‘Research’ like this only proves industry’s belief it can pull one over on us

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June 5, 2014

Recently, I came upon a greeting card I couldn’t resist buying. The front panel read, “Four out of five experts agree that having a birthday is better than being mauled by a bear,” with an accompanying cartoon of four white-coated individuals identified by yellow tags as “Expert 1,” “Expert 2,” “Expert 3” and “Expert 4.”  
When you open the card, you find “Expert 5” – a white-coated bear saying “I need to do more testing,” under the words, “The fifth expert isn’t convinced.”
It was a spot-on spoof of those so-called studies that are funded by various industries in an attempt to convince the public that certain products or additives are safe or beneficial after independent research has clearly shown them to be anything but.   
A good example is a recent study that made the news – one that, contrary to the conclusions of various other researchers, found that consumption of diet soda does result in weight loss after all.
This particular study, which was published in the journal Obesity and funded by – surprise, surprise – the American Beverage Association, divided some 300 adult diet-soda drinkers, whose average weight was 200 pounds, into two groups: those who were allowed to continue drinking their artificially sweetened beverages, and those who had to give it up and only drink water.
At the end of 12 weeks, the participants restricted to water had lost an average of nine pounds, while the diet soda drinkers had lost an average of 13 pounds –which supposedly proved that non-caloric synthetic sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose do help fight obesity.
Or did it?
According to a rather well-balanced report by CNN, the subjects drinking only water would likely have compensated by consuming more calories from other sources (something even one of the study’s designers said “makes sense.”)
The study also was far too short in duration to really prove anything, according to Susan Swithers, a professor of behavior neuroscience at Purdue University. Last year, Swithers authored a study that found that diet soda actually has a “counterintuitive effect” by sabotaging the way our bodies respond to caloric sweeteners. As a result, diet soda drinkers may be “at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
Other studies, including one published back in January by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, have also concluded that people who habitually down diet soft drinks are apt to consume more in the way of calories than those who don’t. And the likelihood of gaining, rather than losing weight may be the least of the problems associated with regularly imbibing artificially sweetened beverages.  
A recent study presented at an American College of Cardiology conference, for example, found that women who drank two or more diet sodas daily were at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. And, as has been noted before in this blog, thousands of complaints about adverse reaction to aspartame, which many experts regard as neurotoxic, have been logged with the FDA and an the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, ranging from migraine headaches to seizures and temporary blindness.
Research on another commonly used artificial sweetener, sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda), done a year ago at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that it had diabetes-promoting effects in human test subjects, despite the fact it has no calories and is categorized as a “nonutritive sweetener.” Sucralose has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and been reported to cause migraines.
And then there’s this from Kristi Norton, one of the participants in the American Beverage Association-sponsored study who had to give up her diet soda for 12 weeks: “I feel like I could 1000% tell the benefit of drinking water only. I felt better, I had more energy, I felt healthier, I just generally felt way better. And I can feel the difference now when I drink a diet drink, I can feel this ‘heaviness’.”
All of which should be enough to make even those desperately seeking ways to lose weight realize that an artificially sweetened solution is no solution at all. Perhaps New York University nutrition professor and author Marion Nestle said it best when queried by The Boston Globe earlier this year: “My sweetener of choice is sugar. I just try to keep it to a minimum and rarely drink sweetened beverages. Artificial sweeteners are not on my dietary radar.”
When it comes to diet soda and other synthetically sweetened products, the ‘weight of the evidence’ clearly contradicts the bear in researcher’s clothing.