Have you seen the headlines? Social media and the internet at large are abuzz with the controversy surrounding the well-known artificial sweetener aspartame.
The recent classification of aspartame as a possible human carcinogen (category 2B) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has sparked a new wave of discussions, concerns, and media sensationalism.
In this episode, Alan Aragon helps unravel the complexities and provide a more balanced perspective on this hot topic.
Alan is no stranger to the podcast, but in case you’re not familiar with him, he’s a nutrition researcher and educator who’s been at the forefront of the evidence-based fitness movement for over a decade now and has helped countless fitness enthusiasts, professional athletes, and top coaches, and even influenced my own work.
Alan has a knack for translating science into practical application, which you can see for yourself if you check out his research review, which was the first of its kind in 2008.
In this podcast, you’re going to learn about . . .
- The latest news and opinions on aspartame and its classification by the IARC
- The negative connotations associated with artificial sweeteners and why people often overlook their benefits
- Animal testing on artificial sweeteners and whether the findings can be applied to humans
- Practical considerations for the consumption of artificial sweeteners, their place in a balanced lifestyle, and how much is safe to consume
- And more . . .
This episode offers valuable insights for anyone interested in artificial sweeteners, diet, and overall health, cutting through the confusion and fear to provide an evidence-based viewpoint.
So, click play to listen and learn about aspartame and its effects on health.
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
06:36 – What is the latest news with aspartame?
13:30 – Do you have an opinion on what is going on with aspartame and the IARC?
18:28 – Do you think the negative findings of aspartame and artificial sweeteners has put a bad connotation on them? and prevents people from looking into the benefits of artificial sweeteners?
27:41 – My award-winning fitness books for men and women
29:41 – If animal testing shows an increase in cancer risk can that really be applied to humans?
57:16 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the Show:
My award-winning fitness books for men and women
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Mike: Hey there, I’m Mike Matthews and this is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today for a new episode on a controversy that has been making the rounds over the last few weeks on social media, and that is the recent classification of aspartame as a possible human carcinogen, a category two B.
Compound by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is associated with the World Health Organization. And with that, uh, a whole new wave of discussions and concerns and argumentation has been sparked, and many people are wondering what to make of it. Is this classification warranted? Is it supported by the weight of the evidence?
Should you try to avoid aspartame at all costs or is it all overblown? Is it all a big nothing burger? Well, you are going to get answers to those questions in today’s episode, as well as answers to other questions you may have about artificial sweeteners, other types of artificial sweeteners, for example, sucralose or ace K or natural alternatives like Stevia.
And in today’s episode, you are going to be learning from my guest, Alan Aragon, who has been on the show a couple of times, and who is a nutrition researcher, an educator who has been at the forefront of the evidence-based fitness movement for over a decade now, and who has helped countless fitness enthusiasts, professional athletes, and top coaches, and whose work has influenced my own and influenced my career significantly.
His research review, for example, is, The first research review that I ever came across that I ever subscribed to and still subscribed to, and I’ve always appreciated how well Alan has been able to take science and make it accessible and practical to layman, which has been my goal in all of my educational work.
Hey Alan, thanks for taking the time to come back on my podcast. I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s been a bit.
Alan: Mike, it’s been a long time and, uh, really happy to be back on.
Mike: I think this is gonna be a popular episode because, because it’s you and people like to hear from you, and because it’s, uh, a topic, a controversy du jour, which is aspartame and the possible health implications. Some new research came out, or new position, I guess you could say, on existing research, and a lot of people are talking about it. And so I wanted to get you on the, on the show to discuss this, this w h o announcement and give some, some practical context and I guess highlight some of the details that have been lost in the, the headlines, so to speak.
Alan: Yeah, the, the overarching principle about this thing is, um, artificial sweeteners tend to trigger this emotional response in people, and it must be a primal thing where folks are, I mean, it seems like people are wired.
Mike: On both sides of the argument. Some people, yeah,
some people are, they’re so, uh, they’re
very defensive of the, these chemicals.
They, they clearly mean a lot to them. And then you have people on the other side who are vehemently opposed to them, and they, you have these extreme arguments on either side.
Alan: Yeah. And it’s just, it, it’s fascinating. I. Human psychology, human behavior standpoint, because you’re always going to have one camp who just wants to stay as close to, in quotes nature as possible.
But ironically, they’re not going around in loin claws and bathing in, in rivers and streams and, you know, avoiding using their cars and their, they’re not resenting the fact that we figured out air travel or, or the internet, you know?
Mike: Maybe that’s the next phase though. Maybe you’re, maybe you, you have, maybe you have a marketing idea of brewing here. , I think you could start with bathing in rivers or just like natural bodies of water. I, I think you could start there. That could be the beginning of a movement.
Alan: I know. So it’s, it’s really interesting, man. Um, I personally, I kind love the fact that we. Figured out how to travel on, on freeways, and I, I’m glad that there’s air travel now instead of having to trek across the desert on some sort of, um, some sort of workhorse or, you know, horse and buggies.
I, I’m really glad that technology has marched forward to the point that you and I can communicate right now on, on different parts, the, of the country. And I equate things like artificial sweeteners with. Positive aspects of food technology. It’s sort of like they cracked the code to get us to be able to have, for example, protein powder without just wanting to wretch from the, the nasty taste of unflavored way, for example.
And it’s not that nasty. Right? But my point is, Artificial sweeteners have been a net benefit to various populations from people trying to mitigate obesity, um, and diabetes and various cardiometabolic, cardiometabolic diseases associated with the overconsumption of total calories. And it has worked great in that regard.
