Friday, 2 November 2012

I couldn't resist tearing this to pieces...

"Rawforbeauty" uploaded this picture on facebook a while ago, but I've only just seen it:

Wow. So the first question is, where do we start? Oh, and actually, before I do, I should probably point out that I don't work for, or have any connections to, any large pharmaceutical, agrochemical, etc company, I'm just a chemistry student concerned about the propagation of chemical mis-information. Anyway...

I could argue that Pfizer don't (to my knowledge) own Nutrasweet, with Monsanto themselves stating that the business was sold to J.W. Childs Equity Partner. I could also argue the reason it was sold was purely economic as Aspartame has been off patent in the EU and USA since 1992, and it's perfectly logical to sell a business with little money left in it. But, this blog is about science not economics, so I'm going to focus on debunking the claims in the paragraph of lies at the bottom:

  1. Fluoride occurs naturally in a lot of tap water, and in some areas where the natural concentration is low, it is added. There is a lot of medium to poor quality research on this, but it has been analysed and what conclusions can be drawn are summarised in this paper. They conclude that the presence of fluoride in tap water helped to reduced caries and tooth decay in children. There was some evidence of increased fluorosis (normally harmless, and in most cases barely noticeable, white streaks in tooth enamel), and crucially, the study concludes "No clear evidence of other potential negative effects was found". Clearly, it is baseless to call fluoride in tap water a poison.
  2. Is Aspartame poisonous? In a word - no. If you want more than that, then this MSDS summarises it quite nicely: "A vast database exists regarding the safety of aspartame in man.  Oral doses of 75 mg/kg/day to human subjects for 6 months did not produce any clinical signs.  The Acceptable Daily intake (ADI) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is 50 mg/kg/day.  The oral LD50 in rats is >5000 mg/kg (practically nontoxic).  Inhalation exposure of male and female rhesus monkeys to aspartame at concentrations up to 16 mg/m3, 6 hours per day for 14 consecutive days, did not produce any consistent treatment related effects" - I really don't think I need to say any more, but if you want even more reassurance, this is a pretty good read.
  3. If you're going to use 'scientific data' to back your claims up, at least make sure it stands up to scrutiny. For a start, only one study (without proper reference) is mentioned, and with a sample size of 7, it's hardly convincing. It's also interesting that when looking online, I can't find the paper itself, only lots of people damming aspartame and using it to support their case. Sadly, without the paper, I can't tell you just how well designed the experiment was, irrespective of the tiny sample size. But, let's take a look at the literature properly, and find a nice, recent, peer-reviewed article, which states: "The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener." and "Critical review of all carcinogenicity studies conducted on aspartame found no credible evidence that aspartame is carcinogenic." Personally, I find that pretty reassuring.
  4. Yep, Aspartame is manufactured from phenylalanine, which is produced by genetically modified e-coli to produce it as a by-product. Well done- but that's as good as it gets. GM bacteria are used to produce a whole host of products, the most well known being insulin, I don't see too many people complaining about using GM bacteria (which are probably e-coli derived) to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, or calling for a return to the bad old days where insulin had to be extracted from cadavers of pigs and cows. This has a moral or religious concern for many people, as well as issues of rejection, and reduced efficacy. (Although, I'm getting away from my argument now). Back to E-coli. Firstly, most strains of e-coli are perfectly harmless, and many strains are found normally in the gut of healthy humans and animals. I don't have a problem with this being modified to produce my sweetener. Especially as heat treatment, purification, etc, will kill and remove the bacteria long before it gets anywhere near me.
  5. Defecating aspartame? Don't make me laugh. Defecating usually implies some kind of gastro-intestinal tract, which clearly bacteria don't possess. The process could be described as being equivalent to breathing or photosynthesis, but that doesn't make for quite such a catchy soundbite. Nobody is complaining that the oxygen we breath has been "defecated by plants", so quit moaning about this too, or at least be consistent in your opinions and eliminate oxygen from your daily diet too.

Basically, the whole image stinks of a 'chemicals are bad and should be banned' attitude. I'd be surprised if people who believe this ever read my argument above, even moreso if they follow the links to respectable sources, and be over the moon if realise that maybe their belief isn't supported scientifically, and should think about changing it. Sadly it wouldn't surprise me at all if they pay absolutely no attention and continue to advocate banning something there is little evidence to show is dangerous. Have these people heard of the risks of dihydrogen monoxide? It's possibly one of the biggest killers in the world today, and I guarantee you'll find it in every single human being on the planet.

This kind of post isn't really what the blog is about, but if one person reads this and changes their opinion, then it's worth it. I can't stand 'chemophobia' (a common theme amongst chemistry bloggers), so if anyone spots any other examples of this kind of rubbish then leave a comment, and I'm more than happy to tear each one to pieces (there's easily enough out there to make a series of posts out of this).

Oh, and as always, if you find a fault, want something explained further, or have anything else to say, leave a comment and I'll get onto it.


  1. Unfortunately the "anyone who disagrees with us are secretly being paid by corporations" is a very strong barrier for them. Not impassable though, I think the internet helps a lot.

    1. I think the internet is both a help and a hindrance. It's helpful in that access to accurate information is easier, but equally, it's easier to find people with the same view as yourself, and to form a community of people all believing the same thing, whether it's right or not.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. well a great post.check out Buy Etizolam research chemicals online at
    Qualityresearchchemical is a company specialising in the distribution of legal research chemical crystals and powders. We work with laboratories
    and researchers throughout the whole of the United States and other parts of the world. Our aim is to supply innovative research chemicals to professionals.