Damaging Diet Soda Study,
About to Go to Press, Is Discredited
By One of Its Own at the Eleventh
Steve: We are not
making up this horror story because
it's Halloween. Last Wednesday, I
got to preview a study that at long
last, provided substantive data on
the long-term risks of diet soda.
Until last week, the longest safety
study on aspartame was performed on
29 subjects for 18 weeks. The new
study, published in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed
125,000 men and women for a lifetime.
Just as quickly as I reviewed
the details of the study and was
ready to share them with you, an
announcement came from Brigham and
Women's Hospital, where the study
took place: "It has come to our
attention that the scientific
leaders at Brigham and Women's
Hospital did not have an
opportunity, prior to today, to
review the findings of the paper.
Upon review of the findings, the
consensus of our scientific leaders
is that the data is weak, and that
BWH Media Relations was premature in
the promotion of this work. We
apologize for the time you have
invested in this story."
Huh? Bonnie and I can say
categorically that we have never
seen anything like this before.
Fishy is a gross understatement.
Could it be that the "powers that
be" stepped in at the eleventh hour
to dilute the issue? It is very
possible, because if the American
public got a hold of the following
comment from the
authors of the study, just like with
pink slime, it would not end well
"We observed a positive
association between diet soda and
total aspartame intake and risks of
non-Hodgkins lymphoma and multiple
myeloma in men, and leukemia in both
men and women."
Come again? When I read this
sentence, my first thought was to
question why aspartame, so staunchly
defended for its safety record,
would be allowed to show its true
colors in a scientific journal.
I assumed that because aspartame has
lost its "top dog" status to
sucralose as the preferred
artificial sweetener, maybe the
manufacturer wasn't as worried about
a negative study affecting the
Then, one of the authors of
the study, Walter Willett, told NPR
last Friday that the findings as
presented were "scary" and should
not be put on the evening news.
Obviously, someone realized that the
threat of class action lawsuits was
enough of an impetus to make this
story go away.
At least Willett saved some
face by telling NPR that "I do think
this finding is strong enough to
justify further study on aspartame
and cancer risk."
Here are the study details
that got everyone so riled up:
It took only one serving
per day of diet soda to raise
the cancer risk. The more
servings subjects' consumed, the
greater the risk.
The authors explained how
the carcinogenicity of aspartame
is biologically plausible,
especially in men. This is
significant because outside of a
few vociferous nutritional
advocates, this is first time we
have seen an explanation in a
prestigious scientific journal.
The study also tracked
subjects drinking regular
sugar-sweetened soda. For men,
the news was no better. Drinking
one serving or more daily showed
elevated non-Hodgkins lymphoma
For those who drank no
diet or sugar-sweetened soda,
there was no elevated cancer
The authors stated that a
major strength of the study was
they captured lifetime exposure
because they assessed diet soda
consumption since aspartame was
first allowed in the food
Where there is smoke, there is fire.
The fact that there was so much
effort put into squelching this
study legitimizes its importance. Do
we feel confident that more
long-term studies looking into the
cancer connection will bear fruit?
Based upon the blow-back from this
What does this say about the
newer crop of artificial sweeteners,
such as sucralose or erythritol? We
reiterate what have said
incessantly: never jump onto the
newest food or medication when it
becomes available, especially if a
synthetic chemical or genetically
modified food. More often than not,
it does not end well.
And who in the media, except for
NPR, has reported on this? Nobody.