And of course, people will argue over the research in this, but there’s definitely a, a divergence between what’s seen. Observationally and in epidemiological, uh, studies looking at large populations with no actual intervention going on, versus studies that. Actually execute interventions between an experimental group and a control group.
And then they try to, um, figure out causal potential causal connections between things like artificial sweeteners and energy intake, artificial sweeteners and glucose control, artificial sweeteners and body composition. So, you know, we have all that data, but I, I wanna kind of revert back to. What you and I were talking about in the beginning, which is people just get emotional over the idea that, holy crap, we figured out how to create substances that have a high degree of sweetness, but they essentially don’t have metabolizable energy.
That really freaks people out
Mike: and, and specifically in the case of aspartame, what is the latest bruhaha over? We have this, this announcement from the. W h o right? And what’s the substance of this announcement? And could we get into some of the details about what it really means and what data it’s based on, um, your own personal take on.
Eventually we can get to some practical takeaways in terms of ’cause. I know ’cause I hear from people who are now concerned and maybe, maybe they just like to have a can or two of diet soda per day and yeah, they could get rid of the diet soda and they don’t necessarily have to replace it with a sugar sweetened beverage, which maybe this is a big sugar conspiracy.
Maybe big sugar wants us back on sugar, but they could give it up. But it adds. Pleasure to their day and they would prefer not to give it up. But now they’re concerned that maybe the couple of cans of diet soda per day, uh, maybe it’s gonna increase the risk of cancer by even, even a small amount. And that that’s something that would concern them because of the asymmetrical nature of that type of risk, like a.
Degree, chance, but if you do get it, you’re screwed. So you wanna do everything you can to make it as close to zero as possible.
Alan: Yeah, definitely. Um, cancer is a scary thing, a, a real concern for various populations and, uh, it, it, it’s an unsolved disease, so understandably. People would get worried when they hear any sort of association, even if it’s through just the, the mainstream news media that Agent X or food X or substance X is associated somehow, even if remotely with with cancer.
But, The thing that happened with Aspartame is that the World Health Organization, which is just one of the major government tied health agencies, they have a subsidiary, if you will, or or an arm of their organization called the I A R C, and that stands for the International Agency for Cancer or what International Agency.
For research on cancer, the I A C, and so the I A C has this classification system that goes category one, which is basically. Cancers to humans, A known human carcinogen. Category two A, which is a probable human carcinogen, and then category two B, which is a possible human carcinogen. And then finally, category three, which has the lowest threat level.
So, Not cancerous to humans. So what the I A R C recently did was they announced their classification of aspartame as being in two B in category two B, meaning a possible human carcinogen. Now, the sort of the odd thing about category two B is that. It doesn’t require a, any minimum. There’s no minimum amount of human evidence to show that a substance qualifies for that category, and there is no specific dosing range or dosing threshold in animals to indicate that this is.
Possibly carcinogenic to humans. So you can take a substance like aspartame and inject like just gallons of it into the eyeballs of animals. And then if something remotely carcinogenic happens, then you can categorize this substance in two B because there was some indication of carcinogenicity in, let’s say rodents at these astronomical doses and therefore, hmm, possible human carcinogen.
I mean that, that sounds like opinion. Yeah, it’s, it, it absolutely is. And on the note of it being opinion, there is still, uh, the, the I A R C is of the World Health Organization is just one of the major health agencies worldwide. So there is the E F SS A, the F D A, the f FSA nz, there’s jfa, all those organizations.
Have not, I guess, shined the, the warning sign or, or sounded the, the alarm signal on aspartame, just the I A R C of the World Health Organization, and so the World Health Organization is known to be relatively trigger happy about announcing. Stuff as being dangerous or carcinogenic. Uh, in recent memory, they’ve done this with coffee, so the I A R C classified coffee in this possible human carcinogen category pretty recently, but then, Enough evidence rolled out for them to have to retract that statement about coffee.
Mike: um, yeah. That’s interesting. I wouldn’t say I’m very well acquainted with the coffee literature, but what I’ve read has indicated the opposite, even that it might have anti-cancer properties, so long as you’re not drinking like, uh, two grams of caffeine per day or something.
Alan: Yeah, there actually is evidence in the opposite for there’s cardio protective, um, evidence for.
The World Health Organization. I mean, they, they’ve sounded the alarm muscle for coffee at some point in their history pretty recently. And so who knows really what’s gonna happen with the aspartame thing. But it’s interesting to think of, uh, what the motivations are between, you know, about these warnings.
We can think of some interesting. Conspiracy theories, uh, maybe there are some agents from big sugar infiltrating the, the artificial sweetener industry. And
Mike: I mean, ironically given the state of the world, if that were. Actually the case, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d be like, well, yeah, I mean these, you gotta pedal sugar somehow.
And if you can get enough people to stop with the aspartame, erythritol, I’m sure that you saw that controversy as well. So, oh, though it’s the, the natural non-nutritive sweeteners, those are dangerous too. Come on back to good old all natural sugar sweetened beverages now of. Not saying that’s happening, but given the world we live in, it would not surprise me.
I mean, there are many people in the world who are mostly motivated by money. It, it’s, it’s that simple. If they can make a lot of money, uh, lying, cheating, and stealing, I. That’s what they’re gonna do. And power structures tend to, they tend to filter the, the crazier people tend to filter upward. The ones that are more psychopathic and sociopathic tend to filter upward.
And so, you know, this is, this is human nature. But that aside, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts given the. Specifics of the announcement and do, do you have a, an, an opinion on what’s going on here? Do you think there’s maybe the possibility of, uh, some truth here or, or do you think it’s almost certainly just wrong, like coffee and this is gonna end up getting retracted as well?
Alan: I don’t know if it’s gonna get retracted. I just know just from looking at, at the numbers and just seeing that the doses required to reach the levels of concern are just so astronomical. I mean, they’re so far out.
