed for additional statistical studies involving aspartame to be conducted with specific beverage consumption as the variable. This is remarkable because the test subjects would be human vice rats. And any result would be found to be valuable, even if the study was small, and it was.
There were dissenting opinions over artificial sweeteners and the risk of developing lymphomas and leukemia. In 2012, A study titled “Consumption of Artificial Sweetener-and Sugar-Containing Soda and the Risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia in Men and Women”, conducted by Dr. Eva Schernhammer, was designed to prospectively evaluate whether the consumption of aspartame and sugar containing soda is associated with risk of hematopoetic cancers. Using two separate questionnaires that spanned over twenty years to qualify and quantify their data, they observed no significant association between soda containing sugar and cancer in men. Conversely, they did find an increased risk of cancer in men who drink diet soda compared to those who drink regular soda. There was no increased risk of cancer in women who consumed regular or diet soda. This difference in results based on gender leads to inconsistency(Schernhammer, 2012). This same inconsistency leads to doubt over the general toxicity of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame. Schernhammer's study would not go as far as to preclude the possibility of a relationship between artificial sweeteners and cancer. But, if the introduction of doubt can be enough to render a verdict of “not guilty”, it surely could be enough to inoculate the general public from believing their favorite, guilt free, sugar free soda is killing them.
People all over the world drink diet beverages, and this is a major source of sugar substitutes(Fakhouri, 2012). I chose this topic because of my mother. She is one of the millions that would drink sugar free beverages; and she did so for approximately twenty years. Practically all beverages she consumed contained artificial sweeteners. I also remember Equal packets being moderately prevalent in the house, available for consumption. When she developed a cough that lasted for a few years, I had an unsubstantiated feeling it was due to artificial sweeteners. When she stopped using the artificial sweeteners, the cough seemed to disappear. This year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and is now a breast cancer survivor. I am mentioning this, because it fits with my assertion that aspartame is dangerous, and should be avoided.
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