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The War on Artificial Sweeteners

Published: Friday, April 21, 2017

A study, published in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Foundation reports that regular consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks may increase the risk of and strokes and Alzheimer’s Disease. People who consume a can of artificially sweetened “diet” soft drink each day were found to be almost three times as likely to be affected as those who drank one less than once a week.  How inconvenient! 

A spokesperson from the British Soft Drinks Association pointed out that Public Health England actively encourages consumption of sweeteners as an alternative to sugar.  There is a get-out though.  The authors of the study admit that this does not prove a causal link as the study was based on information from questionnaires.

This raises two important questions.  The first is: are chemicals or sugar preferable?  The obvious answer ought to be “neither.” When I give a presentation, I frequently refer to a booklet, “Ten Proposals for Better [human] Health through Nutrition”, published by the Community Health Foundation in the late 1970s.  Proposal 3 is to eliminate sugar from the diet.  Proposal 7 is to eliminate chemicals from the diet.  Nearly 40 years on those proposals are even more pressing than they were then.

The second issue is that of evidence-based medicine/healthcare.  The thinking behind this is that decisions should be made on the basis of well-designed and conducted research.  Sounds admirable but I’ve always had a problem with that approach.  People and animals will suffer and die while decisions are delayed because of the lack of definitive evidence.  The role of nutrition in pet health is a prime example.  No matter how much anecdotal evidence we have, there is no scientific proof that many aspects of health are affected by nutrition.  The controlled trials haven’t been done and I can’t even begin to think how they could be designed! Lack of evidence (proof) is a good excuse for doing nothing.  This question of artificial sweeteners versus sugar is a prime example. Official policy on health and artificial sweeteners will not change for years to come.  A final point – scientific “knowledge” is not fixed.  The “facts” change in the face of new developments

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