Mike: Can you give some context there just for people, again, put it in whatever terms you want.
It could be diet sodas or
Alan: Right. Right. Acceptable daily intake or the, the a d i is set at 40 to 50 milligrams per kilogram per day, depending on which organization that, that you’re going with. Their guidelines of now, this is based on doses that are many, many, many times more than what humans would ingest.
And so they always leave some sort of safety margin after they just, in animal models, they, they just really run, they run these toxicity studies where these escalating doses go far above and beyond what humans could possibly ingest. And so this acceptable daily intake level of 40 to 50 milligrams per kilogram.
Per day is in a 75 kilogram person that’s 3000 to 37 50 milligrams per day, which is the equivalent of 17 to 21 cans of diet soda per day. Still being a safe intake of aspartame. Uh, it wouldn’t necessarily be a safe intake of caffeine if a can of, of soda has somewhere between, let’s say, one to 200 milligrams of caffeine, of course, that that would be an issue, but, I personally don’t know anybody who consumes 17 to 21 cans of diet soda per day.
I did know somebody who consumed about 10 cans of diet soda a day. I’m not gonna name him to protect the guilty, but when you think of maybe the average diet soda intake of your average health nut fitness bro is going to be. I don’t know, somewhere between one and three cans a day. And after that, they start feeling guilty.
Or they just know that the, you know, if they have a fifth can of whatever diet soda, they’re, they’re drinking, then they’re gonna be crossing the line in terms of, usually it’s caffeine intake. You know what, what, what people consume.
Mike: What with the additional energy drink, maybe some pre-workout as well.
Alan: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And a lot of people in, in, in our circle are pretty conscious of the caffeine thresholds that disrupt their sleep and that are, are just excessive. I, I guess they, we call the scientific consensus of an upper safe limit of caffeine intake for adults at the general population level.
And as a statistical average is 400 milligrams. Of four to fives of coffee a day as being
caffeine intake for adult for adults. Yeah, I if, if somebody’s consuming, like even up to four energy drinks a day and there’s, you know, a maximum of a hundred milligrams of caffeine in their energy drink and they don’t drink much caffeine outside of that, you, you can still make an argument for that being relatively safe or just kind of biologically neutral, but 17 to 21 cans of diet soda being the equivalent of the acceptable daily, um, intake.
Limits it really, that amount is really far above what people in the general population and even the, in the fitness, uh, population, and people who love their, you know, getting revved up through their energy drinks. That’s far less than, far more than what they drink.
Mike: What are your thoughts on the argument that I’ve seen some people make against aspartame and other artificial sweeteners in that the trajectory of the evidence over the last 10 years or so has been in the direction of potentially harmful effects, whether it’s related to the gut microbiome, this, this cancer.
Controversy is not a new one. When I go, if I go back to my, my entry into the, into the fitness racket, 10 plus years ago, people were saying this then with less evidence to point to, even if the evidence currently is weak, there now is you could say, maybe weak evidence. Whereas 10 years ago there was maybe very little of anything.
It was more just a speculation. However, I have seen people. Acknowledge some of what you just said about this W H O classification, and it is certainly not the final nail in the coffin like some people are saying, but it would appear to some people that the. Developments, a lot of these bigger developments that have occurred in the case of Astri and other artificial sweeteners have tended to be negative findings rather than neutral or positive findings.
Do you think that there’s any validity to to that perspective, or is that something that’s maybe more skewed by the availability of. Information sensationalized in the media or social media because that just, that gets people talking, gets people clicking, listening as opposed to maybe neutral findings that are boring.
Alan: I have a little bit of a cynical view on that, Mike. It’s like if you were an officer in the I A R C and you’re, you’re being paid a certain salary, you know what, what are you being paid for? Okay. You’re, you’re being paid to. Make sure that that public health is in order. But what if there’s nothing to report on?
What if there’s nothing exciting? Nothing publishable, nothing newsworthy to report on that’s either going to potentially hurt your salary or it’s gonna hurt your ego, or it’s gonna hurt both. And so I think that. People are dying for attention at every level, and they’re starving for significance. Uh, they’re starving for rec recognition for something.
So some news is better than no news. Some discovery, even if it’s spurious, it’s better than no discovery. So that’s a little bit of cynicism on my part as far as. What the World Health Organization is spitting out what their, you know, what their subsidiary, the I A R C is spitting out in terms of these things.
The reason I can make those speculations is because when you look at the boring part, the actual findings and PubMed, the larger weight of the evidence from the, the larger systematic reviews and meta-analyses, um, you really come down with a whole lot of nothing. Aspart has been studied over the course of hundreds of, of studies.
I mean, if you look at, um, animal data attempts at human data, e everything else, human data on various short and longer endpoints, softer and harder endpoints, it really just, you come down with just a whole lot of null effects, and that’s just not. Exciting to report on. That’s not something worthy of gaining a salary over reporting on That’s not newsworthy.
Mike: It doesn’t even get people talking in the gym. I mean, you think about like you’re gonna be in the gym with your buddy, like, Hey, did you see that new study that showed that aspartame is more or less just benign and it doesn’t matter? Oh, okay. Yeah. Anyway, like.
Alan: Hey, and the categorization of these potential carcinogens, that whole spectrum of known human carcinogen, probable human carcinogen, and then our aspartame in the possible human carcinogen, and all the way at the bottom with the not carcinogenic to humans.
The very top tier, so known human carcinogen is, um, the I A R C. Any alcoholic beverage in any amount as a known human carcinogen. So that’s where they’re at in terms of their logic and in terms of how diligent they’re trying to be, or even, you know, maybe cynically, how newsworthy they want to be and how relevant they want to be.
