Sunday, February 3, 2013
It's a Conspiracy
I've always said that if it turns out that NutraSweet makes you grow extra arms and give birth to mutant babies, I'd have no business getting all indignant about it - it's not as if I thought the deeply irrational amounts of the stuff was good for me.
Folks frequently give me friendly unsolicited advice as to my little habit - claims that vary from “that stuff makes you fatter” to “that stuff'll kill you.” I thought the former was probably true, the latter silly, but I never thought much about the stuff in between. The fitness people who extolled its virtues in the 80s are now avoiding it like they once avoided red meat (which I think is allowed now/again). I'd even heard college educated fitness professionals proclaim this. Someone at the gym told me it was better to drink a six pack of regular pop than one can of diet. Exaggeration, I insisted. And anyway, you've got to die sometime, as the smokers say.
Then I read an article on the extreme dangers of aspartame and the research changed my opinion entirely.
Perhaps, though, not in the way the article's author intended.
The conspiracy to keep the public from the knowledge that aspartame kills, according to William Campbell Douglass II, goes all the way to the FDA. Aspartame, a deadly neurotoxin, has been positively linked to fibromyalgia, MS, lupus, ADD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, depression, and naturally, cancer. On top of that, “these toxins are MAKING US FAT!” It was the shouty capitals that convinced me... that this was bull. Well, and the fact that Douglass was calling aspartame an agent of genocide and treason. Well actually, it started with the word “conspiracy.”
Conspiracies (for which the Old English word is the far more awesome facengecwis), I've learned lately, are far more easily imagined than done.
A while back, one of my friends told me she'd seen a documentary about Big Pharma's conspiracy to hide the fact that vitamins and minerals are far more effective at treating diseases than whatever poison the pharmaceutical companies are cooking up. In fact, she told me, there had been a huge, groundbreaking breakthrough in cancer research, in which scientists discovered that a certain formulation of vitamin C could cure cancer. Soon as Big Pharma learned of it, they used their influence to shut the study down, and refused to fund any researcher who studied it.
At first, I was inclined to believe this was the truth, or at least partially true. I've known a lot of people who have been seriously harmed by drugs they were assured were safe. The tricks the pharmaceutical industry pulls to convince doctors and consumers that their products are safe and necessary are - well, they're fodder for a whole other post. The industry has shown no compunction with causing people's deaths in the name of profit, so the idea of their blocking research that could save lives didn't seem all that absurd.
Until a realization dawned. My best friend was a scientist at Stanford. She studied cancer. I am pretty sure that if vitamin C cured cancer, she'd have mentioned it to me. So I went to the science.
It didn't take me long to learn that the vitamin C study, conducted by Linus Pauling, had serious flaws. I found the study and read it. I could tell the research methods were crap, and I'm an English major. Turns out that the study was reviewed and reviewed again by scientists all over the world who simply couldn't reproduce the results when using appropriate scientific rigor. Science hasn't even giving up researching the cancer/vitamin C connection, because there does seem to be one. That research just isn't anywhere near having any kind of practical application.
I wondered if, however, a controversy such as the one alleged could happen, so I called up my much smarter friend to ask.
She said that it would be impossible for a conspiracy of that magnitude to hold up. Every cancer researcher, not just in the US, but on the planet would have to be into it. There are all kinds of entities that fund cancer research, including the government and and the vitamin industry. Even if the government were in on the plot, "big vita," if you will, has more than ample resources to fund research that would prove one of their products capable of actually doing something useful. Also, the competition between scientific institutions is vicious, and the incentive to win is far greater than the incentive to keep quiet. If there's any chance that the Cleveland Clinic will be able to proclaim they've cured cancer, they're not going to care if the solution is a drug, a vitamin, or a poop transplant.
So what in the holy hell does this have to do with aspartame? Well, this is another case in which a conspiracy is just logistically impossible, and to verify that, all I had to do was go to the science.
Turns out that even if the FDA were in on this controversy, they'd have had to get the Government Accountability Office that investigated the matter on board too. Then they'd have had to get the Centers for Disease control to string along. Oh, and the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic (and just about every other research hospital), and researchers at each of the 90 countries where the substance is legal.
While science continues to research, it turns out that there's absolutely no evidence directly connecting aspartame with any disease. There's no evidence connecting any of the ingredients in aspartame to any disease. Not cancer, not fibromyalgia, not even indigestion. On top of which, the claims about aspartame making you fatter are really overstated. There might be a link. Might be. The drug is extraordinarily dangerous to people allergic to phenylalanine, in much the same way that peanut butter is highly dangerous to people allergic to peanuts.
But it turns out a Google search on the initial article's author, William Campbell Douglass, would probably have sufficed. The author of the article is a hardcore whackadoodle whose research proving the health benefits of tobacco speaks for itself. Apparently, we should be eating it. Eating. it.
at 10:57 PM