Every so often, some company really will admit that it made a terrible, terrible mistake and that one of its products causes cancer or zombies. So in a world full of recalls and class-action lawsuits, it's only natural to be wary of the health scares that show up in your email inbox. The problem is that some of the most well-known product hazards are pure bullshit.
Ever since sweetened products began replacing regular sugar with the much-less-natural-sounding high fructose corn syrup, there has been a growing and vociferous backlash against HFCS, which is popularly seen as some kind of super-sugar responsible for a rise in heart disease, obesity, cancer, and tooth decay. After all, didn't everyone start getting fatter right around the time the stuff was introduced?
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The FDA should really also ban the passage of time.
Proponents of the "you can't spell murder without HFCS" crowd can in fact point to statistics showing that American obesity began its rapid ascent at about the same time corn sweetener began its dominance of the edible garbage industry. If you stop there, it looks like a pretty convincing argument. But researchers who like to look at the bigger picture see it another way -- the reason companies switched to corn syrup in the first place is because it's cheaper than regular sugar. Using it pushed the price of sugary foods down, making them more affordable to the masses. So it's not just that we started eating high fructose corn syrup, it's that we suddenly started eating a lot more bullshit.
In actual fact, studies so far have shown that the body doesn't seem to know the difference between high fructose corn syrup and regular sugar. After all, they both contain the same ingredients, in the same quantities. The only difference is in how they're extracted and combined.
Of course, high fructose corn syrup is still really bad for you, as are the foods that are chock-full of the shit. There's also no doubt that our addiction to sweet-tasting foods and drinks is making us fat as hell. It's just that it's no worse than if those same products were made with sugar.
And just ditching the products and eating pure sugar probably isn't a solution.
And that's the problem -- demonizing one has the effect of making the other look good in comparison. That's the driving force behind well-meaning crusaders calling for bans on high fructose corn syrup and grocery stores stripping it from their shelves and replacing it with good old sugar, declaring the problem solved. Chicago's public schools even dropped chocolate milk from their menus because it contains HFCS, only to switch to a sugar-laden version. In reality, that's like switching butter for lard.
But hey, both of them are better than whatever industrial chemicals they make artificial sweetener out of, right?
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Weight-conscious folks often turn to artificial sweeteners (the kind you find in things like Diet Coke) to keep calorie counts low while still indulging their sweet tooth. But ever since aspartame, the lab-produced chemical in NutraSweet and Equal, was first introduced in 1981, watchdogs have insisted that it's basically the Grim Reaper in powdered form, causing everything from brain damage to cancer.
We associate white powder with poor health, for unknown reasons.
Paranoia about the product was already widespread even before it received FDA approval. Then email was invented, and we all know how that ensures that cooler heads prevail.
In the mid-'90s, an email started circulating around the world warning of a study by a scientist named Nancy Markle that definitively linked aspartame with diseases as broad as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, and even Gulf War syndrome. Gulf War syndrome? They must've been drinking the shit out of Diet Coke over there.
The email circular generated hysteria around the world about the myriad dangers of diet soda. The only problem? Nancy Markle didn't exist. This being the 2010s, you probably know by now the perils of taking medical advice from spam emails forwarded to you by your aunt, but to clarify, both the study and the scientist behind it were completely fictional.
The author drafted it with a "fancy marker," and then inspiration hit.
But really, there are some clues in Markle's study that should probably have raised a few suspicions from the very beginning. For example, very few peer-reviewed papers make it to publication with so many phrases written in ALL CAPS FOLLOWED BY MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!
As it turns out, the email was originally composed by health crank Dr. Betty Martini (her title being an honorary doctorate ... in humanities), and at some point the Chinese whispers effect of the Internet took out the references to her foundation and converted her into a nonexistent person. In reality, study after study after study, hundreds of them, in fact, have shown no link between aspartame and any disease. That is, until crappy aftertaste is classified as a disease.
Another disease treatable with pot brownies.
Now, once again, the stuff doesn't have any health benefits either -- it won't help you lose weight and only continues to train you that everything you put in your mouth has to be incredibly sweet to be palatable. You're better off without it. It just won't dissolve your brain.
In the early 1960s, plastic surgeons Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin developed the first silicone breast implants, and were immediately elevated to sainthood. But as beneficial to humanity as breast augmentation has proven to be, you've probably heard of the dangers -- silicone implants are associated with everything from cancer to autoimmune disease, scleroderma, connective tissue disease, and injuries from sexy pillow fights.
Two hours in the freezer turns this into a deadly weapon.
The good news is that, while implants may cause some localized scarring and pain, there was never any hard evidence that funbag prostheses are responsible for any of these horrible diseases. The problem is that a lot of people have trouble distinguishing correlation from causation, and many of those people sit on juries.
Women were actually getting their boobs pumped up for a couple of decades with next to no problem before Ralph Nader inexplicably declared in the '80s that silicone implants cause cancer. And like the money shot at the end of a 20-year porno scene, the lawsuits burst forth.
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Ralph Nader's 20-year porno name, incidentally, was "Ralph Nader."
Tens of thousands of suits were filed against Dow Corning, the main manufacturer of silicone implants, over the next 20 years or so, pointing to them as the cause of every disease known to man, up to and including multiple sclerosis. The only problem was, no scientific evidence had ever been found linking the actual implants to these diseases. And not for lack of trying -- the response from the FDA was always simply "Look harder." Nader's lobby group continued to call for the banning of implants well into the '90s, while the courts continued to write out giant checks from Dow Corning's bank account.
In the end, Dow Corning was literally bankrupted by the final Hiroshima blast of a $3.2 billion class-action settlement. Amid the rubble of a company whose only crime was a love of boobies, scientists from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences got together to prepare a 400-page final report about the dangers of silicone breast implants. The conclusion? They don't cause any kind of major disease. Too late for Dow Corning (which, after seven years in bankruptcy, no longer makes breast implants for some reason), but silicone is once again used in over 70 percent of breast-augmentation procedures.