They’re, they’re willing to put like a.
Mike: It’s almost, it’s almost like edgy.
Alan: I know, right? It, it would be, it would be kind of cool.
Mike: It’s almost like scientific shit posting, you know?
Alan: That’s a great, that’s honestly that, that’s a great way to put it. And I mean, we’ve got human beings at, at the top of these organizations, at the helm of the ship news.
Or to go by these guidelines, by the I A R C and think that a single Bud Light is gonna get you in in grave trouble. You know what I mean?
Mike: And that is the effect that such pronouncements have. I’ve seen it firsthand. People will, I. Worry about these things and understandably so, not because they’re stupid.
It’s often because they actually understand that there are things they don’t know. And so it’s that awareness of what they don’t know that actually makes them concerned, like, well, maybe there isn’t. Maybe I am missing something about alcohol and maybe every drink that I take, Materially increases my risk of cancer.
I don’t know what, what do I know? I’m, I’m a, I’m a sales guy. I’m a c e o of a business, or I, I know things about certain things and then I just know nothing about that. So I’m leaning on experts to help me understand ’cause I don’t have time to become scientifically literate and spend who knows how many hours sifting through, uh, the research on alcohol to come to a final determination that I could explain, starting with first principles.
I can’t do that.
Alan: Right, right, right. There’s a lot of time and, and energy and resources involved in, in being knowledgeable about these things and, but even, you know, your average lay person can understand that there’s a difference between, let’s say a glass of red wine and a. A fifth of Jack, okay. In terms of health effects.
And so we can take that, that differences between, let’s say a glass of red wine and, um, you know, a liter of, of vodka. We can take that principle and transfer it over to. Artificial sweeteners. So artificial sweeteners are a pretty diverse group of compounds. You’ve got, well, like what we’ve talk, been talking about, there’s aspartame, there’s sucralose, there’s Stevia, or Stevia as some people call it.
There’s a Suen K, there’s saccharin, and there’s a few others floating around. But um, Those are the biggies.
Mike: Now, Stevia though, wouldn’t, that’s not normally, uh, considered an artificial, right? Or did I not hear that? That right?
Alan: Um, I guess, um, there might be a technical, uh, difference versus maybe a philosophical difference, but we can, I guess maybe we can say low calor,
Mike: I guess.
Normally it’s like, okay, well the, the Stevia, Stevia comes from the leaf of the plant versus being synthesized, you know, in a lab.
Alan: Yeah, no, that is correct. So maybe I, it it’s more accurate to say these low calorie sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners. And so they’re a pretty diverse group.
Mike: And don’t forget erythritol, because that one, I don’t know, I’m sure you saw like, ’cause that one’s gonna give you a heart attack, so don’t do that.
Alan: That’s kind of an interesting story too, Mike. It’s, it’s like correlation. Doesn’t necessarily equal causation. And in, in this case, in the case of erythritol, it’s guilt by association because you know, these people with these major cardiac events and these cardiovascular diseases, their bodies are literally producing erythritol over time.
And so erythritol is just kind of guilty by. Association there. Um, it’s not, it’s not that people are actually getting cardiovascular disease from consuming erythritol. So that was an interesting story as well. And that blew up in the news for a second. But this aspartame thing, it, it just sort of casts this, this light on artificial sweeteners as that, that’s just a bunch of dangerous group of compounds, but they’re very diverse and, and when you look at the actual literature, the artificial sweetener that.
Seems to consistently, faceplant is saccharin. So saccharin is the one that causes these disruptions in the gut. Microbiome. Saccharin is the one that through these disruptions in gut, gut microbiome will cause adverse effects on, on glycemic control, and also saccharin when compared with sucralose and aspartame.
It also, Was not effective at controlling body weight through mechanisms definitely that have to do with thermic balance, but definitely pro probably through the appetite regulation pathways. So saccharin could be a problematic artificial sweetener. However, the doses that were used to show this, this was in, it’s about fi i I wanna say almost 10 years ago, that, um, Suez and colleagues looked at this and then their, their research about, oh no, you know, artificial sweeteners really kind of disrupt the gut microbiome.
This was based on, on, um, Getting up in arms and alarmed about saccharin is that you’re not gonna find it used the vast majority of commercial products. You’re really only gonna find it in significant amounts in those pink packets at IHOP or Denny’s. Okay, so we’re looking at an artificial sweetener that’s almost commercially extinct, which happens to be the one that that has the most.
Adverse potential. So gut biome stuff that really belongs to, uh, saccharin and aspartame and cancer. It just seems to have a nice ring to it, but when you really look at the data, it, the evidence just really is not there to blow the alarm with.
Mike: If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, then you will probably like my award-winning fitness books for men and women of all ages and abilities, which have sold over 2 million copies, have received over 15,004 and five star reviews on Amazon.
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And gain eye catching amounts of muscle definition and strength. And even better, you will learn how to do those things without having to live in the gym. Give up all of the foods or drinks that you love or do long grueling workouts that you hate. And with my books and programs, you will do that. You will transform your physique faster than you probably think is possible, or I will give you your money back.
If you are unsatisfied with any of my books or programs, the results, anything for whatever reason, just let me know and you will get a full refund on the spot. Now I do have several books and programs including Bigger, leaner, stronger, thinner, leaner, stronger, and Muscle for Life. And to help you understand which one is right for you, it’s pretty simple.
If you are a guy aged 18 to let’s say 40 to 45, I. Bigger, leaner, stronger is the book and program for you. If you are a gal, same age range, thinner, leaner, stronger is going to be for you. And if you are a guy or gal, 40 to maybe 45 plus muscle for life is for you. And can you speak to another argument that I’ve seen made, which is that, okay, fine, the dose makes for the poison.
