A ‘Water Enhancer’ – or simply ‘something in the water’?

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January 10, 2013

What happens when you take a perfectly drinkable glass of water and add some propylene glycol, acesulfame potassium, some artificial colors and a preservative? If you ask me, contaminated water.

But if you’re a really, really big company such as Kraft and get some brilliant advertising minds in the act, along with a super budget, what you get is “MiO Liquid Water Enhancer.”

Launched two years ago, targeting people between18 and 39 with the advertising slogan, “MiO answers this wish to personalize life’s experiences in a way no other beverage can,” the product is so successful it will now be included in the Big Parade of Super Bowl commercials. Making its debut in a 30-second third-quarter ad spot that will reportedly cost more than $4 million, MiO — an Italian word meaning “mine” – is a classic example of how expert marketing can lead us to consume chemical-laden products we don’t need.

In fact, the MiO concept of squirting a colored, flavored liquid into water is apparently so appealing and profitable that Coca-Cola introduced its own version late last year called Dasani Drops, also containing multiple artificial colors and preservatives.

Interestingly, the MiO lineup sold in Canada contains none of the propylene glycol additive, a chemical manufactured in several grades for a variety of both industrial, cosmetic and food applications, But then, there are very few, if any, food uses of this substance allowed in either Canada or Europe.

While the theme of the MiO Super Bowl commercial may be totally cool, the same unfortunately, can’t be said of this chemically enhanced variation on the Kool-Aid theme.

Rediscovering what we already knew

Providing yet another reason to stop promoting aspartame-sweetened drinks, a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health released this week found drinking such beverages to be associated with a higher chance of becoming depressed.

Also found to raise the risk of depression, although not as much as the aspartame-laced drinks, were sodas, iced tea and “fruit punches” (such as Hi C and Kool-Aid) that are mostly all sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

Last week I reported on another example of the disturbing trend of replacing one test-tube sweetener (HFCS) with another —  a campaign recently launched in Howard County, Maryland called “Howard County Unsweetened” that promoted diet drinks containing aspartame as “better choices” to parents and kids over 13.

Another case of aspartame-pushing was reported last September in the New England Journal of Medicine, which described what was called an “intervention” among overweight and obese adolescents to see if replacing full-calorie beverages with no-calorie alternatives would slow weight gain. It consisted in part of a “home delivery” for a year of diet drinks to participants’ homes every two weeks.

Reading about these events and “interventions,” one would never know that aspartame is considered by some leading medical authorities to be an “excitotoxin” – that is, a substance that literally excites brain cells to death, especially in children whose blood-brain barriers are not fully developed or in older people in whom this protective mechanism has been compromised. Nor would one think that we’re talking about a substance that an FDA Public Board of Inquiry concluded years ago should not be permitted in the food supply prior to its being overruled by a political appointee.

In fact, “aspartame depression” has long been cited as one of the results of consuming this artificial sweetener, along with other side effects such as migraines, seizures and memory loss. One study, “Adverse reactions to aspartame: double-blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population,”  conducted nearly two decades ago by the Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Youngstown,  found  “a significant difference between aspartame and placebo in number and severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression, whereas for individuals without such a history there was not. We conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged.”

Interesting, isn’t it, how we seem to forget what researchers knew years ago, only to suddenly find ourselves rediscovering them?  Maybe it’s the result of all that aspartame we’ve been exposing our collective brains to over the years.