An interesting flip-flop on a news item happened last month. A study was published in the Am J Clinical Nutrition on October 24, showing a higher risk of blood cancers with consumption of diet soda (and by implication aspartame). As is customary, copies were released to news media a few days before so their stories would come out on publication date. Then just half an hour before publication, a news release was sent out by the Harvard Brigham and Women’s University asking the media not to run the story because “the data is weak”.
The study was significant for several reasons. It followed 115,000 adults for 22 years looking at the relation between diet soda consumption and blood cancers. The long term is necessary to determine the effects of chronic exposure, and to enable detection of cancers (the longest previous human study on aspartame toxicity was only 19 weeks). It found that men (but not women) who consumed more than 1 diet soda per day had an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma, and that both men and women had an increased risk of leukemia. The gender difference can be explained by men producing more of the enzyme ADH that converts methanol from aspartame to formaldehyde. The risk increases are small but statistically significant, and in the authors’ view warrant further study.
So was the publication of the study premature? Or could there possibly be some industry pressure put on the university to recant? A 2006 New York Times article reported that all of the industry-funded studies on aspartame (to date) found it safe, while 92% of the independent studies found significant problems. The US FDA has had more adverse reports on aspartame than all other food additives combined. Another article on aspartame [The Defense of Diet Soda] listed some of the health problems linked by studies to diet sodas: heart attacks, strokes, cancers, osteoporosis, tooth decay, and nervous system disorders. And while some studies show improved weight loss for diet soda drinkers, there are many others that don’t or show the opposite – that diet sodas cause weight gain. So there are many reasons to avoid diet sodas and really no reason to drink them. The pulling of the news story reminds me of a line by Hamlet’s mother: “the lady doth protest too much, methinks”.
Two other online articles on this subject that I referred to were: "Study: Aspartame linked to blood cancers" by E. Hector Corsi, Digital Journal, 7 Nov 2012, and "Aspartame Associated with Increased Risk of Blood Cancers in Long-Term Human Study" by Dr. Joseph Mercola, 7 Nov 2012.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.