And if you use super doses in animals and that causes problems, you can’t just extrapolate that to humans using realistic doses. But some people will say that, If super doses in animals produce significant increases in risks of cancer or other problems, then smaller doses used in humans will produce smaller risks.
And yeah, they’ll acknowledge that. They’re gonna also say, but even a small increase in the risk of something very serious. It could be cancer or it could be gut microbiome issues that obviously that’s an emerging field of research and scientists are learning more and more about how important it is to have good gut health.
And if you don’t, there are many things that can go wrong. Again, I’ve seen the argument made that. Okay, fine. Even if it is a smaller increase and it doesn’t, it wouldn’t make for a great headline. We want to probably try to avoid even just a small increase in our chances of developing serious health issues.
What are your thoughts
Alan: I think that folks who are worried about that are just not aware of just how much you, you would have to consume in order to cross these thresholds of harm. So with pretty much all the stuff in the food supply, all all the substances, ingredients, foods, You know, even things like, like saturated fat, heaven forbid, there is a threshold of intake below which you’re really looking at one big nothing burger.
So you’re looking at there, there is a threshold below which you’re seeing just biological neutrality. So no, you know, no effect. One way or another. And with certain things, there’s even a benefit at low doses, whereas when you cross over a certain threshold, you’re looking at grave harm. Even using the I ARC’s classification system, for example, sunlight.
So solar radiation, that is a class one human carcinogen per the I ARC’s system warning system.
Mike: That’s funny that you say that. I was gonna ask that earlier. Is that on the list? Because
Alan: Yes, it is. Yeah. Yes it is. And what’s interesting about Sunlight is that. If you don’t get any of it, you are putting yourself in in grave danger.
So without a certain minimum of sunlight, and let’s say your diet is somewhat poor and you’re not supplementing with vitamin D, so without sunlight, you. Are going to be vitamin D deficient. And if you incur vitamin D deficiency, you will incur a constellation of adverse effects on multiple bodily systems from musculoskeletal to cardiometabolic.
And so a little sunlight is actually. Not just good for you, but some would say it, it’s even essential. A little too much sunlight. Well,
Mike: even if you supplement with vitamin D, okay, fine, you can avoid that, but you are not going to get the circadian rhythm related benefits and, and other benefits of, of going outside and getting some sun on your body and in your eyes.
Alan: That’s absolutely true. It, it’s not just a matter of ha you know, I can, I can just supplement with vitamin D and get everything I need from sunlight. Now there’s, there’s psychobiological effects of sunlight that, that affect all kinds of things. Um, from mood to, and, and like you mentioned, our circadian rhythm, sort of, it, it can either be in alignment with our exposure to sun or we can really throw it outta whack.
And so in small doses, moderate doses, sunlight is essential and certain threshold, You’re getting sunburns, you’re getting melanomas, and then you know you’re getting six people carrying you off in a casket. So I’m not gonna say the same thing is true with every artificial sweetener, where small doses are always good for you.
But I would still say those small doses of artificial sweetener are very likely better for you than dumping a. Bunch of teaspoons of sugar in whatever it is you’re, you’re going to do to, to sweeten it. And I would even say that small enough doses of artificial sweetener really kind of just disappear into the ether of the universe.
Mike: And something that you’re speaking to here is, uh, I think should be explicitly mentioned, is the context of somebody’s lifestyle on the whole, how do they eat, how do they exercise, how do they. Sleep. How do they manage stress and so on. You can have a person who does a lot of these things well, and their body is a very anti-cancer environment.
It’s, it’d be very hard, if not impossible for, for cancer to flourish. Now, that’s not to say that cancer doesn’t occur to those people. There are exceptions to every rule, but as a rule, if you’re doing. The, the basic things that I mentioned. Well, and you’re doing that consistently. I think that also just for people individually, to give them some encouragement that they need to acknowledge that statistically speaking, it would be very hard, very, very, very unlikely for them to.
Develop cancer so long as they’re doing those things correctly. And there could be exceptions of course, but it, it just would be very hard to believe that, uh, given that if you added a couple of diet sodas a day, that’s gonna be enough to kill them. A chemical that powerful would just be in all kinds of foods and beverages, and there’s a lot of scientific evidence that hasn’t caught that yet.
Somehow this has evaded a large body of research.
Alan: Yeah, I mean it, there’s likely massive differences in scale, even if you compare just standing outside and breathing in the city. If you live in New York or la the amount of exposure just carcinogenic that you’re, you’re getting compared to, let’s say drinking a a a six pack of diet sodas a day are, are just world’s different.
You know, you’re probably, you’re probably putting yourself in greater caric, dan carcinogenic danger by just stepping outside of your house. And the, the probabilities like are, are just vanishingly small, that you’re going to incur some kind of harm from these things. And this is reflected in, you know, this is just not, not just my speculation in the.
Most recent systematic review that all of these agencies are just converging on, on the same conclusion. It’s like all the research lines of evidence from mechanistic, from cell cultures to these rodent studies to. Human studies, like every line of evidence is essentially showing a lack of carcinogenicity, well, from aspartame in particular, and, um, and from artificial sweeteners as, as kind of a group, as somebody who.
Respect science and respects the principle of science. One of the things that researchers are supposed to do is withhold absolute levels of certainty. Whether you’re looking at something with absolute confidence or absolute certainty, we’re we’re, we’re supposed to avoid absolute certainty because then when you are a hundred percent certain that something is a certain way, then you kind of automatically close your mind to the possibility of that not being true.
