The Moldy Cupcake Awards: Artificial Sweetener Alarmist Crap, by WHO-TV Channel 13

Copyright © 2010 Julie Kin
/ Gleeful Things. All Rights Reserved.
Welcome to another edition of the Moldy Cupcake Awards.
The award we give out for excellence in communicating nonsense, lies, misinformation, and outright uninformed, alarmist drivel, about diabetes and related health informationfor the purposes of garnering ratings, by the mass media, and others.

This installment's winner is: WHO-TV Channel 13 News, Des Moines Iowa!

I'm not much of a TV viewer, these days, but I must confess: I had a little accident this week -- I accidentally spilled water on my laptop, so I had to spend a good day without the internet. What was left, but the TV? (Yes, I know... reading, walking, exercising, crafts, etc. lol) Anyway... after a year or so of not watching any TV, I was quickly reminded why I had given it up: gullibility, stupidity, emotional appeals, and alarmism for the sake of ratings. They sure know how to hook us in. 

So, here I was, taking a dose of mental junk food, when I saw a commercial for the local news regarding artificial sweeteners. In it, the anchors sounded the alarms of doubt... "are artificial sweeteners and low calorie foods safe for you, or are they just a sweet deception?"

Oh, there was no way I was going to miss that... and they did not disappoint -- by which I mean, they completely disappointed me, as I expected. I am always amused by how the media portray their stories on artificial sweeteners, and other controversial subjects. They violate every law of sound journalism: 
  •  You first portray anecdotal evidence, by someone that has really no proof of their claim, just a gut feeling;
  • Then you speak to expert sounding non-experts;
  • And finally, you have them make lofty claims, with absolutely NO scientific evidence or basis...
And there you go! A recipe for just about every "investigative" segment on the news, today. 

This 'investigative report' is no different. They start out with the story of Renee Chiaramonte, a woman who is a registered nurse, at one of our local hospitals. That, by default, would give people the idea that Renee has some 'authority' on what she says, because she's a nurse. In my experience as a diabetes advocate, assuming one has sound medical knowledge or health expertise by virtue of being a nurse, simply couldn't be farther from the truth. 

But I digress... We're left to ponder on the life of Renee, who was not feeling healthy, and felt like this was
likely due to poor diet; artificial sweetener abuse, to be exact. She claims she was consuming up to 500 artificial sweetener packets a month (besides countless diet sodas) and that she experienced weight gain, joint pain, and a torn tendon in her knee. These are some pretty hefty claims to make of artificial sweeteners. 

But it doesn't stop there... How dare these companies try to sell you artificial sweetener?!

They want to build a case of blame against artificial sweetener companies, so they interview a Marketing Professor at one of the local universities. "Oh, no, companies make you crave the sweet stuff by giving the boxes pretty colors, and putting them on the most accessible shelves! How dare they!" Yeah -- it's called being a company with a product, which you want to sell. Should they package it in corrugated boxes, written over with Sharpie marker? Please.

Then, for the clincher: A "medical" expert's opinion. Now, is this expert a registered dietitian? Is she an M.D.? Is she, perhaps, a food scientist? Maybe even a scientist with the FDA, or the Department of Health?  I would've even accepted a researching chemist. 

No... that would be too ideal. The woman in question, is "Dr." Ann Buenger -- a chiropractor. 

Listen here, fools at WHO-TV News Channel 13... 

A chiropractor is not a medical expert. In fact, they are not really doctors of anything, but of pseudo-scientific claims, and most of their claims and services are WOO. How dare you ask this woman's mere unscientific opinion on this subject (of which she is NOT an expert, by any means)? Let's limit her to such things as back adjustments, for crying out loud.

So, instead of interviewing an actual expert, they interview Mrs. Buenger (I refuse to call such a person a doctor) and she makes even more preposterous claims: 
  • Artificial sweeteners are stored in your fat;
  • They are all a "chemical," thus they are toxic to the body;
  • "Experts" say artificial sweeteners can trigger weight gain, migraines, depression, and cancer;
  • Consuming artificial sweeteners is like directly injecting them in your veins; and
  • 75% of your neurons have to die before all your symptoms of artificial sweetener consumption come out.
  • "Adverse symptoms" can last for several years.
I really miss the days when journalists were actual journalists, and did investigative work. NO ONE in their right mind would want to quote such a non-expert on such a subject. I wonder if all the other real experts simply told them there was nothing to discuss? No controversy? They had nothing to work with, and were grasping at straws. 

