Wednesday, March 4, 2009

MMI - Scenario Two

Station 2: Aspartame (Critical Thinking)

A message that recently appeared on the Web warned readers of the dangers of aspartame(artificial sweetener – Nutrasweet, Equal) as a cause of an epidemic of multiple sclerosis (a progressive chronic disease of the nervous system) and systemic lupus (a multi-system auto-immune disease). The biological explanation provided was that, at body temperature, aspartame releases wood alcohol (methanol), which turns into formic acid, which is in the same class of drugs as cyanide and arsenic. Formic acid, they argued, causes metabolic acidosis. Clinically, aspartame poisoning was argued to be a cause of joint pain, numbness, cramps, vertigo, headaches, depression, anxiety, slurred speech and blurred vision. The authors claimed that aspartame remains on the market because the food and drug industries have powerful lobbies in Congress. They quoted Dr Russell Blaylock, who said, “The ingredients stimulate the neurons of the brain to death, causing brain damage of varying degrees.”

Critique this message, in terms of the strength of the arguments presented and their logical consistency. Your critique might include an indication of the issues that you would like to delve into further before assessing the validity of these claims.


  1. Can you give an example of something you would talk about in this scenario? I am completely baffled by it.

    P.s. Your blog has been EXTREMELY helpful to me. Thank you so much.

  2. I am in the same boat as you. After reading it and re-reading it, I would most likely talk about how the authors seemed to correlate the seemingly related symptoms of aspertame poisoning with the two diseases. Since the actual causes of MS and Lupus are unknown, the authors are attempting to place the blame onto aspertame, as metabolic acidosis has to do with the levels of acidity in the blood, which can cause symptoms that mimic the two diseases. Therefore it may appear that the presence of aspertame leads to an influx in MS and Lupus.

    Thats all I could really come up with. Tough question!

  3. This message was posted on the web, the first thing I would look at is whether there are links to any scientific journals that verify these claims. Also, what research did Dr. Blaylock refer to or conduct to make that claim. The strength of the arguments above lies in the strength of the evidence behind it. It may be true that aspartame is converted into methanol but the authors need to provide more information to conclusively say that it is the cause of MS. For example, they need to identify the amount of methanol that would be required to cause MS and compare it to how much is consumed on average by using it as a sweetener. They also need to provide a study that measures the correlation between aspartame users and the percentage of those people with Lupus or MS. Only an experimental study can can be used to infer causality. Obviously it is unethical to use humans as test subjects, studies may have been done on animal models to verify this claim. Even after this it can be argued that animal models are not reflective of how aspartame effects humans. Since all of these studies have their limitations, positive evidence from variety of different studies is needed to suggest causality. Therefore, unless they have the evidence the authors cannot say that aspartame causes MS or Lupus they can only infer it.