So, I’m not going to adopt a hundred percent certainty that artificial sweeteners are completely harm-free, but I would adopt enough certainty to feel like reasonable use of artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, is not going to affect me or anybody within. This lifetime and possibly the next lifetime.
Maybe it’ll start showing up in the third lifetime, but within this lifetime or the next, you are putting yourself in more danger, stepping outside, and taking a deep breath at an intersection.
Mike: Yeah, that probability point is important because in my experience, many people were not taught to think that way, I think is the issue.
I I don’t think it’s necessarily just a matter of being quote unquote stupid. It’s, it’s just not an element of critical thinking. I think, uh, that, that, that’s taught in school and I think to about six or eight months into Covid when there was. Enough data to actually start to figure out how much of a risk as opposed to us individually based on what cohort of people we would sort into.
And I remember I recorded a podcast ’cause I had looked into some actuarial data at that time based on what was available regarding Covid. And I made this point where I was saying, look, statistically speaking here, let me run through these numbers. If we’re talking about severe. Illness or death, like having severe trauma, right.
In this case, I’m gonna be referring to a car crash, something that would put me in the hospital or kill me. I remember one of the things that was more dangerous than Covid, statistically, was driving my car 30 to 45 minutes a day. That was one of them. Like a normal kind of commute. Maybe it was 30 to 60 minutes a day on per day on a highway.
Uh, another one was walking around in a city. Uh, like I, at that time I lived near Washington DC so if I wanted to go walk in DC for, I think it was about 45 minutes a day, because of course you can just get hit by a car like that can happen when you’re walking around a city that was statistically more dangerous and there were one or two other rather.
Mundane, kind of just daily activities that were statistically more dangerous, that posed more of a risk to me than Covid. And my argument at the time was, okay, so I now officially do not care. I’m not gonna be afraid of Covid for me personally, and here’s why. Just because I’m for the same reason. I’m not gonna be afraid.
I drive my car every day and I’m not. Afraid. I understand something could happen. Uh, that’s life and I accept that risk. And, uh, I live my life or I go out for a walk when I’m in Georgetown. Yeah, I’m walking around for more than 45 minutes and something could happen. And I remember getting a fair amount of flack for that.
Some people took the point and other people took it very personally. Uh, there just seems to be a similar, we, we already commented on this, but there seems to be a, a similar kind of dynamic in play here with, with these artificial sweeteners.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. And, and it’s really interesting how there’s this polarization of folks who, um, it just like with the Covid thing, when people push back against, Artificial sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners, biologically neutral at the doses that we normally consume, there’s still pushback that people, they kind of relate it to covid and saying, oh yeah, just like how the vaccines are supposed to be safe and effective in quote, safe and effective.
Yeah, this, these artificial sweeteners are, uh, I’m sure they’re safe and effective set sarcastically and stuff. You know, I, I think it’s different. I think it’s different there. I think that with the vaccines, there’s more potential to make a few bill, a few billies,
Mike: a few tens of, I don’t know, I don’t know what the slang term is for a billion.
What do they say? I think rack is a thousand, or is that 10,000? I don’t know. So
Alan: I just know large is is a thousand. So 10 large is 10,000. So yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m off on my mafiaa speak. I don’t think they go up into the billions.
Mike: A few. A few, like tens of millions large, I guess
Alan: you’re right. Right, exactly. And, and so it’s a little easier to buy the idea that shenanigans could have happened if you just make a vaccine mandatory for the entire Earth, A few people are gonna benefit very nicely versus the artificial sweetener.
Mike: You’re, you’re bringing up something that I, I was gonna comment on and, and that is that there is this growing distrust of authority, particularly with the W H O and I do personally think that they did a poor job in many ways with handling various aspects of the Covid crisis and, and particularly points of around messaging and.
Policies they were advocating for. And so many, many people, I think are justifiably, even, even people who are, are not, who before Covid didn’t have much of an opinion one way or another on the W H R or even had a positive opinion after seeing that they’ve concluded that the W H O is is just not a credible institution.
And we see that more widely. Right. Even, even science more widely. I, I. Again, I think it’s partially justified that you have a lot of people now who they are less inclined to take any sort of scientific finding at face value or scientific recommendation at face value. And so now people are, they’re not sure who to believe or what to believe.
Alan: Yeah, and, and that’s why it’s so frustrating. It’s just so exasperating for, for the general public because they don’t know who to believe. How could you possibly know, you know, if, if the the legendary World Health Organization, how could they be wrong? Right. Oh yeah. But they’ve been wrong many times about many things.
Um, now we have this weird thing where the World Health Organization has seemingly turned against food technology. They’ve got their hands in a lot of things, and it’s confusing to folks. It would take a whole lot of consistent human data. Showing carcinogenic effects at reasonable doses. I mean, even if the doses were, were really high to the tune of, who knows, I dunno, maybe a dozen or a couple dozen drinks a day showing cancerous effects in humans.
But they’re far from having shown that like very far from it, not even close, not even remotely. And so, um, the cancer evidence in humans for aspartame in particular, is just super farfetched. But you know, the categorizations are what they are and we humans, we like to simplify things in black and white terms.
Is substance X cancerous? Yes or no? We don’t think, okay, for whom is it? Is it cancerous? And what context was this? Speculation of carcinogenicity seen? What species we don’t think in those terms. It’s a whole lot easier for people to think, okay, I just need to avoid aspartame if I don’t wanna get cancer.
But a. That’s not true. And B, the World Health Organization is only one of several health major health agencies globally. And it is in the minority with respect to its categorization of aspartame as remotely carcinogenic. And there’s other things to think about too, Mike. You know, like does big aspartame have control over, over the.
Over the information.
Mike: I mean, clearly, clearly not in this case. Right?