I sure would love to know to which so called studies and experts this woman was referring. Since she doesn't say, and even a cursory search on google doesn't yield any credible links (medicine journals, with findings, for one), I am left with assuming 99% of her claims came right out of her ass. 

You see, artificial sweeteners are not stored in fat; they do NOT affect your neurons in such a way that most of them have to die off, somehow, before you can feel better, nor do they trigger any of the symptoms mentioned above. And if something is toxic to us, just by virtue of it being a chemical, well lady... throw away ALL your medications, and you'd better hope you don't get any major illnesses. 

Aspartame, for example, has no more likelihood to induce headache in people who consume it, than a placebo; further studies of the association between aspartame and cancer found this association to be exclusive to rodent physiology, and not supported in humans; and any idiot who has any knowledge of the body's digestive process knows that drinking something is NOT the same as injecting it in one's veins... otherwise we'd drink insulin. DUH. 

Now there is some truth as to the likelihood of weight gain and usage of artificial sweeteners, but it is not due to artificial sweetener 'storage' in adipose tissues. 

You see... the desire to eat is driven by the same reward-circuitry we have in our brains for other pleasurable activities, such as sex, and drugs (hot damn!) When we consume sweet foods in particular, they reward our pleasure senses, but they also trigger satiety mechanisms which tell our bodies we have had enough. Since artificial sweeteners do not possess any caloric content, they thus trigger those 'hedonistic' pleasure neuronal signals, but do not seem to trigger satiety signals. The hypothesis is that a person can end up over-craving, and overeating, or looking for more food, because they didn't feel 'satisfied.' Also, if one abuses sweet foods, one trains one's palate to prefer such sweet foods, over other foods, even craving them. The studies for these behaviors are not, by any means, definitive; they are often large population studies, from the 1980s, over a 7-8 year period. Food attitudes, and diet notions can change a lot in such a period... especially in the 80s, when people would often eat a slice a cake with a diet Coke, and think they were doing well; or consume honey, in place of sugar, and think they were cutting out problems. 

This does not, by any means, mean that consumption of artificial sweeteners immediately leads to weight gain, on its own. It does not. If one is aware of one's eating, has a well balanced diet, and consumes enough water through the day, there really should be no problems. One of the prime examples of how artificial sweeteners do not lead to weight gain are the foolish anchors of this story, themselves, which at the end of the story (while not shown on this clip) were freaking out about all the foods they had consumed through the day, or earlier in the week -- while being the picture of fitness. 

Interestingly enough, just to show HOW psychological this woman's perceived malaise was, from her artificial sweeteners, she claims she now consumes Stevia (by way of Truvia), which is "the only healthy alternative, right now." They assume this because Stevia is naturally derived... but in fact, Stevia is no different in way of 'anecdotal' symptoms expressed by consumers -- as well as, also, not having caloric content. If it's sweet, and it has no caloric content, it should behave in the same way as the other sweeteners when it comes to partial activation of food reward pathways. 

One is left to ponder upon the other ways in which this woman was possibly not taking care of herself: not enough sleep, poor diet (hence a lack of vitamins), and dehydration. If she has any history of carpal tunnel, lack of enough Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12 can seriously affect her joint health. It could have also been the result of poor hydration, if she was simply not having enough water (just chugging diet sodas), and was retaining a massive amount of water weight from dehydration (a safety mechanism), as well as causing her joint pain, and even muscle cramps, and torn tendons, in the presence of high activity (such as a 12 hour work day). These are all well known side effects of dehydration.  

This was, simply, an inexcusable piece of irresponsible journalism, WHO-TV. A lot of people greatly depend on artificial sweeteners -- many with various illnesses they need to manage, such as diabetes. We live with enough guilt, as it is, without uneducated lay people giving us crap over a 'piece' they saw on your channel. When you create such poorly researched segments, what you do is push people into the arms of conspiracy theorists, scammers, and quacks, claiming they have the latest and best in 'natural' medicine, or a quick fix for their problems. Not to mention, WHO-TV, that you slander an industry. Sweeteners are used in all kinds of things, from toothpaste, to Lean Pockets. 

This woman was simply living a poor lifestyle, and instead of taking responsibility, decided to blame the artificial sweeteners. And instead of researching, you went with questionable sources. The worst part is that you brought NO balance to your piece, only adding a lame 'Editor's Note' at the end of your hard-to-find written piece, with 'differing opinions.' WHO-TV, these aren't simply 'opinions.' You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own FACTS, and then call those opinions. SHAME ON YOU! 
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