Alan: Right. They need to hire, hire, uh, new folks, new, new, new scientists. Right. So it’s um, it’s just improbable and it is a game. Everything is a game of probabilities with health. It’s improbable that even if we look at something like red meat and try to draw an analogy, red meat is on the, on the I ARC’s list for being a, a possible human carcinogen.
If I, if I’m, um, either possible or probable, I have to look that up. But it’s, it’s on the watch list. Another thing. Yeah, like we gave the alcohol example. You have to look at probabilities. If somebody consumes red meat in moderation and they’re not consuming the fattiest cuts of red meat, they can in the most charred format possible, and the rest of their diet is good, their lifestyle is good.
Heck, maybe they may even stack some red wine on top of that red meat when you know on. An occasional dinner. The charred flesh. Yeah, right. Uh, charred flesh with, with the red wine on top is the cancer cocktail. I suppose it’s, it is all about probabilities and there’s going to be always going to be trade-offs.
Like, for example, if somebody, I’ll go back to the protein example. If somebody has, has trouble hitting, let’s say the heralded 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, dose of protein a day where all kinds of good things start happening in your life. If they have trouble hitting that and you tell somebody, Hey, down a couple scoops of of protein powder.
Down a couple scoops of of high quality protein powder. Uh oh, it’s got a minuscule amount of aspartame in it. Is there still gonna be a net benefit? Of course there is. Even theoretically and just objectively there’s going to be a net benefit despite what you know, that that. Minuscule amount of aspartame in there, it still would fall under the category of biological neutrality below a certain dose.
Aspartame is not something like cyanide where minuscule doses can take your ass out. Aspartame is more like a hypothetical carcinogen in animal models if they consume. What a human would take to consume in gallons of highly concentrated stuff, and then you start having bigger problems. The water example is an interesting one when you think of dose response and harm thresholds.
So water is obviously essential, but water poisoning can happen if you sit there and consume. You can incur hyponatremia and very dangerously low blood pressure and very dangerous electrolyte imbalances if you try to sit there and. Consume a gallon or two of water in a city. I mean, people can die from excessive water consumption acutely.
Are we gonna stop with water? Are we gonna just assume that water is, is a bad thing? Well, well, no, and that, that’s not a perfect parallel, but hopefully it illustrates some of the point I’m trying to make.
Mike: There’s a spectrum there from, from cyanide to water and, and aspartame is somewhere on the spectrum and it’s closer to water than it is cyanide.
If I’m hearing you right. Closer to water, dude. Well, that makes a lot of sense. And that’s everything that I wanted to cover in, in terms of this specific topic. Now, this, this conversation could branch off in many ways and get much longer, and that would be enjoyable, but we’re coming up on an hour here and I think we’ve, uh, you’ve done a great job explaining.
This current controversy, giving some context, helping people come to their own understanding and they can make their own decisions. And I actually, I’ll say that I do understand, so my sports nutrition company, Legion, we’ve used natural sweeteners like erythritol and stevia, which now you, now you have me wondering, is it actually Stevia?
I’ve always said Stevia. I never looked at how to pronounce it correctly, but, uh, monk fruit and. The reason why I made that decision early on, it was against my financial interests. It’s much cheaper to use artificial sweeteners, artificial flavoring, artificial food dyes. Uh, however, with the, I wasn’t concerned about the flavoring with the sweeteners and the food dyes in particular early on.
Uh, this was eight years ago or so, and after looking at. Research myself and then speaking with some other smart people who know more about this stuff than I do. My question was simply, okay, so knowing how people who are into fitness and into supplements, uh, how many different things they, they often will, will be using, they’ll be using, let’s say protein powder, and that’s not gonna be just one scoop a day.
It’s probably a few scoops a day. And then let’s say there’s a pre-workout. Let’s say there’s a post-workout, maybe there’s a green supplement and. Other potentially sweet powders type type products. And then, and then if we add on top of that, there might be some diet soda. There might be, uh, an energy drink or two.
There might be gum, I don’t know. But the total, the total load, if I were to use artificial sweeteners in my products, I, I just didn’t feel comfortable. For myself or more. More so for others. Encouraging people to, to have eight to 10 plus servings a day of whether it’s sucralose or as K or aspartame, more or less every day forever.
And so the question I posed to some people early on was, is there a scenario where this. May not be great for people’s health. Uh, I wasn’t worried about cancer per se, but particularly I had some questions regarding gut health. ’cause there were some indications that in some people that it may not be biologically neutral.
Like some people may actually respond worse to these chemicals than others. And so at the time, the consensus among the people I, I, I spoke to was that it’s possible that that’s not an unreasonable hypothesis. And so I had to make a decision early on, which way do I go? And so I went with what I felt was the quote unquote, safer.
Maybe you could say even more responsible decision given that I’m selling things for. People to other people to ingest. It’s not just me. And interestingly, on that point, I, I spoke with uh, uh, a woman recently, a researcher named, uh, Eliza, Dr. Eliza Quinn, who specializes in, in gut microbiome and has, has been involved in quite a bit of research.
And in that episode, if people wanna learn more about gut microbiome and artificial sweeteners, I’d recommend they go check it out because apparently they’re, according to what she was explaining, there is. Emerging evidence that there does seem to be an individualized component to nothing about cancer, but just just how people’s bodies respond to some of these artificial chemicals.
And so for that reason, I’ve stuck with. I chose to go with natural and I’ve stuck with it and I’m, I’m glad I did, just because I, I actually would, I, I have a conscience and I, I, I, it would be a problem for me if I knew that, you know, Legion is a fairly big company at this point. We sell millions of bottles of product a year.
It’s just, if I, if I knew that, uh, I, I might be actually harming people’s. And it might be a lot of people that would be, I would trouble sleeping at night and I’d have to do something about that. So my point all that is people, uh, listening. Would rather stay away from artificial sweeteners. And in my case, for example, aspartame, it might be just a na SIBO effect.
But, uh, one reason I stopped with artificial sweeteners, I mean, it’s just not really a part of my, my normal diet. But I did notice this in the past before I had my own protein powder to use and before I switched natural protein powders, there was a point after a couple, probably two scoops, maybe three, where that.
Probably asam, ak, that it just seemed to like, my stomach would get a little bit upset and I would notice that with other art artificially sweetened, whether it’s sodas, like I could have small amounts, but there was a point where my stomach, I would feel it and I just, something would just feel off. And again, it might be a nocebo effect.
The counter argument to that is at that time, I had no expectations at all. I, I was just having protein powder and I noticed like I can have one or two scoops of this, but I, once I get beyond three, I don’t feel very good. And I noticed that also. Uh, with other artificially sweetened products. And so for people listening who, if you want to just stay away from these chemicals simply because you’re just not sure how your body’s gonna respond to them, I, I, I, I can, I would say I understand that position.
What are your thoughts on, on all of that?
Alan: Well, to me, you’re, you’re just going the extra mile and with the position you are in, I totally see how you would’ve made that decision because you, you’re in, in essence, you’re sort of the, you’re providing the constant supply of people’s choice for, for the product they’re gonna be on, potentially indefinitely for, for their lifetime.
Right. And so I can see how you would. Um, safer, potentially more, more noble position on that’s.
Some really interesting research on anti-cancer effects of Stevia. So it’s not only something that that doesn’t, you know, have the probability of causing cancer. There’s actually anti-cancer effects with it. And, but, but that sort of speaks to a previous point that I made that, you know, artificial sweeteners are a heterogeneous group in terms of their potential for harm and their biological effects.
And as. A science person, it’s important to consider all the evidence. It’s important to listen to folks like yourself with the perspectives and the experiences that you’ve had because, um, ultimately with, um, with what we do with, with research, we try to gather up enough subjects to see whether. The majority of them experience an effect in one direction or another.
And this is why anecdotes, although they’re often, um, challenged by things like confirmation bias, expectation bias, et cetera, they’re still, they still can’t be ignored. You can’t just flat out ignore anecdotes. The, the fact that you mentioned that you noticed these effects without any expectations, um, I mean, that, that is something worth considering.
It’s something worth listening to. And anybody who considers themself a science-minded person or a researcher, we need to listen to these things. So I’m, I’m glad that you shared that and brought that up. Uh, and it, it also goes back to the idea that a hundred percent certainty in one direction or another is.
Counterproductive to the forward movement of, of knowledge. You know, there could be a spectrum, a safety spectrum across the range of non-nutritive sweeteners where certain sweeteners are on the, the higher end of safety and certain, uh, sweeteners are on the lower end of safety. There’s just not necessarily enough data for us to determine that.
I think ultimately, like a, a practical takeaway, I hold the position that people’s plain water intake should always outweigh their diet soda intake. I. So, um, if you’re freaking soda cans are outweighing the amount of plain water that you drink in a day, then there could be kind of an issue there. And not just necessarily from a, you know, a carcinogenic standpoint, but also
Yeah. The, the aspartame is, is, is a, is probably a non-issue compared to some of the other actual issues.
Alan: Right. So, yeah, there, there’s a lot of things to think about. I, I. We’ll gladly admit that we don’t know everything about this topic and people who are dogmatic and put the, like, just slam the gle, you know, and just say that this is exactly how it is, that that’s not very scientific.
Mike: that’s for, that’s for just getting people to stop scrolling. That’s for that, those are the scroll stoppers.
Alan: Yeah. Right, right. Exactly. Exactly. Just capture the attention, right. The, the headlines and stuff. But yeah, everybody has to remain open-minded on both sides of this thing.
Mike: Well, that was a, a great discussion again, Alan.
I, I really appreciate it and we’ve covered all, everything that I wanted to cover. Is there anything that, um, is still kind of bouncing around in your head that you didn’t share that you wanted to share before we wrap up?
Alan: I was talking to, um, the technician prior, prior to this, Damian, and I’m like, you know, I, I, I’m skeptical that we’d actually be able to talk about artificial sweeteners for 45 minutes.
You know, I’m open to seeing if, if that’s even possible. So apparently it was, and it was great, dude. So, um, no, I’m, I’m happy.
Mike: Well, we did it an hour on, on a subject that, uh, a lot of people are, are wondering about. So I hope that, uh, everybody’s still listening. Enjoyed the conversation. And why don’t we wrap up quickly with where people can find you, your work, your research review, anything in particular that in addition to that, that you want them to know about?
Alan: You can my stuff at alan aragon com and this includes my research review, my monthly research review, my book, my books upcoming. Conference appearances, so just go over to alan aragon.com. I, my based social media audience is Instagram, and so my Instagram handle is at the Alan Aragon. I have no idea what, what’s gonna happen with threads.
I’m not really sure even, you know, the Instagram folks know what’s gonna happen with threads.
Mike: I, I only saw, the last graph I saw is that user engagement had basically fallen off a cliff. That’s what I saw.
Alan: Yeah. Yeah. It’s just, yeah, who knows, man, it, it, it’s a mad game out there with social media. But yeah, I just, I want to thank you, Mike, for inviting me on again.
It’s always great, great questions, and I appreciate everything that you do as well. So, I mean, you know, just, just the person you are as well as what you do for the industry. So thank.
Mike: Well, thank you Alan. I’m flattered and, uh, looking forward to our next discussion. I’m sure we can figure out another one of these.
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